Brad Penner-USA Today

Paul Pierce says Celtics can compete for championship this season, but warns of possible early chemistry issues

Alex Reimer
October 16, 2017 - 5:05 pm

Celtics legend Paul Pierce is confident the team’s New Big Three can win a lot of games in the Eastern Conference and compete for a championship this season. But he also recognizes there will likely be some obstacles along the way. 

In an ESPN pre-season conference call, Pierce talked about the differences between the 2007-08 Celtics and the group consisting of Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward and Al Horford. He kept going back to the issue of experience. Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Pierce were all well into their 30s when they got together, and realized they needed to sacrifice in order to win. It’s still to be determined if this group shares that mindset.

“Our situation was unique,” Pierce explained. “We came together and did it in one year, even though we had all new faces. That was a hard thing to do. It's hard when you bring a whole new team together and say, 'We're going to get to the NBA Finals or win an NBA championship.' The chemistry has to be right, you have to be healthy. Guys have to understand their roles. A number of things have to go right for that to happen.”

The Celtics finalized their deal for Garnett on July 31, 2007, meaning he had more than two months to get acclimated with the organization before the regular season. Garnett, Allen and Pierce also went on a bonding trip in European.

This team wasn't provided with the same advantages. The Irving trade wasn’t even finalized until the tail end of August. As my colleague John Tomase pointed out last month, it’s not inconceivable the revamped Celtics may struggle out of the gate. 

“On the court, it's going to be the chemistry issues,” Pierce said. “You’ve got three talented players. Who's going to be willing to sacrifice? Who's going to be willing to take less or do more? Those things come up. Gordon was the leading man in Utah. Kyrie was a leading man at some points, but then we became second fiddle to LeBron. Now, he's finally going to be the leading man again. How will Gordon Hayward take to that? How do the rest of the guys –– the rookies and the young guys –– fall into their roles? Everybody has to understand what their role is going to be, and accept it if they want to go from a  good team to a great team. Some people don't always do that. But us, being an older team, we realized we didn't have a lot of time left. So we were willing to do anything possible to make it work. Sometimes you've gotta put your individual goals out the window if you want to accomplish something bigger than that and win a championship.”

The Celtics season may also come down to the emergence of Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, both of whom are expected to be in the starting lineup Tuesday against the Cavaliers. Pierce, who’s spoken glowingly about Tatum in the past, has nothing but praise for the rookie from Duke.

“From watching at home, he plays at his own pace, he's never in a hurry, Pierce said. “That’s something you don't really see from rookies. He has a really mature game. I think he's going to be a major contributor for the team this year. For him to come into a situation where he can possibly start and win a lot of games, I think he's mature enough to handle all of that.”

In addition to breaking down the upcoming season, ESPN’s newest NBA analyst also provided more information about his reunion with Allen in China last summer. The two infamously experienced a falling out after Allen had signed with the Heat after the 2012 campaign. 

Pierce said he now sees Allen’s point of view, and intends to get him together with Garnett in the near future.

"A lot of the little things I didn't really understand until he broke it down,” he said. “A man has to make his decision for his own happiness. I think that's what Ray did. We talked about it and now we can move forward.” 

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