Here’s how close the Celtics reportedly were to trading Paul Pierce for Chris Paul

According to Jackie MacMullan, The Boston Globe had two different editions prepared to run.

Houston Rockets guard Chris Paul (3) brings the ball up court against the San Antonio Spurs during the second half of an NBA basketball game Monday, March 12, 2018, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Houston Rockets guard Chris Paul brings the ball up court against the San Antonio Spurs during a game this week. –David J. Phillip / AP

Daryl Morey has apparently coveted Chris Paul for a very long time.

According to ESPN reporter Jackie MacMullan, the Houston Rockets general manager has been “chasing” Paul since his days in the Boston Celtics front office — and once got agonizingly close to bringing the future Hall of Fame point guard to Boston.

But it would’ve likely meant sending away Paul Pierce.

In an appearance on The Lowe Post podcast, MacMullan said Morey and Celtics general manager Danny Ainge tried “desperately” to trade for the rights to draft Paul in 2005 in exchange for Pierce.

“If the Celtics could have done it, they would have,” MacMullan said.

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“This is how close it was,” she continued. “I worked at The Boston Globe then. There were two ads set to run in the morning edition of The Boston Globe. One was ‘Follow the Celtics and Paul Pierce going forward’ and the other one was ‘A new era beginning’ and a picture of Chris Paul. They had two ads ready to go.”

MacMullan’s reporting at the time certainly hinted at the possibility of such a trade. On the day of the 2005 NBA Draft, she wrote in the Globe that the Celtics were considering trading Pierce, a then-elite player whose lifestyle some said was affecting his play. From MacMullan’s June 28, 2005, column:

It’s always tricky to solicit opinions when the draft is imminent, trade talks are bubbling, and free agency is looming. So perhaps it’s merely gamesmanship when two Western Conference executives whisper to me that Pierce’s off-the-court lifestyle has hurt his standing in the league. Pierce is a single, 27-year-old athlete who is known for partying hard and keeping late hours. Members of the Celtics organization have spoken to him in the past about his extracurricular activities, yet Pierce has not curbed his taste for the nightlife. Has it affected his play? His own front office believes it has.

Even so, I find it hard to believe that suddenly makes Pierce undesirable and/or untradable. Pierce still managed to submit 22.9 points and 7.7 rebounds a night in 2004-05, and while his implosion in the Indiana series raises serious questions about his leadership abilities (as if we didn’t have such questions already), he is as close to irreplaceable as anyone on Boston’s roster.

Danny Ainge insists he has no intentions of trading his four- time All-Star, but it’s his job to say precisely that, even as he revisits the possibility of retooling his team by moving his most talented player.

Against that backdrop, the Celtics truly will follow the old cliche of “the best player available” in tonight’s draft, which makes perfect sense for a team that has needs nearly everywhere. Unless Ainge pulls off a miracle and moves up to snag Wake Forest point guard Chris Paul, whom he covets, they will be relying on the judgment of others to set their course.

Of course, the Celtics ultimately stood pat at the draft, selecting Gerald Green with their 18th overall first-round pick, though that didn’t end their pursuit of Paul. According to Ray Allen, the team nearly traded Rajon Rondo in a deal for the then-New Orleans Hornets point guard, but Doc Rivers ultimately pulled the plug on the trade.

For his part, Morey left the Celtics to join the Rockets in 2006 and became general manager a year later. And more then a decade later, he finally got his man. It’s working out pretty well. Led by Paul and James Harden, the 53-14 Rockets currently have the best record in the NBA.

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Pierce, the 2008 NBA Finals MVP, retired last summer.