Paul Pierce returns to TD Garden this Sunday (6:30 p.m., CSNNE) and will be wearing black.
The funeral vibe will become complete when Pierce sheds a tear (you know it’s coming) the first time PA announcer Eddie Palladino mentions his name to the No. 34-loving Garden crowd.
And for a few hours, those in attendance will be cursing the name of Danny Ainge and will be murmuring things like:
“How in the hell could that snake trade OUR guy?”
“Rondo is back. If Ainge never traded Pierce and KG, we would be one of the better teams in the crappy Eastern Conference right now.”
“Why is Brad Stevens getting such a pass? Because he’s a nice guy? If he had a big personality like Rick Pitino, he would be getting booed out of the building every night.”
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Then by Monday morning, people will come back to their senses and realize that the lowly, young Celtics are actually closer to the NBA title than the mediocre, old Nets and that Ainge may have swung basketball’s version of the Herschel Walker trade when everything’s said and done in 2018, the last year of three years in which the Celtics will be cashing in on first round picks from the blockbuster.
What’s more? The filthiest secret of Ainge’s swindling of Nets GM Billy King may not even be on the books yet.
Pierce will be a free agent this summer. He has given no indication that he wants to hang ’em up. If the currently under-.500 Nets don’t make any noise in the playoffs this spring, assuming they even make it, Kevin Garnett will likely retire. Meanwhile, the Celtics (if the tank job continues to go as planned) will be drafting one of the NBA’s next big things. Would a 37-year-old Pierce want to scratch and claw his way to 45 wins or so with Brook Lopez and Deron Williams in 2014-15 or return to Boston, re-unite with Rajon Rondo and help guide, say, a fellow Kansas alum like Andrew Wiggins to 45 wins or so?
The Nets can offer more money to Pierce than the Celtics can this summer under the league’s CBA, but what’s an extra million to Pierce at this point in his career?
Pierce didn’t have many negative things to say about Ainge going out the door. In fact, he told the Boston Herald that he would have done the same exact thing Ainge did if he was in the same position (and Pierce has stated numerous times he would like to be part of an NBA front office someday). Is it ridiculous to think that Ainge and Pierce made a backdoor deal last summer? Is it ridiculous to think that Ainge went up to Pierce, gave him a nudge, a wink and said, “Let’s talk again next summer? “or “You could be my right-hand man one day?”
No matter how this plays out, Pierce is and always will be a Celtic. As hard as it was to see him leave in last summer’s trade, everyone involved can plainly see that the franchise in green is better off for it. And though the Celtics sport an underwhelming 15-29 record right now, Banner 18 doesn’t really seem all that far off.
Follow Metro Boston sports editor and columnist Matt Burke on Twitter @BurkeMetroBOS