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Archive for Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Legacy haunts Pierce

Veteran feels pressure to win title

July 11, 2006

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— Paul Pierce spent the morning of July 6 shuttling between local television and radio stations, promoting "A Midsummer Night's Dream," the charity event he co-hosted with Baron Davis last weekend.

With friends and former teammates Antoine Walker, Ricky Davis, and Mike James in town, minor surgery on his left elbow planned for August (that will keep him from Team USA tryouts), and talk of Allen Iverson joining the Celtics, Pierce talked to the Boston Globe about his career and wondered about his legacy.

The former Kansas University standout wants to be mentioned among the greatest NBA players, like his childhood idol, Magic Johnson, who previously hosted a charity weekend benefiting several LA-based and national foundations.

But Pierce knows that kind of legacy rarely comes without a championship, something he might have to chase somewhere besides Boston.

"I think about (legacy) all the time, probably more this year than other years," Pierce said. "I realize I'm going into my ninth year, and I've probably only got five or six years left to play. If I can just get that opportunity, to be on a team where I have a chance to compete for a championship, that's all I can ask for.

"I guess the teams that I've been on pretty much my whole career we've been fighting just to get in the playoffs. I want the opportunity to go deep into the playoffs just to show people what I can do."

Boston Celtics' Paul Pierce, right, drives past Phoenix Suns' Shawn Marion. Pierce, a former Kansas University All-American and five-time NBA All-Star, is in no rush to sign a contract extension with Boston.

Boston Celtics' Paul Pierce, right, drives past Phoenix Suns' Shawn Marion. Pierce, a former Kansas University All-American and five-time NBA All-Star, is in no rush to sign a contract extension with Boston.

When asked if he would leave the Celtics if the opportunity to compete for a championship doesn't present itself in the near future, Pierce said, "Maybe so, down the road. I'd definitely consider that. If I don't see the opportunity in the near future, then maybe it's my time. It's hard to say.

"Everything right now is based on our potential. We're one of the youngest teams in the NBA. I'm happy with the potential we have, and I think those guys can be really good players, if not superstars in the NBA.

"My only thing is, how soon will they be good enough to win a championship? That is the veteran question that crosses my mind when I think about continuing my career as a Celtic and pursuit of being one of the best players."

Last season, Pierce frequently said he wanted to retire a Celtic and see his No. 34 raised to the rafters as it is at his alma mater, Kansas University.

Downtime in L.A. this summer might have changed his perspective slightly. Plus, watching Walker win a championship with the Miami Heat also made Pierce think more critically about the direction of his career.

"You get a chance to come home and be around your family, and I've got people coming at me from all type of sides," said Pierce, who grew up in Inglewood. "I've got people telling me this is what you need to do.

"A lot of people say, 'You need to be in L.A. You won't win a championship in Boston,' and 'By the time you all (in Boston) are ready, you'll be retired.' It does get to you at times, and it's something to think about."

Pierce met with executive director of basketball operations Danny Ainge in Boston recently to discuss concerns raised by family and friends and Pierce's view of the situation.

He plans to meet with Ainge again soon.

One of the topics of conversation will be a contract extension, though the five-time All-Star feels no sense of urgency to complete a deal. He will wait for the offer and watch the moves Ainge makes.

Pierce essentially dismissed the Iverson rumors, called the Celtics' draft-night deals "a step," and doesn't hold much hope for free agency.

Pierce's thoughts came with a healthy dose of realism.

On Iverson: "It sounds good right now, but every year you get big trade rumors. Everybody knows trade rumors are just rumors until they really happen. How many teams was I traded to last summer?

"I think it would be great to get Allen Iverson. The thing about being young is you're inconsistent. You know Allen Iverson is going to bring it every night. If you've got two players on your team like that and a lot of different role players, it doesn't matter which one steps up, as long you get one."

On the draft: "It helped our team financially. Who knows how many more wins we're going to have with the trade (which included his college buddy, Raef LaFrentz, headed to Portland)? I don't think it's made us instant contenders. Regardless of the trade, we knew next year we were going to be a very competitive team with what we had already.

"The trade did make us better. We got a point guard. We got a shot-blocker. We're still a couple pieces away from becoming a contender."

On free agency: "We're not a team that free agents come to. Let's just be realistic. For us to get better, we've got to do it through the draft and trades. It's not like guys who become free agents say, 'Boston is the place I want to be.' Everybody knows the free agent spots are Miami, Los Angeles, Chicago and New York."

On the optimistic side, Pierce recognizes one big deal can dramatically change the Celtics' outlook for next season, bringing to mind players such as Kevin Garnett and Jermaine O'Neal, in addition to Iverson.

Pierce is friendly with Garnett and O'Neal and would welcome either one in a blockbuster deal.

When asked whom he would like to see in Boston uniform, Pierce said, "Shaquille O'Neal, but that's unrealistic. Realistically? It's hard to say what realistic trades are out there. You hear rumors about K.G., Jermaine O'Neal, Allen Iverson. How true are they?

"Everybody would love to play with those type of guys. We're all in the same position. We're All-Stars on struggling teams that need help. I think K.G. probably needs me as much as I need him. The same with Jermaine. The same with A.I."

Unless the Celtics pull off a blockbuster trade with Minnesota, Indiana or Philadelphia, Pierce, Garnett, O'Neal and Iverson will have just one thing in common this summer: for various reasons, the All-Star foursome will not participate in the Team USA tryouts.

Pierce will not take part in the competition because of a sore left elbow that forced him to miss the final three games of the season.

After playing pickup games last week and absorbing contact for the first time since the season ended, Pierce decided he needed elbow surgery.

According to Pierce, team physician Brian McKeon will operate in August, leaving the captain more than enough time for rehabilitation before training camp starts in October.

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