Paul Pierce goes home again

"You know what? I think as long as I'm in the league, it's going to be tough [to come back]," Pierce admitted, "because I'm going to have to come back to the Boston Garden. ... When you come back there's always going to be memories, and there's nothing you're going to do to escape."

Franchise players in Celtic green don't get traded. They collect 11 rings in 13 years, like Russell. They decide when they've had enough, like Cousy, even as Red Auerbach begged him for more. They stake their permanent claim as the dominant prongs of the original Big Three, like Bird and McHale, who retired on their terms, not those of a basketball executive who needs to be thinking about the business -- not the sentiment -- of his team.

Pierce was not presented with the precious option of determining his own fate. This fact stung him; staggered him, actually. Even though he knew it was coming, when the Celtics finally traded him, he was devastated.

When I visited him in New Jersey last summer, on the day he was introduced for the first time as a member of the Brooklyn Nets, he spent most of our interview near tears.

He wondered aloud why he wasn't given the same consideration as Kobe Bryant, the Laker for life who has won five championships for Los Angeles, or Dirk Nowitzki, who became the face of his franchise, the Dallas Mavericks, even though he brought home just one title. Nowitzki was promised by his owner in a public forum that he would never be traded.

Pierce loved his house in suburban Boston, had developed friendships and community connections. He told me last July he wasn't ready to move to New York, that when he was a young boy growing up in Inglewood, Calif., he used to watch grainy footage of muggings and stabbings in Central Park and it terrified him.

"All those years we played the Knicks, I never set foot in Central Park," he said back in July. "I guess I might have to now."

These are practical times in the NBA. Players are traded for salaries and draft picks because that's how teams are rebuilt.

Boston's championship window had closed and Ainge, who once famously declared he would not make the mistake that Auerbach did and hang on to his veterans too long, decided it was time to tear it all down.

Pierce had to go, and KG would have to go with him. Since Garnett had a no-trade clause, the only teams in the running were ones that gave them a chance to win it all.

On paper, Brooklyn looked to be one of those teams. But injuries, chemistry issues and a rookie coach caused the Nets to slog through the early part of the season. They appear to have discovered their footing -- their win over Boston Sunday night gives them 10 in the past 11 games -- but does anyone honestly believe they will upend Miami or Indiana with their center, Brook Lopez, gone for the year?

Before the game, Pierce said the team's identity was "developing."

"Anything can happen," he said, something he'd told me in the very same hallway one year earlier.

Last year, of course, he was talking about the Celtics.

Danny Ainge made a basketball decision that he felt confident would benefit all parties. The Celtics would rebuild with future assets and take their lumps in the process. Pierce and KG would move on to a better team, a more promising scenario, and escape the losing that was destined to descend on the Garden.

You'd like to think Pierce is OK with this. He's trying. But the Truth still has that dazed look in his eyes, nearly six months later.

"I loved it here," he said softly, as he walked toward the visitors locker room before the game. "Never wanted to leave."

He has a new house, a new uniform, a new team. He even took a deep breath and took his family to Central Park.

"We went to the zoo and everything," Pierce reported. "It's very nice."

It's just not home.

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