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2016-2017 Clippers Exit Interviews: Paul Pierce, The End of an Error

A brief look at Paul Pierce’s last season in the NBA and what he epitomized about this era of the Clippers.

Utah Jazz v Los Angeles Clippers - Game Seven Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Name: Paul Pierce

Age: 39

Key Stats: 3.2/1.9/0.4 (points/rebounds/assists) on 40.0/34.9/76.9 shooting in 11.1 minutes per game, 25 games played in regular season

Playoff Stats: 3.0/2.0/1.0 on 44.4/40.0/1.00 shooting in 14.4 minutes per game, 7 games played

Years in NBA: 19

2016-2017 Salary: $3,500,000

Future Contract Status: $3,700,000 for 2017-2018 to be declined (retirement)

Summary: Unlike last year, there were no expectations for Paul Pierce in the 2016-2017 season. Fans prayed that he wouldn’t be in the rotation… and he wasn’t for the most part. He played in only 25 games, starting a meager 7. When he did play, he shot slightly better than the season prior, but not enough to make a difference-- and his defense was even worse. In short, he was a negative just about every time he stepped on the court.

It was therefore infuriating when Doc Rivers started playing him more down the stretch of the season, as it demonstrated he probably had a place in the Clippers’ playoff rotation. Sure as sure, Pierce appeared in every playoff game, and played more per game than he had in the regular season. To be fair, Pierce actually wasn’t horrible on offense, as he made a few big shots and even took opponents off the dribble a couple times. He did, however, have some truly brutal turnovers, and made several other passes that should have been giveaways but were saved by other Clippers. While he didn’t play as badly as fans may have feared, he was still constantly exploited on defense, and his inability to stay with his man or recover on hedges led to many open Jazz three pointers. Despite all that, Paul was a +11 for a series that the Clippers lost. He shouldn’t have played as much as he did, but at the end of the day, Brandon Bass or Wes Johnson probably wouldn’t have made much a difference.

Strengths: Pierce doesn’t have many strengths at this point in his NBA career. He is an alright outside shooter, and teams respect his shot due to his reputation, so he provides a modicum of spacing. Pierce also generally knows where he should be on the court, and tries to make the correct play on both ends.

Weaknesses: While Pierce’s mind remains strong, his flesh is weak. Pierce might see what the right rotation is on the defensive end, but his footspeed is gone, and he can’t get there. That means his know-how is useless. Basketball is a sport where effort and process is important, yes. Results trump everything, however, and Pierce can’t get those any more. He’s too slow to guard almost anyone out on the perimeter, and too small and unathletic to play inside and grab rebounds. There’s just not a place for him on the defensive end of the court. On offense, outside of his stand-still shot, he lacks weapons. Pierce doesn’t have enough juice in the tank to get by a non-traffic cone defender, and players rarely fall for his trademark pump-fake anymore. If the game was only played on one end of the court, Pierce might yet have another year or two in him as a situational spot-up shooter. But it isn’t, so he doesn’t.

Future with Clippers: Paul Pierce is going to retire. If Doc Rivers remains with the Clippers organization, I could imagine a scenario where Pierce is associated with the team in some capacity. Probably not as a full-time coach, but maybe as a “freelance” style assistant/consultant along the lines of what Kevin Garnett did this season. If Doc doesn’t return, I don’t think we would see Pierce anywhere near the Clippers in the near future.

A Few Extra Thoughts: Paul Pierce is a first-ballot Hall of Famer. He was one of the best small forwards in the league in his prime, and the second-best player on one of the greatest teams the NBA has seen this century (the 2008 Celtics). A top-notch scorer, underrated passer and defensive player, and stone-cold killer in the clutch, Pierce will be remembered by all NBA fans who were around in the 2000s. When they think of him, they will reminisce on his glory days with the Celtics, or maybe even with the Nets or Wizards. What people won’t think of is his Clippers’ stint, unless they are coming up with a list of legends who hung around the NBA a year or two too long.

In many ways, Pierce is a symbol of everything that has kept the Clippers from succeeding in the Chris Paul era. He was an overpaid, under-performing veteran for the Clips—something that the franchise has seen far too many of in recent years. Pierce was brought in to perform a specific role, and failed miserably in that role. It’s hard to blame him: his body simply wasn’t up to the task of playing a professional sport anymore. This failure, is, however, an indictment on both Doc Rivers the GM and Doc Rivers the Coach—the one for paying and relying on a 38 year old, and the other for continuing to play that clearly washed-up player in critical games.

Paul Pierce’s time with the Clippers will be a footnote in his career, and an even smaller mark in that of the franchises’ history. It won’t be forgotten by fans of the Clippers, however. And when they look back on Pierce, they certainly won’t be thinking happy thoughts.