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Pierce hopes to be Clippers' missing piece to a title

Veteran hopes to finish what he and Doc Rivers started

POSTED: Jul 23, 2015 9:11 PM ET

By Ian Thomsen

BY Ian Thomsen


Pierce, Smith Address Media

Paul Pierce and Josh Smith met with the media on Tuesday.

Paul Pierce was watching the Clippers on TV last May as they lost Game 7 of their Western conference semifinal. Pierce's own team, the Wizards, had been knocked out of the Eastern conference playoffs two days before.

"I already knew I was either going to go home and play for the Clippers or come back to Washington,'' says Pierce, who opted out of his Wizards contract to become a free agent. "So I watched the Clippers closely.''

He watched, horrified, as they surrendered a 3-1 series lead over Houston. Worst of all was a Game 6 loss in Los Angeles in which the Rockets scored 51 of the last 71 points.

"No way — if I was in that locker room — I would have allowed that to happen,'' Pierce says. "You picture yourself being that voice or being that guy on the court that can help in those situations. I think I fill a pretty big need for them.''

So his career ends where it began. Pierce starred at Inglewood High School, one mile west of the Fabulous Forum where the Lakers played. He had grown up idolizing Magic Johnson and hating Larry Bird. He could not have imagined how his loyalties would change during 15 years as a Celtic, and that his preference ultimately would be to return home to play for the Lakers' nearest enemy.

There was a time, three decades ago, when pro basketball was saved by the rivalry of Boston and Los Angeles. Pierce has grown up to straddle the NBA's dueling capitals.

If I could win the first Clippers' championship here, that would be pretty much storybook.

– Paul Pierce

"I'm trying to cement my legacy in both,'' he says. "If I could win the first Clippers' championship here, that would be pretty much storybook.''

He would not have signed with the Clippers unless he believed in the fable of his own career. Doc Rivers was the coach in Boston who taught Pierce to believe in his teammates. Now Pierce has followed Rivers back across the country, to help instill the same ideals in Los Angeles, to finish what they started.

Pierce and Rivers were both born on Oct. 13. Rivers, who retired as a player in 1996, is 16 years older.

"It's always 'Happy Birthday young fella' to him, and he always tells me I'm the old guy,'' says Pierce, who will turn 38 in the fall. "It's going to be great, the accountability of it — not only the team, but with Doc and his coaching staff. It made this whole process a lot easier, especially the position the team was in. If the Clippers weren't a team that was contending, or if it wasn't home for me, then this wouldn't have been a destination for me. It's all working out the way I want it to.''

Pierce will always be linked to Boston, as he was reminded during a recent meeting with Celtics president Danny Ainge. "I ran into Danny a couple days ago and he said, `When you're ready, we have a spot for you,''' says Pierce. "I think he was meaning as a player, but maybe it was in the front office ...''

As Pierce looks ahead to his next career, he rules out no possibility — including the idea of working as a basketball executive for Rivers and the Clippers eventually.

"I could see that,'' says Pierce. "I could see that because Doc respects my basketball mind. Just because you play for one franchise doesn't mean you're going to be working for them. Danny Ainge is one of the fortunate ones: Look at all the great players who have been in that [Celtics] organization who are working for other organizations — look at Larry Bird, Kevin McHale. It could be Paul Pierce as a Boston guy working for the Clippers.''

He will always be grateful to the Celtics for ingraining him with their championship values. He is also grateful that he didn't play for the Lakers, because he wonders whether he could have prospered as a young millionaire in his hometown.

"You've got to know yourself,'' he says. "I know how difficult it would have been for me, being from here — a young immature kid playing at home. I wouldn't want that. That would be a whole other monster, with all of the distractions and that. Things happen for a reason. This is all destiny, I believe.''

GameTime: Clippers' Depth Chart

The guys talk about the way DeAndre Jordan handled the Dallas situation and discuss the Clippers projected depth chart.

In spite of severely limited cap room, Rivers has made good on his postseason hopes of re-signing center DeAndre Jordan, while also improving the Clippers' depth by landing Pierce in addition to Lance Stephenson and Josh Smith. "We have all the pieces right now, it's just about how we come together,'' Pierce says. "There are five or six teams that can win it all, and it boils down to how you come together and whoever is the healthiest.''

How many more chances will he have?

"I still have the motivation to get up early in the summertime and get ready for the season,'' Pierce says. "I don't know when it's going to die down and go away. I'm fortunate not to have had any major injuries, but you get injuries at this age and they don't heal so fast. It's something we're going to talk about — low minutes and games. I think he just wants me to get through the season and get ready for the playoffs.''

The kinds of big shots he made for the Wizards last postseason will make a difference next spring for the Clippers. So too will the example that will be established for Stephenson every time Pierce refuses to complain about a shortage of shots or touches.

"It could be anything from being vocal in the locker room at halftime to get guys going, or providing other kinds of help in any number of ways,'' Pierce says. "I see the difference I was able to make for John [Wall] or Bradley Beal. I've learned to play with other great players. I can do a number of things to help a championship team.''

That's why they brought him here. It was his time to come home.

Ian Thomsen has covered the NBA since 2000. You can e-mail him here or follow him on Twitter.

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