Clippers: No Paul Pierce is the right move

Dec 26, 2015; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Los Angeles Clippers forward Paul Pierce (34) looks on as his team played the Utah Jazz at Vivint Smart Home Arena. The Clippers won 109-104. Mandatory Credit: Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 26, 2015; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Los Angeles Clippers forward Paul Pierce (34) looks on as his team played the Utah Jazz at Vivint Smart Home Arena. The Clippers won 109-104. Mandatory Credit: Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports /

It looks as if veteran forward Paul Pierce is no longer in the Los Angeles Clippers’ rotation, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Father time is a cruel bastard.

He constantly leaves the window open for us to believe our favorites will never die out. Then they instantly die before our eyes, leaving us in their putridness while reminiscing the glory days.

And as we grow, the list continues to grow, taking the beloved superstars of the 1990s from us one by one. Kevin Garnett‘s a full-time mentor in Minnesota to Karl-Anthony and the bunch. Kobe Bryant‘s retired. Vince Carter was forced into Memphis’ rotation because of injury, better than the hobbled caricature seen last season but still not that good. Tim Duncan‘s still good, but more a defensive guy than offensive these days (and there’s really no need, which is odd).

And then there’s Paul Pierce.

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Of the players named, only Duncan and Pierce were expected by some to be important pieces to a championship team. Duncan’s holding up his end of bargain. The offense is falling but prior to injury, Timmy was building himself a nice campaign for Defensive Player of the Year. But Pierce? It took until the playoffs for Rivers to notice the sorest of thumbs on a bench filled with sore thumbs but the future Hall of Famer, going in as a Celtic and nothing else, has fallen out of the playoff rotation, receiving his first career postseason DNP-Coach’s Decision in the Los Angeles Clippers’ game 2 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers.

“It is what it is,” Pierce told Chris Mannix of The Vertical. “It is what it is. It’s difficult. As a competitor, you want to compete and help your team win. A close game – I’ve been in those situations lots of times. When you have competed at a high level, it’s difficult.”

Pierce is a competitor. It showed in his early, non-winning days, and when the stars aligned and Pierce saw himself a winner of a NBA championship in 2008. So it’s a given he’d want to be out there, helping his team trample over a Trail Blazers team that just doesn’t look ready to be there.

But the truth is that this team should move past Pierce as a whole if they haven’t already. One year ago, the union would’ve been perfect. A year younger, Pierce still contained enough mobility to be a mismatch at power forward on the offensive end, using his bullish speed to trick bigger defenders and his size to punish smaller wings at the elbow as he’s done his entire career.

Washington thrived off the Pierce-at-power-forward look and it only made since the Clippers would do the same if Pierce’s body could hold up for just one more year (it will always be noted by myself that in the summer of 2014 the Clippers chose Spencer Hawes over Pierc).

Except that guy doesn’t exist anymore, and with the little mobility that’s left, so has his last recognizable positive NBA trait: his jumpshot, shooting 31 percent from three, the third worst percentage of his playing career since shooting 30 percent and 29 percent in back-to-back seasons from 2002 to 2004.

Not having a jump shot makes Pierce unplayable. In the 1980s or 90s, maybe he’s playable, but as the league grows and evolves, the criteria for role players continues to develop, asking players to know how to do more instead of being one dimensional, and Pierce can’t even make the claim for that, one-dimensional: he’s as bad as bad can get.

“It is what it is. It’s difficult. As a competitor, you want to compete and help your team win” – Paul Pierce

And in his spot, Jeff Green or Wesley Johnson, depending on how you decipher which wing is which. Neither are perfect. Green and Johnson are similar in perception and near equals in production: Johnson’s the better shooter and defender, Green knows how to do more with his athleticism. Even if a marginal improvement, those two provide more, and with an inconsistent bench, that margin meaningful in ways that could decide the turnout of a series.

In the fallout, Rivers still believes Pierce can help the Clippers (said so in The Vertical article), and in some way he’s not wrong. In the post-Griffin injury months, Pierce had a game here and there that made you remember exactly why the team wanted him onboard for two consecutive summers. Hitting threes. Abusing smalls in the guard-forward matchup. Clearing the paint for his teammates to attack the rim. The ultimate small-ball experience.

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Never did the experience fully arrive, reminding you tenfold that he’s awful on the other end of the floor. The truth hurts but The Truth hurts on that end more than he’s provided on offense all season.

Against the Warriors, that recipe won’t work. Against the Spurs, that recipe won’t work. Against the Cavaliers, that recipe won’t work. If the basketball Gods make it to where Oklahoma City stands in front of them in the Western Conference finals, the recipe may work, but not more times than it doesn’t work.

The Clippers’ goal is to win a championship. Western Conference finals would be a nice consolation prize as that portion of the playoffs is classified as first-time territory for a franchise who’s never ventured past the conference semifinals. But this group wasn’t put together to say they were second best in their conference, or second best in the league for that matter. Upon Doc Rivers‘ arrival, expectations tilted toward championship or bust, and to achieve that goal, Rivers needs to have the right players on the floor.

Next: Clippers’ defense dominates Blazers in Game 2 win

And for the first time in his career, Paul Pierce doesn’t qualify as such. It’s painful to say out loud, but it’s the truth.