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Trading Paul Pierce: The Truth Hurts

Paul Pierce is not the player he once was. Rebuilding the Celtics must start with trading Pierce. (AP Photo)

The Celtics need to trade Paul Pierce.

As a rational sports fan, I’ve come to realize that this is the best option. The Celtics aren’t going to win the NBA Championship this year, and they won’t be able to win it again with their current nucleus.

So they need to blow it up. This starts with Pierce, but why keep Kevin Garnett or Ray Allen once you’ve traded a third of the Big Three? The Celtics need to blow it all up.

Pierce’s Fading Glory

Believe me, I don’t want them to trade Pierce. He’s played his whole career here and has always seemed like the kind of guy who would retire a Celtic. He certainly wants to.

So, when the news came out that teams were inquiring about Pierce’s services, my first reaction was disappointment. After a 14-year career in which he has only played for the Celtics, it doesn’t feel right for his departure to come as the result of a calculated business decision.

At the same time, I cannot deny that it would be the best move for the team, and ultimately I am more invested in the Celtics than I am in Pierce. The fortunes of the two have been intertwined for so many years that it is strange for them to diverge.

This season’s team can’t compete. After their recent five-game losing streak that would have them at home if the playoffs began today, there is little reason for optimism.

Coming into the season, the consensus was the team could make the playoffs, but they’d have to sacrifice a few games to keep the aging roster healthy throughout this season’s grueling schedule. If they are already having problems, how can they possibly make a playoff push as the fatigue builds up? Even if such a push were to happen, what would making the playoffs gain them?

The question is, do you want to be sentimental or do you want to win? It would be nice to allow Pierce to ride off into the sunset, eternally a Celtic, but what would that mean? Ending his career as the fourth option on a 25-57 team playing in front of half-filled arenas? What kind of send-off is that? Wouldn’t it be better to welcome him back the way we welcomed Kendrick Perkins back this week?

I was at that game: The genuine appreciation and love the arena bestowed on Perkins was so overwhelming that I can’t imagine a better way to honor a player. The reaction Pierce would get would easily surpass that.

Pierce isn’t the superstar he once was. Since the Age of Ubuntu began, he’s averaged around 20 points per game. This season he’s averaging 15.7, more than three points fewer than last season.

While his minutes per game are down a bit, that’s not the culprit. Both his overall shooting and free throw percentages are down, while he’s attempting more three pointers per game than he has in four years.

Pierce’s free throw percentage has fluctuated throughout his career, but the overall shooting percentage is worrisome. He’s shooting 39.4 percent this year, down 8 percent. He’s never shot below 40 percent for a season, and only below 43 percent twice.

Pierce – who used to be able to herky-jerk his way to the rim with the best of them – simply isn’t driving as much. He doesn’t have confidence in his ability to score after contact – a major sign of a player in decline.

Trade the Rest of the Big Three, Too

And what of the rest of the Big Three? Garnett simply doesn’t have any explosion left. He can’t jump, which has had a detrimental effect on his whole game. His intense play was always predicated on the idea that he was a supremely gifted athlete. Without that athleticism, he’s just a tall guy who can get pushed around and doesn’t like to shoot.

Allen can still play a high level, but he’s too specialized for this team. He’ll always be able to shoot. You could stick him in the corner after he got his AARP card and he would be able to make open looks. That skill-set is wasted on this Celtics team, where there are no longer elite scorers for him to play off of. Allen can still get points, leading the team is scoring, but that’s the problem. It’s never wise for an offense to rely so heavily on a jump-shooter.

The best thing the team can do is trade the Big Three while they still have value. All of them.

Allen has the most value: With his ability to hit contested threes and a sky-high free throw percentage, he would be an asset for any time. His expiring contract makes him even more attractive. Teams looking to shed salary cap could acquire him for the playoffs while allowing them more money to pursue a free agent in the offseason. If they like him enough to re-sign, he will be available for much less than the $10 million he is getting this year.

Garnett is more attractive as an asset, even if he’s less attractive as a player. With a contract of over $21 million expiring at the end of the season, he could help teams open up a massive amount of cap room for free agency. Pierce, meanwhile, can be productive on a team that doesn’t need him to be the first or second scoring option. His contract doesn’t expire for a couple more years, but he’s more than capable of fitting in on a contender.

A Possibly Lost Cause

Either way, the Celtics are in for some lean years. I’m already chalking this season up as a loss and, depending on what they do with the Big Three, the next season or two could be rough as well.

If they trade all three and primarily receive picks, that won’t give Rajon Rondo any help for a year, since those picks will then need time to develop. Even if the Big Three aren’t traded and their contracts simply expire for cap room, there’s no guarantee a major free agent will sign in Boston.

It’s unfortunate, but we need to prepare for a number of Celtics losses the next few years. The first step to recovery is trading Paul Pierce, and the best outcome we can hope for is that that trade will mark the beginning of a return to greatness.

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