The NBA season has started and Paul Pierce already has a lot to say
The former league vet talks Celtics, Chris Paul and more
Former NBA player Paul Pierce has a lot to say and a new platform to say it. Spending the first 15 years of his NBA career with the Boston Celtics, he was once the captain and part of an unstoppable Big Three in himself, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. The trio led the Celtics to two NBA finals (2008 and 2010) and one NBA championship (2008), for which he was awarded the Finals MVP.
Now he is sitting in the analyst chair, alongside Jalen Rose, Chauncey Billups and Tracy McGrady on Countdown hosted by Michelle Beadle. He will also make appearances on The Jump with Rachel Nichols.
On Monday, just ahead of Wednesday’s NBA opening day during a media conference call, the four-time NBA All-Star gave his take on what to expect in Boston. He also weighed in on Chris Paul and the Houston Rockets and offered his take on players and the 2017-18 NBA season.
Pierce said the Celtics’ big three of Kyrie Irving, Al Horford and Gordon Hayward have a chance at winning a championship in the Eastern Conference, but that was before Hayward suffered a dislocated left ankle and fractured tibia during the Celtics’ 102-99 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers in Tuesday’s season opener. According to ESPN’s Michael Wilbon, Hayward will have surgery Wednesday.
Some people are calling Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward and Al Horford the Celtics’ new Big Three. Do you feel they deserve to be called the Big Three? How do you feel they compare to you, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen?
The reason they’re called the big three is because they’re the three All-Stars on the team. They’re a lot younger than we were when they got together. I think only time can tell. Who knows who’s going to go on and have a Hall of Fame career and who’s going to go on and win a championship.
But when you get three All-Stars together, they’re going to be a big three. Only time will tell right now. I’m sure they’re going to win a lot of games, but they are definitely going to have a great chance in the Eastern Conference to win a championship together, if they’re together a long time.
Do you expect them to get to the Finals?
I think they’ve got a great chance, man. I think what they’ve been able to do with signing Gordon Hayward as a free agent. They made the trade to get Kyrie Irving. And hopefully some of these young guys can help contribute this year, guys like Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. These are going to be two huge wild cards for them. If they can find some consistency from either of those two guys, then I think they’ve got a great chance.
But at the same time, it’s hard. Our situation was unique. We came together and did it in one year even though we had all new faces. That’s hard to do. It’s hard when you bring a whole new team together and say, look, we’re going to go out here and get to the NBA Finals or win an NBA championship. The chemistry has to be right. You have to be healthy. Guys have to understand their role. A number of things have to go right for that to happen.
Could you sense Chris Paul getting kind of frustrated with the Clippers, maybe losing his belief they could win there? Were you surprised he moved on, or did you think he would end up back there this year?
Truthfully, I didn’t think there was no way that Chris would leave the Clippers. He really built up something special, you know, with getting the Clippers back to being legitimate, make the playoffs every year, 55 games. He just bought a new home like less than a year ago. He had a $200 million offer on the table. So that really shocked me that he would leave.
Obviously, sometimes him and Doc [Rivers] had their differences, but what star players don’t have differences with their head coach? Especially when you guys have been together four or five years and things haven’t really panned out the way you really wanted them to. Same thing happened in Boston. Me and Doc, we didn’t look eye to eye all the time.
But that really shocked me seeing him leave, especially what he had built in L.A., on and off the court, and he had a huge contract in front of him and with him getting a new house. So that really shocked me. I didn’t think there was no way he would leave Los Angeles.
After you did the last two NBA Finals, what made you gravitate toward this TV role as something more expansive? What did you enjoy about it?
It gives me a chance to be around the game. When you’ve been around the game so much for so many years, it’s just like it’s a part of you. It’s like, man, when I was on the set during the NBA Finals, it’s funny that we’re on tape and we have microphones and suits on, but it’s like this is stuff we did every day in the locker room, talked hoops. We talked our opinions.
And after I did the first NBA Finals, I thought this is like, I had a good time. I developed a good chemistry with the team there. I did the second one, and I just thought maybe this is something I could do after basketball. I enjoyed talking about the game. I enjoyed being around it. I’ve been around it my whole life, so why not make this a second career out of this?
I saw the opportunity talking to people with ESPN/ABC, and we made it happen. So I was really excited about it, that I could still be around the game and talk about it, because it’s something I enjoy doing even when I wasn’t in the studio.
Is it easy for you to speak the truth about players who you were playing against just last year?
Yeah, it’s easy. That’s just who I am. I give my honest opinion. Whether it’s right or wrong, but it’s an opinion that I’ll make. It’s easy, man. None of these guys are calling my hotline saying they want to come beat me up or anything. Everybody is entitled to an honest opinion. What does it matter that I played against these guys than somebody else who didn’t play against them?
You kind of connected again with Ray [Allen] in Japan. Can you talk about that? What are things like now? Will he be at the 10-year reunion? What can you tell me about that?
Well, I knew I was going to see Ray. The crazy and, I guess, the funny thing about it is like, when we did we addressed the whole Ray Allen situation and reunion and our relationship and how it all kind of fell apart, the one thing I said to the guys also, I said, man, at some point we’re going to have to end all this. At the end of the day, Ray was a big part of what we accomplished. So we’ve got to eventually get over there.
I just saw opportunity, when I was able to see him, kind of like bury the hatchet, put it all behind us. I was just excited because the funny thing, our families, our wives still have a relationship, and our kids — you know, we did things together with our kids. So it was more than just a working relationship. We were all like brothers and friends, and it was just like, you know what, I’m pretty much over it.
And then what me and him discussed was, my biggest issue with the whole thing was not talking to him. So we talked about that. You know, why I couldn’t get a callback, and the funny thing Ray said was that was the one regret he had was not talking to me during that process. But then hearing his side of the story, you know, the things that went on as far as the trade rumors and the conversations with Doc and Danny and him almost getting traded, I think, the year before, I think that really put a sour taste in his mouth. And that was a lot of stuff that I didn’t really know too much about. And him having a reduced role if he came back or taking less, you know, less of a role and less money. So a lot of the little things I didn’t really understand until he kind of broke it down.
So a man has to make his decision for his own happiness, and I think that’s something Ray did. We talked about it, and now we can move forward. And the funny thing about all this, when we were in China, you know, the hurricane is going on in Miami where he lived. So he had to deal with all that. It’s a real concern for his family and things, and we just opened our relationship back up. I got his number. I texted him since leaving China, seeing how his family has been doing, and hopefully we can bring everybody together and really do a reunion trip or whatever we need to do to get everybody back together.
What’s the biggest challenge you think with this new Celtics team, in particular Al, Gordon and Kyrie?
Those are the leaders of their team. I’m not sure how they were with the other teams, if Gordon was a leader or Kyrie was a leader there. That will be a challenge being a bigger voice than they probably have in the past.
Also, on the court is going to be the chemistry issue. You’ve got pretty talented players. Who’s going to be willing to sacrifice? Who’s going to be willing to take less or do more? Those things come up. When you look at Gordon, he was the leading man in Utah. Kyrie, he was the leading man at some point, but then he became the second fiddle to LeBron. Now he’s probably going to be the leading man again. How will Gordon Hayward take to that? How will the rest of the guys, the rookies and the young guys fall into their role?
Everybody has to understand what their role is going to be and accept it if they want to go from a good team to a great team. Some people don’t always do that. But us being the older team, we realized we didn’t have a lot of time left, so we was ready to do anything possible to make it work. So sometimes you’ve got to put your individual goals out the window if you want to accomplish something bigger than that in winning the championship.
With your jersey retirement coming up in February, when you’re looking forward to that, what goes through your head?
Oh, man, you know what, I haven’t really given a lot of thought. I know — I don’t know what I’m probably going to say. There’s probably going to be a lot of nervousness because this is, like, a huge deal for me. It’s like everything I accomplished as a Celtic, now to go up into the rafters, this is like the final stamp on what I was able to do in my career in Boston. So this is a big moment for me.
I don’t know what the right words are going to be. There’s a lot of things going through my mind. I don’t even know what to wear. I haven’t given much thought to that. It just kind of happened so fast. I knew it would happen eventually, but when Wyc Grousbeck called me and said, ‘Do you want to do this in February?’ I was kind of overwhelmed by it. This is a huge deal for me.
Like the feeling I had on draft night. It’s like what to say on the stage, or what do I do? It’s a hell of an honor, knowing that I’m going up there with so many of the Celtics greats from the past and able to leave my mark on this franchise.
Have you ever envisioned doing the work you’re going to do now as opposed to an athletic career? What things have you done to really prepare yourself to be a solid analyst?
Well, I’ve done some work in the past over the course of my career. I’ve done some local things in Boston. I’ve done things with other networks. You know, it’s just something that was always in the back of my head, I guess, since I’ve always accepted when you get the network saying, ‘Do you want to come out and analyze the game?’ It’s something over my 19-year career I’ve done.
Did I know it was something I wanted to do after basketball? I think the challenging part is a lot of players from different sports sometimes don’t always know what they want to do. You kind of just fall into it, and then once I was working the NBA Finals a year ago, and it was just like really feeling comfortable and doing stuff that I did on an everyday basis in the locker room, talking hoops and talking about different players and talking about the games. It’s like something I’ve been doing my whole life.
Now you’re just doing it to where people can hear your opinion on certain games and certain players. It just felt I was feeling comfortable right at home. Now I’m doing it on the big screen. We’re in a coat and tie doing it instead of sitting in the locker room with my jersey on talking about the stuff with other players. So I just feel like it’s right at home for me because I always had an opinion about different players.
How did you work to find your voice in this broadcasting world?
I’m just being me socially. People sometimes want to hear the opinion of players that have done it and been in the trenches and being called a champion, you know, a voice that the people respect their opinion. I just think that’s pretty much what it is.
I’ve been talking basketball pretty much my whole life. Now I’ve garnered the respect of my peers to hear me speak about the game. I just think it’s going to take on a life of its own.
How do you feel about the term ‘superteam’? What’s your take on that?
Superteams have been part of the NBA for as long as I can remember, going back to the Celtics when they had all the All-Star members on one team. It’s just something that happens once every decade. You look at the ’80s and the Lakers. Each generation has a superteam.
When teams draft well and find a way to get other greats in. Who knew Kyrie would be the player he is today? Who knew Draymond Green would be the player he is?
I just had a question for you about the NBA locker rooms that you’ve been in, of course, in Boston, Brooklyn, Washington and, of course, with the Clippers. Who do you think had the best locker room pertaining to sneakers that you’ve ever been in?
Man, it has to be Boston, because I was on the team with guys that had probably like three or four guys with their own signature shoe. And there’s something we used to compare. I remember us having to compare our shoes every All-Star: me, [Rajon] Rondo, Kevin and Ray. We always took pictures of our shoes, so everybody would post a picture of the shoes up. It was a lot of fun, man. Boston, by far, because I spent the most time there.
And who do you think, as an individual this year, would have the best year in sneakers? Who’s your favorite? Who do you like to watch what they wear?
Man, I’d probably have to go with — man, that’s a good one. I like Paul George’s shoe. I got a couple pair of those already. I already like his shoe. Or the Kyrie Irvings. I like Kyrie’s shoes a lot too.
Can you talk about Avery Bradley and what you expect him to bring to the Pistons this season?
Oh, man, he’s going to bring a defensive mentality. Avery is one of the best defenders in the NBA. I was really shocked he didn’t make the All-NBA defensive team. He’s a veteran now. He’s going to be able to bring his leadership qualities now. And somebody that can help him get to the playoffs. The Pistons are a team that I feel like should have been in the playoffs, but hopefully Avery’s presence and his leadership and his defensive mentality can help them get over that hump this year.
When you predicted on The Jump that Oklahoma City would be winning this year, people considered it a hot seat. What do you think that some people aren’t seeing with that position that you are?
I mean, you got three All-Stars. You need minimum three All-Stars to win a championship. What other team outside of OKC, Golden State and maybe Cleveland that can produce three All-Stars? So they have the criteria that you need to win a championship. I mean, when’s the last time a team won an NBA championship without three All-Stars? So I just figured that you’ve got men at the point in their career that they’re willing to sacrifice for it. It’s not like they’re all young guys.
And anything matchup-wise you saw that favors OKC?
PIERCE: Well, OKC is going to play basketball. You’ve got guys that can play multiple positions. You can put Russ [Russell Westbrook] at the 2. You can put Melo [Carmelo Anthony] at the 3, 4, or 5. You can also put [Paul] George at the 2, 3, 4. So they really have the versatility to match up with anybody in the NBA.
Just wanted to ask you mainly about the Isaiah Thomas-Danny Ainge debate. You similarly didn’t want to be traded from the Celtics. What advice do you have for Isaiah Thomas? Do you think he’ll ever get that feeling back in Boston? He left Boston, but he’s also kind of got that bitter taste in his mouth at the moment.
A lot of guys are bitter when — you know, I can understand Isaiah’s frustration because he felt like he’s given so much to the franchise, and he came back and played after a death in the family and played through injury. He just thought maybe that was worth something.
But at the end of the day, we’ve all got to realize this is a business. This is a business we’re in, and no matter what sacrifices you make as a player, the sacrifice is not always mutual on the other end because, at the end of the day, it’s not about the player, it’s about the franchise. I think he’ll understand it, get over it, and he’ll use it for motivation for this upcoming season.
I just wanted to follow that up with the guy that’s coming to the Celtics to replace Isaiah in Kyrie. Obviously, it’s going to be an interesting matchup Tuesday when he returns to the Cavaliers. What do you expect of the reaction with what he’s been saying this past week? What do you expect to be the reaction and how he’s going to react to the reaction, if you know what I mean?
Kyrie’s a competitor. He’s going to cancel out the crowd noise. He’ll probably see a lot of boos, but Kyrie is a competitor, and I don’t think it will affect him. Not one bit. He has some nervous energy from going back to a team that he played for his whole career, but I think after maybe the first couple minutes, he’ll get over it and be fine.