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Pierce opting for Green over green

Posted by Christopher L. Gasper, Globe Staff  July 2, 2010 12:46 PM

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300pierce.jpgBarring a contract calamity, Paul Pierce is staying in green and it's because it wasn't all about the green, refreshing in this summer of for-hire hoopsters.

Call Pierce the anti-LeBron. He's not trying to be a billionaire or a global icon. He's trying to win another ring and end his career as a Celtics legend, two accomplishments that don't come with a price tag or need a sycophant-filled sales pitch.

Pierce said many times this season that he wanted to finish his career as a Celtic, that etching his name in the storied history of professional basketball's most fabled franchise had a value to him. The Truth was telling us the truth. If he wasn't, he wouldn't be close to agreeing to what multiple reports have tabbed as a four-year, $61 million deal.

If you don't think that in the current frenzied free agent environment, where teams are acting like teenagers dropped off at the mall with carte blanche control of Mommy and Daddy's credit card, that Pierce, eligible for a four-year, $96 million extension from the Celtics, could get more than $15.25 million per year then you don't comprehend the current profligate state of the NBA.

Yesterday, Rudy Gay got a max contract from the Memphis Grizzlies, averaging $16.3 million a year. Rudy Gay, really. Darko Milicic, one of the league's all-time biggest flops and the poster child for over-hyped European prospects, received a four-year, $20 million deal from the Minnesota Timberwolves. Some guy named Amir Johnson got a five-year, $34 million contract from the Toronto Raptors, an obvious reward for averaging 6.2 points and 4.8 rebounds per game last season.

Make no mistake, in Patriots' parlance this would be a team-friendly deal, and it's a win-win one for Pierce and the Celtics.

Rather than rebuild, the Celtics want to run it back with a group that came thisclose to its second title in three seasons. The first domino was the return of coach Doc Rivers, but if Pierce left for greener pastures, then the Celtics' championship days were past tense. Now, just Ray Allen remains to commit to a comeback, and you have to like the chances of Allen returning now that Pierce is ostensibly back. However, anything can happen in NBA free agency, which has become like a middle school dance for millionaires with all the courting taking place.

Some questioned Pierce's motives and loyalty when he opted out of the final year of his contract, which would have paid him $21.5 million this season, but it was simply using leverage to obtain security. If Pierce, who turns 33 in October, played out his contract and the Celtics suddenly got elderly before our eyes, Danny Ainge would have blown up the Big Three faster than you can say "McHale" and Pierce's expiring contract would have become a key piece of the redesign. As much as ownership adores Pierce, Ainge would have convinced them it was time to start over -- without him.

Now, Pierce is protected in such a scenario and the Celtics get some luxury-tax relief with a smaller salary for 2010-11.

Look, there is risk on both sides with this contract. Pierce is foregoing further financial reward -- and possibly a fourth year -- to stay. The Celtics are giving a long-term deal to an aging star who, if he makes it to the fourth season, will turn 36 during it and has never inspired visions of the cover of Men's Health magazine.

Pierce is entering a stage of his career much like the other major No. 34 in town, David Ortiz, where he is going to have to rededicate himself to off-season conditioning and fitness to lessen his decline. Like the rest of the Celtics, it looked like he ran out of gas in the playoffs, and it was obvious in the Cleveland series that he was not the same player he had been in 2008.

Against Cleveland, Pierce struggled offensively while covering LeBron James, shooting just 35 percent from the floor in the series. It was Ray Allen, not Pierce, who was saddled with guarding Kobe Bryant in the NBA Finals this time.

The days of Pierce performing on both ends against fellow superstars appear to be over.

He missed 11 games last season due to injury -- his knee was drained multiple times, he suffered a mid-foot sprain and a right thumb injury -- and had to have his minutes managed by Rivers. However, with the exception of the ill-fated 2006-07 season, when he missed 35 games with a stress reaction in his foot, Pierce has been a pretty durable player during his 12 seasons in Boston. If he plays in 80 games this year, Pierce will pass Bill Russell (963 games) for fourth-place all-time in games played, and would be just seven shy of Kevin McHale's third-place mark.

What is undoubtedly healthy is Pierce's desire to be a Celtic. Pierce is prepared to leave lucre on the table to leave a legacy. This contract is an opportunity for Pierce to cement his place in the pantheon of the parquet.

Sometime this year, Pierce will join John Havlicek (26,395 points) and Larry Bird (21,791) as the only players to total more than 20,000 points in a Boston uniform. Pierce, who has 19,899 points, is 1,892 points behind Bird for second place all-time. He probably won't pass Larry Legend this season, but certainly should go by him in the 2011-12 season. If he played out all four years of the proposed contract, Pierce would have an outside chance of chasing down Havlicek.

Those numbers clearly have more meaning to Pierce than the ones next to the dollar sign in his contract. If they didn't, Pierce would be looking to opt-out of a Celtics uniform for good.

Instead, he is opting to choose the Green over green.

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The word

Christopher L. Gasper riffs on the news

Dearth

...That's what the Patriots have when it comes to picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, which starts Thursday. After all those years of stockpiling picks the way a survivalist does non-perishables the Patriots have just five picks in this year's draft, thanks to Band-aid trades for Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco and Aqib Talib. Five picks would be the fewest draft picks in franchise history. (Part of that is attributable to the trimming of the draft to just seven rounds in 1994). Further complicating matters is that two of the Patriots' greatest needs are at wide receiver and cornerback, positions where they have sustained draft droughts. With that in mind, I'm convinced the Patriots are going trade back out of the first round of a quanity-over-quality draft where you're just as likely to pick a Pro Bowl player in the second and third round as you are in the first round.

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