BOSTON (CBS) — Twenty-two games into the 2013-14 season is too early to make confident declarations about most things in the NBA. It’s just too small of a sample size. One exception to that rule, however, is declaring a winner in the offseason blockbuster trade between the Boston Celtics and Brooklyn Nets.
Danny Ainge looks like a genius right now. He walked away from the Celtics’ Big Three era at seemingly the perfect moment, collecting serious assets in the form of three first-round picks (plus salary filler) from the Nets over the next five years in exchange for Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry.
There’s no real need to dig much deeper here in analyzing the trade. With the Nets’ dismal start, they’ve lost this deal already, by a landslide. The Celtics’ future is looking rosier than ever, with a bright new coach, an improving batch of young players and an impressive collection of pieces with which to build the team in the future.
Meanwhile, as Brooklyn prepares to face the Celtics for the first time this season tonight, they are simply trying to get their season back on track. It’s been a dysfunctional first 20 games for these new-look Nets as they’ve stumbled out to a 6-14 start.
Head coach Jason Kidd appears to be in over his head, kicking his best assistant coach to the curb last week in an apparent power struggle. Kidd is trying to learn the intricacies of being a head coach, but it’s been a tough learning curve thus far. To make matters worse, Deron Williams, Brook Lopez, Andrei Kirilenko, Terry and Pierce have all been battling various injuries, sitting out significant portions of the young season. Playing with a roster merely at half strength, Brooklyn’s offense has been dismal most nights, and the defense has been the worst in the league thus far.
Despite the woes, Celtics fans watching tonight will have a special interest in both Garnett and Pierce (who is hoping to play, despite a hand injury). Those two have been put under a harsh microscope by the New York media given Brooklyn’s brutal start. Both players have struggled out of the gate, particularly with their offensive games, as they adjust to a new scheme and entire new cast of teammates. Pierce is shooting a dismal 36.8 percent from the field and Garnett has been even worse at 36.2 percent.
The scrutiny both have faced so far is somewhat warranted, given the sharp drop-off in their numbers, but the vast majority of it has been unjust criticism. Both future Hall of Famers were brought to Brooklyn to be members of a supporting cast, but have been thrust into bigger roles with all of the Nets’ injuries. Pierce and Garnett have been asked to do more than what should be expected at their advanced ages and their games have not responded well to that pressure early on.
Due to this, many national NBA writers have watched the duo early on in their miscast roles and have made the declaration that both Pierce and Garnett are “done” or “washed up” entirely. That kind of statement is far too drastic.
Longtime observers of Pierce and Garnett should know better. Older players go through extended slumps, and these two players have been counted out for years by much of the media. Time after time though, just when you thought their tanks might be empty, the wily veterans found another gear and put together amazing stretches of basketball.
Take for instance when Rajon Rondo went down last year and the Celtics’ season looked like a lost cause. Pierce, playing with a nerve problem, managed to average 18.8 points, 6.2 rebounds and 5.6 assists after the All-Star Game and helped the 2012-13 Celtics into the playoffs.
Garnett has always been fueled by the media calling him “old.” He almost feeds on it for added motivation. Watching him now, it’s easy to forget Garnett posted five straight double-doubles just eight months ago during a playoff series against the New York Knicks.
Despite their ages, I refuse to believe both Pierce and Garnett have “lost” it this quickly. There is too much talent there, too much drive, to see their overall play fall off a cliff for good so suddenly.
The Nets have a long road ahead of them to get back into the Eastern Conference playoff picture. Once the dust settles though, I expect Pierce and Garnett to be driving forces in bringing this Brooklyn squad back from the ashes, as long as Kidd can get his act together in the coaching department.
So enjoy watching Pierce and Garnett tonight, while they are still out there. It’s unclear how many years they have left in their careers, but don’t be fooled. They aren’t done yet. Here’s hoping they get one more shot at the Miami Heat before they are through.
Brian Robb covers the Celtics for CBS Boston and contributes to NBA.com, among other media outlets. You can follow him on Twitter @CelticsHub.
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