Paul Pierce Providing Blueprint for Graceful NBA Aging

Forget the 10 All-Star nods, the 2007-08 NBA Finals MVP and the championship ring. What Paul Pierce is doing now may be his most remarkable achievement yet.

He’s aging gracefully—completing the nearly impossible transition from superstar to sage with ease. He’s leading the Washington Wizards to a level they couldn’t possibly have reached without him.

Former coach and current ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy has offered up a truism borrowed from Bill Walsh dozens of times over the years. His steadfast belief in a nutshell: The hardest player to coach is the aging star in decline.

Pride and stubbornness are valuable traits for athletes, and it sometimes seems the best ones have more of both. The greater the player, the harder it is to subjugate those qualities, and the reluctance to accept declining skill has made for more than a few uncomfortable final chapters.

Pierce has become the exception to the rule, managing his physical slippage smartly and leaning on the most valuable commodity in his arsenal: hard-earned experience. As a result, he’s been a blessing, not a burden, to head coach Randy Wittman and the Wizards.

His fit with this team has just been perfect,” Wittman said, per Jay King of MassLive.com. “The cohesiveness is always an important factor in my mind that you have to have to be a good team. It’s just not based solely on talent. And those are the things that Paul has brought here right from the start.”

 

The Right History

As rare as Pierce’s successful transition is, we probably should have seen it coming. His career has been marked by distinct phases that prepared Pierce to handle change better than most.

B/R’s Michael Pina wrote shortly after Pierce signed with Washington, “Few players of his stature know more about sacrifice, and the level of individual statistical forfeiture necessary to create team success on a consistent basis. He’s made the playoffs 11 times, knows what it takes to get there and why more times than not things don’t go as planned.”

From draft snub to low-percentage one-man show in his early days, Pierce morphed into a more efficient scorer and team leader. Then, he relinquished shots and control when the Boston Celtics brought on Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen.

That evolution belied a willingness to put the team first, a necessary trait for graceful NBA aging. If ego or the desire to prove “I’ve still got it” trumps the team, you get the sadder stories: gunners playing the same game they always have with decreasing success. It’s playing out this way for Kobe Bryant right now, but he’s hardly the first.

Michael Jordan fizzled with the Wizards. Allen Iverson chucked to the end.

The other extreme for aging players is similarly dangerous. Some sit around and talk, serving as locker room influencers but doing precious little to back up their chatter on the court. You could argue the all-talk veteran is less harmful to a team than the defiant chucker, but it’s difficult for even the wisest words to hit home if the young players listening know he can’t get the job done anymore.

 

The Right Mix

Pierce is not a rocking-chair leader.

He doesn’t sit teetering back and forth in the locker room spouting cliches about grit and the old days. He knows the key element to veteran leadership is showing (if only occasionally) that there’s some skill left to support the sagacity.

His stats are stable, essentially identical to what they were last year on a per-minute basis. His player efficiency rating of 17.0, per Basketball-Reference.com, shows he’s still an above-average contributor.

More importantly, Pierce has shown the ability to channel some of his past clutch glory—like he did on Dec. 8 in a double-overtime win against the Boston Celtics. In that game, Pierce ably defended Jeff Green, holding him to 1-of-6 shooting in the extra frames despite playing with five fouls. He also drilled a game-tying three with 38 seconds left in the first overtime and took a pivotal charge on Green in the second.

Aging the right way is tricky. It’s not all about dispensing advice and setting an example. Sometimes, it’s also about picking spots to send a message with actual play.

 

The Right Place

Speaking of picking spots, Pierce couldn’t have chosen a better one than Washington.

He tried the all-vet thing in Brooklyn, and it didn’t work. There, his value as an old head wasn’t as great because old heads were all the Nets had. He needed an audience more receptive to what he had to offer.

Over the summer, Pierce found the right team—one with an upward trajectory, young talent and a leadership void. And it couldn’t have worked out better.

The Wizards took to him immediately.

“That’s what I think makes him great. He’s a true warrior. He’s a leader. I’ve been here for a week now, and I work with him every day. I play with him every day. It’s ridiculous how people follow his lead,” Marcin Gortat told CSN Washington’s J. Michael just a week into training camp.

It’s tempting to say Pierce could have had a similar impact on any young team. But that discounts the young Wizards’ willingness to learn. Pierce and Washington were and are the perfect match.

 

Paying It Forward

The result of Pierce mastering the aging process is the best version of the Wizards we’ve seen in 40 years. They’re a dozen games over .500 and right in the thick of the race for the Eastern Conference’s top seed.

After crashing the playoffs as a happy-to-be-here upstart, the Wizards are aiming higher now.

Best of all, Pierce is empowering his younger teammates.

He’s inspiring Bradley Beal, per CSN Washington’s Ben Standig: “I was telling Brad [Beal] on the bench in the fourth quarter that when I look at this team from top to bottom, our depth, when guys get hurt…You see similarities to teams that have made long playoff runs and made it to the finals.”

And he’s pumping up John Wall, as he did after that huge win over the Celtics, per Truth About It’s Rashad Mobley: “He’s our leader,” Pierce said of Wall. “Everyone talks about Paul the veteran, but he’s our leader.”

The final stage of Pierce’s rare, successful evolution will come long after he’s gone—when we see his students become teachers themselves. Twelve or 15 years from now, when we watch a weathered, weary Wall and Beal dispensing wisdom and contributing in short bursts, we’ll see the full payoff of Pierce’s influence.

It’s hard to age as well as Pierce has, but his example could make it easier for the next crop.

As long as they’re willing to follow the blueprint.

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Boston Celtics’ Decision to Trade Paul Pierce Looks Better Than Ever

At the time, it must’ve felt like a devil’s bargain to fans of the Boston Celtics: five players worth of flotsam and three first-round draft picks*—”assets,” the cold jargon goes—for future Hall of Famers Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.

To watch Pierce in particular bow beneath the banner of the Brooklyn Nets, his 15-year Celtic career mere fodder for the history books, must’ve cut a painful picture, Garnett only slightly less so, his mercenary muscle having been lost on no one.

A year and change later, however, the Nets-Celtics megatrade is looking like a laugher for the latter.

With Brooklyn looking every bit the middling team many believed them to be, those three picks were bound to pay off anyway. Soon, Boston’s lottery prospects could become even more lucrative.

Call it waving the white flag. Call it a fire sale. Call it a desperate team resorting to desperate measures. Whatever your choice of descriptors, the Celtics are the ones ready to cash in the misery chips.

Even months after the trade, Celtics general manager Danny Ainge couldn’t help but give his take on the trade with a little bit of a smirk. From a Q&A with The Boston Globe’s Baxter Holmes:

I thought it was a really gutsy move by Brooklyn. I admired it. I thought the way KG finished last year, and Paul – both of them looked like they had a lot of basketball left in them, as the season finished last year. And so, I felt that it was a good deal for both teams. … I didn’t think that Paul and KG could carry us like they had for the five or six years previous. We were a team, I felt, that was destined to mediocrity as opposed to excellence with those guys.

All told, Boston boasts nine picks in the next two drafts, including a handful of chances to swap picks. It’s a haul that could fast-forward Ainge’s rebuilding project by light years.

Assuming, of course, that the Celtics choose to render them. The other, more nebulous option is to package some of those picks—along with a handful of undesirable assets—to reel in other, more seasoned players should an even further fast-forwarding become necessary.

Couple all that with the team’s current core, and you have a renaissance of riches-to-rags-and-back-again. Marcus Smart, Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk, James Young, Avery Bradley—these are legitimately enticing players. Even if there isn’t a single All-Star among them, their true value is only starting to wax.

That’s not to say all of them are part of Ainge and head coach Brad Stevens’ long-term plans. As fungible assets in a wildly speculative market, though, they’re as good as gold.

It’ll likely take another year before the Celtics’ precarious salary commitments flush themselves out. Still, with loads of cap space on the horizon and enviable asset flexibility to boot, Boston stands to be potent players indeed during the 2016 and 2017 free-agency periods.

However, the biggest X-factor in Boston’s return to relevance was and very much remains the fate of All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo.

The conundrum is anything but a simple one: At 28 years old, Rondo is—theoretically—still in the prime of his career. At the same time, his recent knee injury and famously idiosyncratic game make him a huge gamble as a future cornerstone. Add to that the fact that Rondo is purportedly seeking a max contract, and the decision gets even more dicey.

From a recent piece by Bleacher Report’s own Howard Beck:

Seven years ago, after years of frustration and futility, the Celtics had a similar decision to make on Pierce: trade him and start over, or find a suitable surrounding cast and keep building. Ainge held on to Pierce, then struck gold that summer, landing Garnett and Allen in two blockbuster trades.

It’s unreasonable to bank on another Garnett-Allen haul, but it’s also risky to simply let Rondo walk away and count on landing another foundational star. Pierce, for one, believes Rondo could be the centerpiece for another Celtics powerhouse.

Ainge’s thought process is certainly easy to understand: If keeping the team’s somewhat-disgruntled star worked once, then it can work again.

But what such an approach fails to consider is that, unlike Pierce—a classic scoring forward capable of thriving in just about any system—Rondo’s game is a much fickler beast to tame. It’s not that building around him is impossible; it’s that the margin for error is as thin as floss.

Ironically, Pierce may prove more valuable than Rondo to Boston’s next rebuild—without even being there.

From Brooklyn’s perspective, Pierce and Garnett were supposed to push an already-cap-busted team over the top. Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez may have been Mikhail Prokhorov’s shiny cornerstones. But it was Boston’s ballers-for-hire—34 seasons and a billion tricks between them—who would raise banners to the roof.

Now, with Garnett left to endure a full-on roster meltdown and Pierce taking on twilight with the Washington Wizards, the two look less like mighty mercenaries than moles in the service of a not-so-secret cause.

There are dozens of dominoes left to fall before the true scope of the Pierce-Garnett trade fully takes shape. Judging by the early returns, though, it’s looking like that ball isn‘t the only thing the old parquet leprechaun had spun around his finger.

 

(*The Celtics acquired Brooklyn’s 2014, 2016 and 2018 first-round picks, as well as rights to swap picks in 2017.)

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Chris Paul Slips Up Saying ‘Dictate’ in Press Conference, Blake Griffin Laughs

It doesn’t matter if Los Angeles Clippers star Blake Griffin displayed a bit of immaturity when teammate Chris Paul slipped up at the microphone during Wednesday’s postgame press conference. The only thing that matters is the hilarity that followed.

After the Clippers’ 114-86 rout over the Orlando Magic, Paul tried his best to comment on his team’s performance. He jumbled his words, though, which led to a bit of an awkward—but hilarious—situation.

Warning: Video contains possible NSFW language.

[Instagram, h/t SB Nation]

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Griffin, Paul lead Clippers over Jazz

Griffin scores 28 points, Paul has 17 points, 10 assists as Clippers beat Jazz

      
 

 

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Griffin, Paul lead Clippers over Jazz 112-96 (Yahoo Sports)

SALT LAKE CITY, UT - NOVEMBER 29: Head coach Doc Rivers of the Los Angeles Clippers high fives Chris Paul #3 in a game against the Utah Jazz at EnergySolutions Arena on November 29, 2014 in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — About 7,200 miles ago, the Los Angeles Clippers were stumbling and bumbling.


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Chris Paul Fulfills Special Request, Pays Tribute to Fan’s Late Mother

Thirteen-year-old Jack Gallagher wanted Los Angeles Clippers star Chris Paul to honor his late mother with a special sneaker tribute. What Paul did was more than the teenager could have hoped for.

Gallagher put together a special request to Paul in a touching video that details a bond he had with his mom, all because of a pair of CP3s.

What was Paul’s response to seeing the video? He wanted to find the Gallaghers and make good on that request.

The Clippers point guard hooked the Gallagher family up with tickets for Wednesday night’s game against the Detroit Pistons at The Palace of Auburn Hills. However, he wasn’t done there.

Paul gave Jack three pairs of sneakers and two bags full of Jordan CP3 gear, per NBA.com. The 29-year-old spent some time before the game with the family as well.

Of course, Paul also honored the request by writing Jack’s mother’s initials—”L.E.G.”—on his shoes.

With Jack watching from the crowd, Paul had 23 points and seven assists in a 104-98 Clippers victory.

[YouTube]

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This Just In: Chris Paul is Still a Passing Wizard

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Since the beginning of his career, Chris Paul has annually ranked among the league’s best finishers in assist-to-turnover ratio. Entering this season, Paul had completed 4.09 assists for every turnover he committed, a truly elite rate.

This year Paul is taking his mastery of the Clippers’ offense to another level: he’s at 6.33 assists for every turnover. When he’s been on the floor this season, the Clippers score 113 points per 100 possessions, good for the second-highest rate in the league (behind the Dallas Mavericks at 115.9). When he’s off the floor, the Clippers are down to 104.1 points per 100 possessions, which would only rank 18th overall in the league. Even with other gifted offensive players like Blake Griffin, Jamal Crawford, Spencer Hawes, and J.J. Redick on the team, Paul is the difference between an elite offense and a below-average offense. In other words: Paul is absolutely worth the $20.1 million the Clippers are paying him this year.

Registering 6.33 assists…

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Paul George Reaches Settlement In Child Custody Case

Paul George and Baby Olivia
Indiana Pacers forward Paul George and Daniela Rajic have come to an agreement regarding their  7-month-old baby girl.
Page Six reports that on Tuesday the NBA All-Star and former dancer Daniela Rajic reached a joint parenting agreement and a child support settlement for their daughter, Olivia.
The 24-year-old’s attorney Harriet Newman-Cohen told Page Six that a settlement was reached with full joint custody and a financial package.
“They will be raising their daughter together. Paul George had always intended to do the right thing, and he is thrilled to have a daughter. The settlement is generous, the child is going to have a wonderful life, and both parents will be equally involved in bringing her up.” Harriet Newman-Cohen told Page Six.
Daniela Rajic’s attorney Raoul Felder added that his client and baby Olivia will be moving to New York to allow Paul George to see his daughter.
The post Paul George Reaches Settlement In Child Custody Case appeared fi…

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Chris Paul to host family grieving mother’s death at Clippers-Pistons game

Upon learning of how he was tangentially related to a mom and son’s shared love of the game of basketball, Los Angeles Clippers superstar Chris Paul set out to make sure that he did something to help the family deal with the mother’s death. Lisa Elaine Gallagher, 49, tragically passed away in early September after…Read More
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Paul Pierce Passes Jerry West For 17th Place On All Time Scoring List

Washington Wizards small forward Paul Pierce passes Jerry West on the all time scoring list Tuesday night vs. the Atlanta Hawks to move into 17th place. At the end of the night, Pierce’s career point total is now 25,202 with Reggie Miller next on the list at 25,279 points meaning he’ll likely pass Reggie at some point in the next week or two.
While a great accomplishment, Pierce did not have a great game finishing with 16 points on 6 for 16 shooting as the Wizards fell to the Hawks 106-102.
The post Paul Pierce Passes Jerry West For 17th Place On All Time Scoring List appeared first on Basketball Bicker by Joey.

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