As if it is not already clear enough, the Celtics are going to dominate the Eastern Conference and eventually take home their second-consecutive world championship.
A big reason for this is Paul Pierce.
Pierce is the greatest player on earth. The reason for this is not that he is the best shooter or the best scorer (two distinctions which belong to Kobe Bryant), but because he has the most adaptable game of any player on the planet.
If the Celtics are matched up such that he needs to be a rebounder, he will do it. If a game necessitates a crucial stop, he gets it. If he needs to slow a game down because his team is tired, behind, or both, he does it.
Three-point shooting? Got it. Defensive prowess? Got it. Explosive finishing? Got that.
Slick passing to unexpected places? All day.
Now, I am aware that many people will say that Pierce couldn't play defense until he got Garnett, just like Kobe can't play without a big man like Shaq or Andrew Bynum behind him. Neither of these arguments are true.
Kobe's career numbers (subtracting his first few years in the league, due to Paul Pierce using these years at Kansas developing his game) are as follows: PPG - 28, RPG -6, APG - 6, SPG -2, TOPG - 3, FG% - 45, 3PT% - 34, FT% - 83, BPG - 0.5.
Paul's numbers: PPG - 24, RPG - 7, APG - 4, SPG - 1, TOPG - 3, FG% - 45, 3PT% - 37, FT% - 80, BLK - 0.5.
Now, I was surprised to find that Kobe gets more assists than Paul while still scoring more. Likewise, I give him credit for not turning the ball over more. Kobe also has a huge edge in terms of steals per game. However, Paul can be counted on for more rebounding and slightly better three-point shooting.
The numbers show that these two guys are incredibly similar players. Unfortunately, they don't reveal the entire story. Pierce has not played with a rebounding machine nearly as often as Kobe has, which might account for some if not all of the rebounding disparity.
On the other hand, having a big guy down low who demands double-teams as often as the guys Kobe has played with has its obvious advantages as well. Players might be more hesitant to dribble into the lane when Shaq is down there, resulting in more opportunities for Kobe to steal the ball, for instance.
However, without any real measuring tool for these sorts of circumstances, it is impossible to tell definitively who is more deserving of their statistics. What this argument really boils down to is which player is better equipped to help a team, any team, win an NBA championship right now.
The proof of this, for me, is in the pudding. Seeing Paul Pierce take over games for years and years (and seeing Kobe doing the same) leads me to believe that Paul Pierce is the best choice.
Though both great players, Kobe Bryant has had many more chances in the playoffs and in NBA finals to "be clutch." This has led to many heroic moments. Paul has had fewer of these opportunities, and he has come through more frequently than Kobe.
Paul Pierce also has been a consummate professional throughout his career. Whether he is genuine in his "NBA Cares" outreach programs or not is not what I am talking about here.
I am talking about whether he has petulantly dissed his teammates, coaches, or organization through the media or alternative sources throughout his career. He has not. Kobe Bryant does so every few years. Whether Shaq started their beef is not the issue.
If Kobe were a smarter, more-winning personality, he would have shut his mouth, let Shaq be the man, and eventually had more championships than Michael Jordan. He choose not to do this. This is an example of the attitude that will prevent Kobe from winning another championship this year, and possibly ever again.
The Lakers will likely reach the NBA Finals again this year. They will almost certainly be a better team, with perhaps the best center in the league (Andrew Bynum) joining the fray.
If Bynum can contain his emotions, they stand some chance. If Pau Gasol learns to play shutdown defense over the course of this season, they have a realistic chance. Because these two things will not both happen, the Lakers will lose in the NBA Finals again.