Despite a nearly $190 million investment from owner Mikhail Prokhorov, the Brooklyn Nets haven't guaranteed themselves the 2014 NBA championship. They're still facing a steep uphill climb just to make an appearance in the finals next season.
But whether or not you're buying Brooklyn's chances now is moot. The important thing is that the Nets have been undeniably thrust into the championship conversation.
At 35 years old and with 15 NBA seasons on his resume, Pierce is no longer the player he once was. He's still pegged for the "old reliable" role on this roster, but that emphasis has started to shift more toward his age and further away from his reliability.
The Brooklyn brass knew it wasn't acquiring Pierce at his peak. The key cogs behind this team's championship hunt are largely the same pieces that were in place at the beginning of last season: Deron Williams and Brook Lopez.
As for Pierce, and the rest of the roster upgrades, he's more puzzle piece than building block.
That's not a knock on his game; it's just a realization that Father Time is closing in on adding another victory to the most successful career in the history of professional sports.
Brooklyn needed players like Pierce to bring the championship poise and unwavering energy that this team severely lacked last season. The 2012-13 campaign shouldn't be classified as an outright loss for the Nets, but they had the talent to fare better than their 49-33 record and subsequent first-round exit.
In Pierce, the Nets have a player who's scaled the game's greatest summit and understands the intricacies involved in putting a franchise on his back. He survived more than his fair share of meager seasons in Boston, then thrived as few others in this league have once he finally had the supporting cast to withstand the abuse of a championship bout.
But Pierce needed the Nets as badly as they needed him—maybe even more so.
He could see the writing on the wall with the Celtics. He told the Boston Globe's Gary Washburn that he prepared himself and his family for the first change of scenery in his storied professional career near the end of the 2012-13 season:
Even before the end of the season I knew there was a chance I might not be here. So you guys [family] have to start preparing for that. We can't start looking at schools later, this could be it out here.
That anticipated move forced Pierce to start assembling a checklist for his next employer. As he told Washburn, that list left him short on potential clubs, but luckily the Nets were a part of that group:
There was only like three [teams] maybe I wanted to go to, and [Brooklyn] was one of them. This gives me pretty much everything I'm looking for in the last few years of my career. I get a chance to play in a big market. I get a chance to try to win a championship.
Outside of physical health, egos are perhaps the toughest things to manage for professional athletes. Without proper self-confidence, the door to this career field is bolted shut.
But those egos have to adjust over time.
Pierce has accepted the fact that his body is no longer capable of producing at the level it did in seasons past. In fact, longevity has all but replaced statistical achievement in his eyes, via Washburn:
My goal is to outlast [Tim] Duncan, Kobe [Bryant], Dirk [Nowitzki], and [Kevin Garnett], this is what's left of that generation. I'm looking at all of them. We are all kind of in the same boat where [retirement] can happen in the next year or two...They still look strong, so I want to continue to look strong.
The important thing for "The Truth" is that he's avoided buying into any false hope. He's embracing the opportunity to share the floor with players who fostered Brooklyn's championship talks before his name was ever a part of the discussion.
Not only does that bode well for a smooth transition to the Nets, it's also the very reason that such a move was even possible. There's no denying that Pierce is no longer capable of doing things he once did with ease.
The good news for Nets fans, though, is that Pierce isn't attempting to deny that fact. He's accepting the limitations that age have forced upon him, which will only help him keep those limitations from tarnishing his reputation and potentially derailing this team's title run.
His career has entered its final chapter, but taking the right approach now still offers him the chance of penning a glorious end to his basketball story.
His statistics may dip lower next season than they have in more than a decade. With players like Joe Johnson, Andrei Kirilenko, Jason Terry and Alan Anderson all vying for minutes on Brooklyn's perimeter, a 33-minute outing for Pierce should be an anomaly, not a nightly occurrence as it was last season.
But his impact, both on and off the floor, could be as great as it's ever been for this championship-or-bust club.
So even if this is the beginning of the end for Pierce, just remember that he still hasn't written the first words of his final chapter yet. He's set to tell some magnificent tales, possibly championship tales even, before all is said and done.
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