Battle-Tested, Pierce Emerges as Celtics Leader

By Peter F. Stringer
July 18, 2006

WALTHAM - A year ago, Paul Pierce was at the crossroads, and it didn't look like any of them would lead him back to Boston.

Fast forward to July 18, 2006; a few hours ago, he was crossing the T's and dotting the I's on a five-year contract extension to be the leader in Boston.

Rivers and Pierce Doc Rivers is happy to have his captain by his side to help lead the Celtics for the next five years.

Think back to the summer of 2005. The Celtics had been eliminated from the playoffs in the first round by Indiana, after Pierce was famously ejected from Game 6, and admittedly didn't quite cover himself or the team in glory.

Trade rumors swirled in the press for the rest of the summer, and considering all of the media speculation, it seemed unlikely Pierce would even be a Celtic in October when training camp rolled around.

"Last summer was my longest summer," said Pierce moments after his press conference to talk about the contract extension. "There were a lot questions about my future, and a lot of contemplating if this was the right place for me. But as that summer grew on, I knew I wanted to be here, I knew I wanted to change things on my own with my attitude and my play."

With the help of his family and inner circle, Pierce says he changed his attitude after some soul-searching.

"It was a group of people; my Mom, my brothers, my agent, and [Pierce's high school coach from Inglewood] Patrick Roy. It was just a combination of people talking to me and helping me turn this thing around," said Pierce.

More than a year later, Pierce sat behind a microphone with Doc Rivers, Danny Ainge and a handful of Celtics owners who just emptied their pockets for a five-year contract extension that will keep Pierce in Boston through the 2010-2011 season.

"Before I signed the contract, I thought about what's going to be my place in Celtics history, and that's why I put all my eggs in the basket with Danny and Doc," said Pierce.

Rivers certainly knows what he's got in that basket. The contract not only signifies that Pierce is the franchise player in Boston, but that he's the leader of a young team that has room to grow before it's ready to compete for a championship.

Rivers is certainly glad to have his team captain back in the fold, and said that we probably don't appreciate how good Pierce is because today's great players are constantly compared to those who came before them, especially when you play for the Celtics. But he's pleased with how Pierce has progressed as a leader since he took over as coach, because Pierce, a five-time All-Star, provides a great example by his own dedication to improving his game.

Pierce's new attitude has a lot to do with his progression as both a player and a leader.

"He's kind of let us in, and he's let me in for sure, and he's dropped his guard," said Rivers. "He's probably as important a star on a team as any star in the league because of the youth we have around him. Everything is magnified with him and that's a hell of a burden."

But it seems like Pierce has embraced the leadership role and enjoys the challenge of bringing the Celtics to the championship level. Rivers is especially pleased that Pierce didn't just look for the easy way out.

"I'm so tired of all of these guys around the league saying, 'I wanna win, I want to go to a championship team.' If you're that good, stay in your place and make it a championship team," said Rivers. "I think Paul is saying that he's willing to take that chance. Paul has held up his end of the bargain, now we have to try to hold up ours."

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