ORLANDO, Fla. -- Doc Rivers could tell Paul Pierce was emotionally hurt, trying to come to grips with the notion that he was no longer wanted in Boston.
Pierce bled Celtics’ green courtesy of playing 15 years with the franchise that plucked him out of Kansas with the 10th selection in the 1998 draft. He was attached to the Celtics, a part of the team’s interwoven fabric.
But the proverbial umbilical cord has been cut now that he was shipped to the Nets in the blockbuster trade that officially brought Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry to Brooklyn last month. Although the emotional stigma won’t be easy to get over at first, Rivers thinks the move could rejuvenate the 35-year-old forward’s career.
“I think in some ways, it may give him more life,” Rivers said Friday after being honored with a Sports Pioneer award at the National Association of Black Journalists convention. “But I just think it’s tough for him personally. Like he said in the press conference, he wanted to stay and wasn’t allowed to and that’s tough for him.”
Rivers coached Pierce for nine seasons before the Celtics let him out of his contract last month so he could take the Clippers’ head coaching gig. Danny Ainge, the Celtics' president of basketball operations, decided to blow the team up and start from scratch, eventually settling on a deal that Rivers believes is beneficial for both sides.
“If they’re going to rebuild, then they needed draft picks and they got them,” Rivers said. “Brooklyn is trying to win it. They got that, so it’s a win-win for both teams. The tough part of that trade was Paul. That’s tough because he was a Celtic. Kevin was kind of from Minnesota and the other guy, Jason, had been there one year. But Paul, that was a tough one.”
With the Nets’ flurry of fresh faces, coach Jason Kidd essentially has a jig-saw puzzle and will have to find ways to make everything fit together. Besides the trio of ex-Celtics, they’re going to incorporate newcomers Andrei Kirilenko, Shaun Livingston, Alan Anderson and Mason Plumlee into the mix.
“I think it will come together,” Rivers said. “Listen, anything comes together when a lot of people want it to come together, and they have a lot of guys that want it to come together. Paul, Jason and Kevin want to win another title and everyone else wants to win their first. So, if they all want to do that, then it all will work out.”
Rivers also thinks having Lawrence Frank -- someone he’s very familiar given he was on his staff from 2010-11 before taking the Pistons head coaching job in 2011 -- as Kidd’s top assistant is huge. Frank is essentially teaching Kidd the ropes.
“I think Lawrence will be great for Jason for a lot of reasons,” Rivers said. “One, that he’s been a head coach. Two, he coached Jason. So, he knows him on a personal level. And then three, he was with me in Boston and he’s coached Paul and Kevin. So, he knows them. I think all that will be good. It will be a good fit for them.”
Nets general manager Billy King spent the past two offseasons attempting to assemble a cast that can match up with the Heat. Owner Mikhail Prokhorov continues to graciously open up his checkbook so they can do just that, as evidenced by the Nets’ $100 million payroll and roughly $80 million tax bill for the 2013-14 season.
Rivers recently said that he feels the Nets now have the horses to stack up with the two-time defending champs, but he wasn’t about to proclaim they’re going to knock them off.
“The Heat, I think we’re all tying to compete with them and so nobody knows,” Rivers said. “It wasn’t like they ran away with it this year. They had to get through Indiana, which was tough. Chicago pushed them without Rose and San Antonio really pushed them. The Heat, you give them all their due and respect. They’ve won back-to-back titles. They have the best player in the NBA. You are going to have to play well, but there are a lot of teams loading up to beat them.”
That includes Rivers’ new team, the very one he played for in 1991-92. Back then, though, the Clippers weren’t a threat to the Lakers. That’s certainly not the case now.
“We had a heck of a year the one year I was there,” Rivers said. “We made the playoffs. We lost to Utah in the final game. That was during the Rodney King riots. I think the series was 2-1 and we had a week break in the middle of the playoff series. We had to play Game 4 in Anaheim Coliseum, which seats, what 4,000 people? So, that is a great memory and since then, they haven’t had a lot.
“At the end of the day, listen, it’s a big job. They’ve won two playoff series in their history and we have to try to win four in one year if we want to be the winner. So, it’s a task, there’s no doubt.”