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Sunday Mail: It's Still Strange Seeing Paul Pierce Play for Another Team, But Wizards Are a Good Fit

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And we thought Paul Pierce wearing the stark black and white jerseys of Brooklyn looked weird.

Now Pierce, who in our mind's eye is forever in green and white, is going to the Wizards -- did anyone see this one coming? -- where they wear the vivid red, white and blue stripes that remind you of their Bullets heritage. If you squint, you can almost visualize Pierce catching an outlet pass from Wes Unseld and pretending not to see Elvin Hayes calling for the ball.

unseldwesfinn714.JPGI think most of us figured that after spending a good part of last season trying to make Jason Kidd looks like a competent coach, Pierce would end up with a perceived real championship contender -- maybe reunite with Doc Rivers in Los Angeles.

The Wizards are a surprise, but don't be fooled by the fact that they seemed to go 38-44 every year from 1980 until last year's John Wall- and Bradley Beal-led ascent. This is a very good team, and Pierce fits well in the role vacated by Trevor Ariza. It may not be a championship contender, but it is a contender to be the team taken apart by the Western Conference champion in the Finals.

In some regard, the Wizards provide one possible blueprint for the Celtics: Draft gifted young players at the top of the draft, hope they mature in unison, and surround them with quality, respected veterans.

Sure, it's going to be damn strange watching Pierce play for that team, in that jersey. We may never get used to seeing him play anywhere but here. I know I'm not alone in still holding out hope that he plays again for the Celtics some day. But I am looking forward to seeing how this works out for him this year. I don't require an essay explaining his choice to go there -- it's a good fit, as unexpected as it was.

On to ...

THE MAILBOX

... and a long, thought-provoking opening question:

Hi there Chad -- Here's a tale of two franchises:

In 2007, the San Antonio Spurs won the NBA championship, their fourth since 1999. Over the next seven years, the Spurs won more than 60 games twice, went to the NBA finals twice, and won another championship last June.

In 2008, the Boston Celtics won the NBA championship. They won 60 games the following year and made the NBA Finals the year after, but, except for one season, lost more games each year than they did the one before. Last April, they finished with the third worst record in team history and a lottery berth.

In June's draft, the Celtics picked at No. 6 the most productive college point guard in terms of the wins produced metric: Marcus Smart. Point, however, is the one position at which you could argue the Celtics need no help.

At 17, the Celtics picked the least productive power forward, and third-least productive college player in the draft: James Young. He was an okay 2 pt shooter at his position, but did virtually nothing else at a high level. Here are his raw numbers:

40.7 FG%, 35.9 3pt%, 70.6 FT%, 4.3 RPG, 1.7 APG, .8 STL, .2 BLK, 1.9 TO

This was pretty typical of the Celtics, whose recent first-round picks included washouts like Fab Melo, Jajuan Johnson, and J.R. Giddens, and also Jared Sullinger and Avery Bradley, rotation-level players with health problems.

The San Antonio Spurs had the last pick in the first round. With it, they took the most productive college player in the draft: Kyle Anderson. Anderson did pretty much everything well at UCLA:

48 FG%, 48.3 3pt%, 73.7 FT%, RPG 10.5, APG 7.8, STL 2.1, BLK .9, TO 3.7

While the draft is never a sure thing, maybe it helps to pick players who were dominant in college over those who were below average. It also helps, of course, to trade and sign for quality players as well. Hard to do when you're bidding against yourself to bestow lavish multi-year deals on Jeff Green and Avery Bradley

My point is this: Maybe Danny's not the genius he's so often made out to be. That being the case, it would be nice, every now and then, to see a piece on the team that was at least a little critical of the Celtics front office.

-- Paul

Thoughtful note, Paul. Enjoyed reading it.

Pretty high -- and probably unfair -- standard you set there with the Spurs. Best team I've seen since '86 Celtics. They've done a remarkable -- perhaps unprecedented -- job finding complementary players who fit what they do. No one measures up to what they've done. It's why they're being celebrated as much as they are.

You know why the Celtics fell -- the core got old. The Spurs haven't had to deal with that yet. As smart as they've been about filling in the roster -- especially in identifying and acquiring a young star who fits their system perfectly in Kawhi Leonard -- this is probably a better discussion to have when Tim Duncan, a top-10 player in league history, is gone. That is, if he ever goes. I'm starting to think he's going to play longer than the Chief.

As for Anderson, he fits perfectly with the Spurs offensively -- he's a beautiful passer --but he's one of the worst defenders I've ever seen. He can't guard anyone. Steve Alford had to hide him in a zone, and he's going to see little to no time on the court for Gregg Popovich unless that improves drastically. Bet Anderson sees more time with the Austin Toros next season than he does the Spurs.

You're also talking about a player who made big improvements as a sophomore, yet you don't leave room for the expectation that Young, just 18 and nearly two years younger than Anderson, would do the same.

I also think an attempt at finding honest context is necessary with each move Ainge has made, and I'm puzzled by some fans' reluctance to recognize where the Celtics are drafting as a huge factor. Adam Kaufman wrote a column awhile back criticizing Ainge's drafting while citing the Thunder/Sonics -- who got Kevin Durant at No. 2, James Harden at No. 3, and Russell Westbrook at No. 4 -- as a team that did a better job. Well, yeah. Look where they picked. You cannot compare the two.

giddensfinn713.JPGAinge has he has hit on an above-average number of picks in well beyond the lottery. Bradley, a superb defender and improving shooter, was taken at No. 19 in 2010. Rajon Rondo was the 21st pick -- 18 spots behind Adam Morrison, 16 after Shelden Williams, 12 after Patrick O'Bryant, one after Renaldo Balkman -- in 2006. Second-rounders like Leon Powe, Big Baby, and Ryan Gomes.

Melo was a bust -- an all-timer, though he did play twice as many NBA games (six) as poor tortured Royce White (three). But there wasn't much taken after him (Miles Plumlee, whom I refuse to believe anyone around here wanted, Draymond Green, Jae Crowder, etc.) and a lottery ticket at that point on a project center isn't the worst idea. He flopped epically, but the process made some sense. Expecting to hit on every pick in that range isn't fair. It doesn't happen, yet the natural inclination is too look at the one guy every 10 players who made it and say, "Why didn't we draft him?"

Now, the one pick that never made sense to me was J.R. Giddens. Never got that one. Kid was a dope. Used to drive KG crazy by wearing sunglasses at all times, like he was a 10-time All-Star.

Marcus Smart? Drafting him does make sense, even with Rondo on the roster. Have you heard the phrase "acquiring assets" enough this offseason? Me, too. But we'll still hear it a lot more. The roster right now won't be the roster come opening night.

In context of where they usually pick and how they have fared against the rest of the league I think Ainge has done well. And that's remarkably difficult to do picking where they have -- even if the Spurs make it look easy. The Spurs make everything look easy.

Count me as against the foolishness going on at NESN with the current absence of Don Orsillo and Jerry Remy. I count them as the best tandem in Major League Baseball! Oops... got to go turn my radio on for the Sox-Astros game.
-- Steve

I don't mind Steve Lyons, nor Jon Rish for that matter, but both serve as a constant reminder that less is more when broadcasting a game for television rather than radio. Too much explanation of what we can see for ourselves, and Lyons -- and I do think this comes from genuine enthusiasm rather than loving the sound of his own voice -- needs to let a moment breathe once in a while. It's a reminder, at the least, of how good Orsillo is. It's foolish that Orsillo has to take vacation in-season. (I don't think Remy minds the break that much.) And NESN is nuts if they marginalize Eck to make room for Lyons. Bears watching.

I was looking at career data on Captain Carl and Pedey the other day. The heart-and-soul guys for two different generations. I was thinking about Pedey’s recent declining stats and remembered that Yaz went through the doldrums in the '70s. After looking things over, I wonder how it will work out... will it be a bounce-back for Pedey, like Carl in ‘73 and ‘74 after sub par ‘71 and ‘72, or is it fair to say that Pedey’s career will mirror Carl’s with the first 2/3rds being special and the last third being not up to their standards (but pretty respectable for a lot of other players).
-- Joe O.

Interesting idea, Joe. Never would have thought to compare those two. I'm not sure it works, though I hope you're right.

Yaz did have some mediocre years in the '70s -- .264 with 12 homers in '72, .269 with 14 homers in '75. But his worst OPS+ was 108 in '79, when he was 39. Pedroia's is 102 this season.

There's no sugarcoating it. Pedroia is having the worst season of his career at age 30. He's been better lately -- he has a .317/.360/.396 slash line over the last month -- but his slugging percentage is down 35 points from last year, which was down 34 points from 2012, which was down 25 points from 2011. This isn't a fluke. It's a trend.

His power is waning, and while he's still very valuable player, you can't help but wonder what he will be 3, 4, 5 years from. It's not going to be a Youk-like descent, but there are some parallels (hand/wrist injuries, years of hard-nosed, occasionally reckless play).

And you know what Yaz did at the age Pedroia is at now? He put up a season damn close to his legendary brilliance of '67. In 1970, Yaz hit .329/.452/.592 with 40 homers, 23 steals, 128 walks against 66 strikeouts, 125 runs, and 110 RBIs. He led the league in rWAR (9.5) and adjusted OPS (177) yet somehow finished fourth in the MVP balloting.

Yaz played for the Sox until he was 44. Pedroia may already be on the Hall of Fame ballot when he's that age.

Until next week, the mailbox is closed. Exit music, please.

This commercial will never get old. And the song fits just right.

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