NEW YORK — It was obvious, like a smalltown boy getting off the bus in rush-hour Manhattan, that Paul Pierce was uncomfortable with Thursday’s christening as a Brooklyn Net. Although team employees and fans cheered the introduction of the three new players at Barclays Center, Pierce sat with a dazed expression.
He was no longer a Boston Celtic. He was handed a white jersey with his name on the back. Pierce stood next to Kevin Garnett, the most familiar face in a sea of strangers, as he attempted to overcome his discomfort.
This is his new reality. The Nets partied like it was Boston 2007 in introducing the three newest additions to their championship-contending club. Pierce, a Celtics legend, Garnett, forever a Celtic favorite, and Jason Terry, a Celtic for just one season, stood together with jerseys in hand, attempting to familiarize themselves with their new surroundings.
On June 27, the Celtics agreed to send Pierce, Garnett, Terry, and D.J. White to the Nets for Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries, Keith Bogans, MarShon Brooks, Kris Joseph, three first-round picks, and the right to swap picks in 2017.
For Boston, it was an opportunity to foster its rebuilding plan and move on from the new Big Three Era. For Brooklyn, it was a chance to compete for a championship immediately.
Despite the trade being three weeks old, Pierce looked shellshocked until he began to grasp the idea of playing for a championship contender, a team that’s loaded, featuring a bright-idea coach in Jason Kidd and deep-pocketed owner in Mikhail Prokhorov, who made a surprise appearance at the news conference.
“You know, it’s tough when you’ve been in a situation for 15 years and then you come to an organization like the Brooklyn Nets, but when you look at what they’re trying to do here, win a championship, bringing in the pieces necessary, it really is exciting,” Pierce said. “I would have loved to end my career in Boston, but that day and age is probably over with players ending their careers in one city. When the trade happened, you felt excited, especially with Kevin and Jason coming along. It makes the situation a little more comfortable. The ultimate drive is winning a championship.”
It was the first time the trio had addressed the trade. In a matter of 12 months, three future Hall of Famers (Pierce, Garnett, and Ray Allen) who led the Celtics to an NBA championship and Game 7 of another NBA Finals were out of Boston.
Garnett began the afternoon with a “What’s up Brooklyn?” chant, which drew applause.
“It’s unfortunate we had to move from Boston, but I felt like both sides are going in different directions,” Garnett said. “For me, one of the major reasons I decided to come here was because the bones of this, adding what you see up here with the bones they have already, the pieces they have here. I felt, like Paul said, gives us the best option to win again, and win it all. I’m looking forward to it.”
The Nets are now loaded with All-Star point guard Deron Williams along with shooting guard Joe Johnson and improving center Brook Lopez to join Pierce and Garnett in the starting lineup. Like Danny Ainge in 2007, Nets general manager Billy King pulled off a blockbuster trade to give his team more star power.
King said he called Ainge over the years to inquire about Pierce, and Ainge finally opened up to the possibility last month, when King agreed to take Garnett and Terry. The trade may have stunned Celtics faithful but not Pierce or Garnett, who both said Doc Rivers’s departure indicated changes were in store.
That didn’t make leaving Boston any easier.
“Very difficult, man. I don’t like change much. Once I commit to something, I like to go at it full throttle,” Garnett said. “Unfortunate. But you know, obviously when I saw the Doc Rivers situation, I kind of knew the writing was on the wall, even before then. I had my connections there. It’s tough leaving [Rajon] Rondo and other things. But new chapters. New things to embrace and that’s what I’m doing.”
As the news conference continued, Pierce began to show his personality. He looked forward to competing for a championship in the final season of his contract, but could not forget Boston.
“It hasn’t really sunk in, but I think it’s starting to sink in as we speak,” he said. “I saw my jersey up in the locker room and I said, ‘OK, there’s a trade.’ But for me to actually to be here now looking for a place to live, being in this arena, get to know my way around the city, it’s really starting to sink in. It’s become real. I’m no longer a Boston Celtic. I’m a Brooklyn Net. That’s what it is right now and I’m here to create some kind of legacy here in Brooklyn.”