In the past, when Paul Pierce drifted into thoughts about life after basketball, he would sometimes joke that he wouldn’t mind taking Danny Ainge’s job as general manager.
The four-year, $61 million deal that Pierce signed yesterday will all but guarantee that he will retire a Celtic. And while Pierce still has some years left in a Celtics uniform, he still had some pointed thoughts on the team’s offseason moves so far.
Getting his deal done and bringing back Ray Allen for two more years were huge steps, Pierce said, in keeping together the core that brought the Celtics to within six minutes of their second title in three years. Adding Jermaine O’Neal was critical, he said, knowing the team will be without Kendrick Perkins at least until January.
But whenever he checked on the NBA’s free agent circus, all he saw was Eastern Conference teams adding on. Miami made the biggest splash by bringing in Chris Bosh and LeBron James to join Dwyane Wade. The Chicago Bulls improved, adding Carlos Boozer and Kyle Korver, and making an offer to Orlando’s J.J. Redick. The Knicks added Amar’e Stoudemire. The Magic added Chris Duhon. And while watching it all, a part of Pierce wondered why the Celtics weren’t in the mix.
“Sometimes, I’m sitting here and I’m looking at all these players sign and I wish we’d get on the ball a little bit,” Pierce said. “But I trust in Danny. He’s done a good job putting a good team around us.”
The Celtics have a lot left to accomplish in the offseason. Ainge acknowledged as much Wednesday when he introduced O’Neal in Waltham. They have a list of needs (another big man, a backup point guard, reinforcements for Allen and Pierce) and a list of targets and Ainge said the process could take until August to play out. With Perkins’s knee surgery, Tony Allen’s departure, and Rasheed Wallace’s expected retirement, the Celtics have lost more than they’ve added. It all makes Pierce antsy.
“We’ve got a lot [to do] right now,” Pierce said. “We don’t have a bench. We don’t have TA. We don’t have Rasheed. We’ve got to add a bench. We’ve got to add a bench. So we’ve got our work cut out for us this offseason.
“We’ve got to add perimeter defense, some shooting, maybe we need to add a point guard to help Rondo out. Definitely got to add another point guard if we don’t sign Nate [Robinson]. And we need another big. So we’ve still got a lot of work to do.”
Pierce sounded supremely disappointed by the loss of Tony Allen, who signed a three-year, $9.5 million deal with the Grizzlies. Pierce and Allen became good friends over the past six seasons, during which Allen overcame injuries and legal troubles to become a top-level defender.
“That definitely surprised me,” Pierce said. “I was a little bit upset, because Tony is a guy I thought we needed. That’s a tough one to swallow, especially with the deal Tony got. I thought we offered him the same deal. Maybe he just wanted to get greener pastures. Maybe he thought it was a better opportunity. But that was a difficult one for me. I had a chance to call him and talk to him. That was a tough one for me to understand.”
Even though the Celtics have said Wallace will retire - and Ainge reiterated that yesterday on WEEI - Pierce said he would welcome the 15-year veteran back for another run. O’Neal, who played with Wallace in Portland, said he reached out to Wallace about playing another season. Pierce said he did the same.
“I texted him a couple times,” Pierce said. “He was congratulating me on the contract. I think he’s still up in the air as far as what he wants to do. I’m not sure if he’s all the way retired. We could definitely use him. I’ll probably put a couple more calls in to him just to see, though. I definitely think we could use him. But right now the situation’s on Rasheed.”
Discussing his own situation, Pierce said that even though he opted out, he never planned on leaving Boston. The intention, he said, was always to sign for less money and give the Celtics the ability to spend on free agents.
“I knew after the season I wanted this team to get better knowing we didn’t win the championship, and that’s why I opted out and took less money for this team to improve,” Pierce said.
But in barely one month, the landscape of the NBA, and particularly the Eastern Conference, has vastly changed. The Celtics had to get through James’s Cavaliers and Wade’s Heat on their way to the Finals. But the thought of James and Wade collaborating with Bosh in Miami gave Pierce no choice but to say the Heat were the favorites going into the season along with the defending champion Lakers.
“They definitely boosted their talent,” Pierce said. “Them, with the Lakers, are going to be considered the favorites and I think with the moves that they made, a lot of teams are going to really try to counter, when they think about adding their pieces. Especially teams at the top, such as ourselves and Orlando.”
There are countermoves still to be made, Pierce said, but at this stage in free agency, the talent pool is much thinner.
“It’s kind of hard,” Pierce said. “With a team that we have, you really don’t call out the best talent. You’ve got to evaluate players and understand who’s going to be the best fit for us. It’s not always about the best talent. I’ve been looking at players, definitely trying to see who’s going to help us, along with being a good fit.
“Right now, it’s slim pickings out there. It may have to happen via trade. But in free agency, I think a lot of guys have really jumped on where they’re going to be at. It’s difficult, but I’m sure at some point this summer I’ll put my hand in there somewhere.”