Pierce makes it official, re-signs with Celtics
Paul Pierce never planned to leave Boston when he opted out of the final year of his contract. He just wanted to help the Celtics find him some teammates.
That decision became more important when a new challenge emerged to the Celtics' hopes of repeating as Eastern Conference champions: the Miami Heat, with LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade.
''I never thought once about leaving the Celtics,'' Pierce said Thursday when the team announced he had signed a four-year deal. ''I wanted this team to get better, knowing we didn't win a championship. ... Also, I wanted to ensure that I had a chance to retire as a Celtic.''
Since losing the NBA finals in seven games to the Los Angeles Lakers, Boston re-signed Ray Allen, who will be 35 on Tuesday, to a two-year contract and gave free agent center-forward Jermaine O'Neal, 31, a two-year deal. Kevin Garnett, 34, also has two years left on his contract. Those three, plus Pierce, 32, have a total of 54 seasons of NBA experience.
At times, the Celtics seemed too old to go far in the playoffs, especially when they went 27-27 in their last 54 games last season. But they surprised the doubters.
They overcame that underdog status, so retaining it doesn't bother Pierce one bit.
''We relished that role this year,'' Pierce said in a conference call. ''It really doesn't matter. You've got to show it on the court.''
On paper, he said, the Heat are the team to beat in the East.
''You've got to expect going into the season, when you've got the caliber of players they have that they're going to definitely be the favorite along with the Lakers,'' he said.
The sting of the Lakers' 83-79 win in Game 7 still lingers with Pierce, an eight-time All-Star in his 12 seasons, all with Boston.
''I think that's one of the hardest losses for me that I've taken in my career and, as much as you want to put it behind you, it's just tough,'' he said. ''I've pretty much thought about it every day.''
Before that series, Boston beat Miami in five games before upsetting Cleveland and Orlando in six each of the next two rounds.
Pierce's old contract would have paid him $21.51 million next season. The Celtics didn't disclose the value of the new deal, agreed to last week, but the Boston Herald said it was $61 million.
''Paul has been a cornerstone of our franchise for the last decade and we could not be more pleased that he is returning to the team,'' president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said in a statement issued by the club.
Doc Rivers, highly respected by Pierce, is returning for a seventh season after considering stepping down to spend more time with his family.
The emergence of point guard Rajon Rondo and the signing of O'Neal, who is expected to play a key role until center Kendrick Perkins returns, boost Boston's hopes of another long playoff run. Perkins likely will be sidelined at least until February after undergoing surgery for torn knee ligaments.
If Pierce spends the next four seasons with Boston, he will tie John Havlicek's record of 16 years with the club. But it's unlikely he'll pass Havlicek's team record of 26,395 points. Pierce, third in Celtics history with 19,899, would have to average 1,624 per season to match that.
His career average is 1,658, but his 18.3 points per game last season were the fewest since his rookie year.
''As far as record chasing, that's not something I'm doing. I'll be more satisfied with a championship,'' Pierce said.
Especially if it comes while spending his entire career with the Celtics.
''It means everything,'' he said. ''A lot of players really don't have that opportunity to say they played for one team.''
James did, but, after seven years with Cleveland, went to Miami to form a new Big Three. The Celtics formed their own Big Three before the 2007-08 season when Garnett and Allen joined Pierce. And now, Pierce said, there's talk about Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony one day joining Amare Stoudemire with the New York Knicks.
''Me, Kevin and Ray just started them off, and now you're going to see more and more ... that stars are going to be getting together to start forming teams,'' Pierce said. ''I think this is the beginning of a new era of basketball.
''It's going to be great because it draws a lot of interest to our game.''
Pierce thought James would sign with Chicago or New York. He said the one-hour show in which James announced his decision was just a sign of the times.
''Everything has become a production,'' Pierce said. ''You see people living in their homes in a reality TV show now, so it's that day and time. Hey, people want to watch it.''