In 2007, the Boston Celtics shocked the world when they acquired Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, pairing the two All-Stars with Paul Pierce and forming the “Big Three”. That season, the trio led the Celtics to their first NBA championship since 1986 and guided the franchise to within one game of another title two years later.
While Boston’s decision to go all-in paid off, the franchise nearly went in the opposite direction. In fact, Pierce revealed how much he pushed for the Celtics to trade him, which would have ushered in a rebuild rather than a 17th championship banner.
Paul Pierce admitted his desire to leave the Boston Celtics
Things were going downhill in a hurry in Beantown. After four straight playoff appearances near the beginning of the decade, the Celtics finished 33-49 in the 2005-06 season, their worst record in an 82-game slate since their historically bad 15-67 campaign in 1995-96. But it only got worse the following season, as the C’s went a dismal 24-58. It was then when Pierce, who averaged a team-leading 25.0 points but played in only 47 games, wanted out.
“I was having meetings with the ownership, saying, ‘This ain’t working,'”, Pierce told hosts Matt Barnes and Stephen Jackson on the All The Smoke podcast. “We lost 18 in a row. So I’m like, ‘We’re weak. I’m in my prime and we’re losing, and we’re not getting into the playoffs.'”
Pierce was drafted 10th overall by the Celtics in the 1998 NBA Draft. After nine seasons, The Truth made five All-Star teams, two All-NBA teams, and averaged a team-best 23.3 points per game in that span. But in 2007, he felt Boston would be better off moving on from their leading scorer of the last decade. (h/t: All The Smoke)
“I was like, ‘Y’all should trade me. Draft Kevin Durant, tank the year, and build on out.’ But they were like, ‘No, we’re going to stick with you. We’re going to build this team out [around you].’ And the rest is history.”Paul Pierce
It’s not as if Pierce would go anywhere, however. The veteran had a specific team in mind for where he wanted his next home to be.
Pierce wanted to join Dirk Nowitzki on the Dallas Mavericks
Pierce will forever be tied to Garnett and Allen, two Basketball Hall of Famers. But The Truth was pushing hard to join Dirk Nowitzki, another future Hall of Famer, on the Dallas Mavericks.
“I was trying to get to Dallas, people don’t even know,” Pierce told Barnes and Jackson. “They had just gotten upset [by the Warriors] and I was like, ‘I would’ve been the [guy] to get them over the top, I could’ve helped that team.’ They could win 50 games [on their own], they just need me.”
At the time, the Mavericks were one of the top teams in the Western Conference. Dallas made the playoffs every year since 2000-01, Dirk’s third season, and had appeared in the NBA Finals in 2006 against the Miami Heat. However, their 2006-07 season ended disastrously, as the 67-15 Mavs were upset by the eight-seed Golden State Warriors in the first round of the playoffs.
The Celtics kept Pierce and went from worst to first
Rather than trading Pierce and undergoing a major rebuild, the Celtics kept Pierce in the hopes of building around him. And that they did, when later that summer Ainge acquired Garnett and Allen in two separate trades.
“We wound up getting the fifth pick and trading for Ray [Allen],” Pierce said. “Then trading for K.G. [Kevin Garnett], now we’re on in one year. How things can just turn around.”
With their new trio of All-Stars, Boston went from 24-58 to 66-16, a 42-game turnaround that remains the largest in NBA history. The Celtics then took down the Atlanta Hawks, Cleveland Cavaliers, and Detroit Pistons to make their 20th NBA Finals. From there, Pierce, Garnett, and Allen each won their first rings after the C’s defeated the Los Angeles Lakers in six games. It was only fitting that The Truth, the longest-tenured Celtic at the time, won the Finals MVP award.
“I’ll never forget those moments,” said Pierce, who spent 15 of his 19 seasons donning the Green and White. “When you play so long and then have a chance to be on special teams. They don’t come around a lot. You could be one of the lucky few ones that have a stretch, but you just appreciate those times when you can play on those special teams.”
Looking back, Pierce is thankful he ended up sticking it out in Boston.
All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.