No matter if Kelly Olynyk goes on to win multiple MVP awards, June 27, 2013, will always be remembered by Boston Celtics fans as the day that Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett were shipped out of town. With that, the team that redefined Celtic Pride for a new generation of basketball fans was officially no more.
According to ESPN, the Celtics and Brooklyn Nets have agreed in principle to a deal that will send Garnett, Pierce and Jason Terry to Brooklyn for a package highlighted (if you can call it that) by Gerald Wallace, MarShon Brooks, Kris Humphries and first-round draft selections in 2014, 2016 and 2018.
After months of uncertainty surrounding the futures of Pierce, KG and departed coach Doc Rivers, Danny Ainge and company have fully embraced the idea of a rebuild around Rajon Rondo, Jeff Green and Jared Sullinger.
This trade and the Rivers deal with the Los Angeles Clippers gives Boston a slew of first-round draft picks over the next few years, but right now that is simply not what matters to the Celtics fans.
What matters right now is the legacy of the trio who brought a championship banner to Boston and were responsible for seven memorable playoff runs and one of the greatest eras in the Celtics' legendary history.
Unfortunately, history is not always kind in situations like this, and it is difficult to predict exactly how Boston will remember Pierce, Garnett and Rivers. While the shock is still in full effect and the implications of the deal are hard to grasp, let's take a moment to consider how Boston will reflect on the three franchise cornerstones once the dust has settled.
When Doc Rivers took over the Celtics from interim coach John Carroll, he inherited a team that boasted Paul Pierce and little other talent.
The Celtics at the time had managed a little bit of playoff success, but that mostly came on the backs of Pierce and erratic shooter Antoine Walker.
Rivers struggled initially, posting a record of 102-144 in his first three seasons while failing to get the most out of his young team. But then, with the help of the Big Three and Tom Thibodeau, he remade the Celtics into a ferocious defensive team that absolutely suffocated opponents.
In the 2008 and 2010 NBA Finals, for example, Rivers was able to concoct defensive schemes that effectively stymied Kobe Bryant while putting his Celtics within one quarter of winning two championships in three seasons.
His time with the Celtics will always be checkered with injury-based what-ifs, but Rivers managed to improve as a coach and a tactician throughout his nine seasons with the Celtics, posting a record of 416-305 while making the playoffs seven times.
Though he gets flack for failing to trust young players, it is worth nothing that guys like Rondo, Avery Bradley and Glen Davis all blossomed into quality pieces under Rivers' tutelage.
Still, it is hard to truly assess the quality of Rivers as a coach. He excelled when he had elite talent under him but was never capable of elevating a group of average or slightly above-average players to unexpected heights. Although he always was a great motivator, he had trouble managing some internal strife, including the infamous Ray Allen-Rondo issues.
Unfortunately, the awkward nature of Rivers' departure to the Clippers will always taint his legacy. Despite Rivers' effusive praise of the franchise to ESPN's Jackie MacMullan and his claims that "it was just time" to leave Boston, it is hard to look at his decision to bolt for greener pastures without considering it somewhat of a betrayal.
While his desire to coach a contender is understandable, Rivers signed a five-year, $35 million contract back in 2011 and there was just no way he realistically expected Boston to still be vying for championships with Pierce and Garnett in tow. The Celtics expected Rivers to lead a rebuild, and by signing the lengthy extension he implied that he would be around for the long haul.
The 2015 first-round pick from the Clippers will help to ease the transition to a new coach, but the blow of Rivers' departure will be hard to get over. It would be one thing if he had simply ended up in Los Angeles, but the fact that the trade discussions were public and drawn out makes them hard to overlook.
Rivers deserves his place in the Celtics history books as their third-winningest coach behind Red Auerbach and Tommy Heinsohn, but his decision to flee the franchise after Ainge made it clear he expected Doc back will always haunt his legacy in Boston.
As the first domino to fall, Rivers' move will always be more heavily criticized than Pierce and Garnett's, which was more of a product of circumstances. Because of this, there will always be a degree of bad blood, despite Doc's love of the city of Boston and his contributions to the Celtics' illustrious history.
The scrutiny on Kevin Garnett will likely fall somewhere between Pierce and Rivers, and that is justifiable. While he can be viewed as somewhat of a hypocrite after claiming, "I bleed green, I die green," at the 2013 trade deadline, his decision to waive his no-trade clause is more complicated than simply wanting to spend his last few seasons playing for a true contender.
KG came to Boston in a blockbuster deal after one of the worst seasons in franchise history, a 24-58 monstrosity that saw the Celts experiment with 24 different starting lineups and finish dead last in the Eastern Conference.
Fiercely loyal and competitive almost to a fault, Garnett spent the first 12 years of his career carrying Minnesota Timberwolves teams that did not have the talent around him to contend in a brutal Western Conference. While "The Big Ticket" put up stellar numbers, he could not will his team to a championship single-handedly.
From Day 1 with the Celtics, Garnett brought his fieriness and commitment on the defensive end, and that personality ultimately consumed the team. In the 2007-08 season, Garnett averaged 18.8 points, 9.2 rebounds and 3.4 assists on 53.9 percent shooting and won Defensive Player of the Year.
In subsequent seasons Garnett battled his share of injuries but continued to compete night in and night out, being the backbone of Boston's ferocious defense and making the full-time transition to center during the 2011-12 campaign.
KG signed a three-year, $34 million contract extension in the 2012 offseason, but at 36 years old, it was unclear at the time if he would play through the entire deal before retiring. The deal included a much-discussed no-trade clause that Garnett refused to waive for deals with the Denver Nuggets or L.A. Clippers in February.
While Garnett was the living embodiment of Celtic Pride during his six seasons with the franchise, his decision to leave with Pierce is justifiable. The Boston team he would have been returning to would look nothing like the Celtics teams of old, and his shorter deal did not come with the same weighty expectations as Rivers' deal.
Although he spent the least time in Boston of the Rivers-Pierce-Garnett trio, he arguably had the biggest impact of any of them. He turned the C's into overnight contenders and imbued them with the never-say-die attitude that kept them relevant long after Pierce, Allen and KG himself had all passed their respective peaks as players.
Though he earned his MVP award with Minnesota and averaged more than 16 points just once with the Celtics, Boston fans should remember the KG era fondly and understand that his decision to leave was not the same as Ray Allen jumping ship back in 2012.
Unlike Rivers, KG does not have much time left in the league. He signed a short-term contract because he wanted to contend for titles, not lead a rebuilding project.
Signing off on being dealt to an Atlantic Division rival is something that won't go over too well with the Celtics fans, but it was a deal that the organization, not KG himself, put on the table.
The Big Ticket's lasting legacy in Boston is a complicated one, but ultimately one that should be celebrated, as his jersey will likely be hanging in the TD Garden rafters when all is said and done.
Unlike Rivers and Garnett, there is really no debate to be had about what Paul Piece's legacy in Boston will be. Pierce stressed, "I've always said I want to end my career as a Celtic," and since he did not have a no-trade clause or a long-term deal, it is impossible to view his being dealt as an act of betrayal.
Pierce joined the Boston Celtics in 1998, falling to the 10th overall selection despite a productive career at Kansas. Instantly, he proved to be an impact player for the Celtics, never averaging fewer than 16.5 points per game in a single season.
Boston struggled in the early years of his career, but Pierce stuck with the team. Though he nearly went to Portland in 2005 for the third overall pick after some controversy in the playoffs against Indiana, Pierce ultimately stayed with the franchise that drafted him.
Always a multifaceted scorer, Pierce emerged as more of an all-around piece and a team leader once Garnett and Allen came to town. His Finals MVP performance in Boston cemented his legacy, but even if the Celtics had lost in those finals he would go down as one of the greatest players in franchise history alongside Larry Bird, John Havlicek and Bill Russell.
A player spending 15 seasons with a single club in today's NBA is truly a remarkable feat, and while Pierce not being able to retire a Celtic is a colossal disappointment, it should not diminish his legacy. After all, this is a player who appeared in 1,102 games in a green jersey and averaged 21.8 points, six rebounds and 3.9 assists per game in that time.
With Boston, Pierce matured from a shoot-first, shoot-second gunner into a poised, selfless veteran who knew when to take over in crunch time but also when to get his teammates involved as well. He struggled with turnovers and his shot in the 2013 playoffs, but played his hardest in nearly 43 minutes per game at 35 years old.
As he aged and the Celtics' status as contenders grew less and less assured, the trade rumors began to pile up, and the thought of Pierce retiring in Boston grew more unlikely every day. Still, with the exception of possibly Kobe Bryant and Dirk Nowitzki, there is no player more difficult to imagine in a different jersey than "The Truth."
For most Celtics fans, the hardest part of the increasingly bleak-looking 2013-14 season will undoubtedly be watching Pierce come out of the tunnel in one of those ridiculous all-black Brooklyn Nets uniforms.
It is hard to think of an era of basketball that ended less gracefully than that of the Big Three Celtics. Between the bad blood created by Ray Allen's free-agent departure and now the trade of Pierce and Garnett to Brooklyn, it is hard to look back and remember how truly selfless and committed this team was to one another.
The paltry compensation that Boston received for Garnett and Pierce will be a sore spot for Celtics fans all summer, but it pales in comparison to the thought of watching the team go to work next year with no one but Rondo left from the championship era.
While Doc Rivers' decision to bolt for Los Angeles will always be categorized differently because it was his choice to push for a deal, the KG-Pierce trade will be looked at as the product of the cold and impersonal side of business in the NBA.
All three deserve to be celebrated for what they brought to the city of Boston, but the undignified end to their time together will cast a long shadow over the Celtics franchise.
Though it is hard to label any of the three as "traitors" because of their commitment and effort over the years, the departure of Garnett and Pierce to Brooklyn will be viewed as a disappointing end to the tenures of two of the franchise's greatest players, even if they wind up raising a banner together as Nets.
Statistics courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.
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