Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett Face Celtics as Shells of Their Former Selves

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistDecember 9, 2013

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 24: Teammates Kevin Garnett #2 of the Brooklyn Nets and Paul Pierce #34 of the Brooklyn Nets during a game against the Detroit Pistons at Barclays Center on November 24, 2013 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2013 NBAE (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)
Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

Things are not what they used to be.

Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett were once worshiped for their skill, unbridled allegiance and ageless fire. You could take the athleticism out of KG and volume scoring out of The Truth, but you couldn't pirate their passion. Their intensity.

Look at me, referencing Pierce and Garnett like they're a couple of subdued dinosaurs, their fires extinguished and voices muffled. Look at me, talking about "what was" like it took place forever ago. Forgive me, please—that's just how it feels.

The 6-14 Brooklyn Nets host Beantown on Tuesday, where a matchup against the 10-12 Boston Celtics awaits, the circumstances of which couldn't be any more puzzling or ironic.

General manager Danny Ainge shipped Pierce, a career-long Celtic, and Garnett to Brooklyn over the summer, spelling the end of a championship core. The Celtics needed to rebuild, and those not fit for the project had to go.

Out went Doc Rivers, who plotted his own escape. Out went Pierce, Garnett and Jason Terry. In came rookie coach Brad Stevens, deposits of questions in hand.

Goodbyes never felt so cruel. First Ray Allen, then, not even a year later, Pierce and Garnett. This couldn't be happening. 

Nov 27, 2013; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Brooklyn Nets small forward Paul Pierce (34) and power forward Kevin Garnett (2) looks on against the Los Angeles Lakers at Barclays Center. The Lakers won 99-94. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

But it had to happen. Boston was moving in a different direction. Brooklyn needed a soul, an identity. Garnett and Pierce, two aging vets, were seeking contention—it was a perfect match.

Or so we thought. 

It's not the Nets who have the sixth-highest winning percentage in the dreadful Eastern Conference. Nor is it the Nets who have found a way to top a pitiful Atlantic Division. That honor—should we choose to call it that—goes to the Celtics, a team constructed to tank but fit for winning (enough).

Garnett and Pierce, meanwhile, are left to sort through the rubble of a nondescript Nets team, characterized only by their mushrooming failures. Pierce has barely been healthy enough to play. He's missed the last four games after breaking the third metacarpal bone in his right hand, an injury that could sideline him for two to four weeks.

Or so we thought again.

Pierce is practicing and, according to CSN New England's A. Sherrod Blakely, could play in Brooklyn and Boston's first encounter this season:

Of course he'll play. Playing Boston for the first time in a real game will be an emotional experience, a time to wax nostalgic on what was and what could have been. Even if Pierce doesn't admit it, it means something.

You don't just move on after 15 years. That doesn't happen. Shades of Boston green can still be seen in his black and white Nets jersey. And the same goes for Garnett. Try as they might to ignore it and overcome it, things aren't the same.

According to the The Boston Globe's Gary Washburn, these two are not the same:

Those close to the Nets intimate that Pierce has lost his passion, still stunned from his departure from Boston and the only team he ever knew, while Garnett is no better than a backup at this stage of his career. Pierce won’t face the Celtics Tuesday night because of a fractured right hand and Terry remains out following offseason knee surgery, leaving Garnett on an island to determine the cause and the solution for the disastrous start.

Statistical declines were inevitable. Age not only catches up to the most diligent workers, Pierce and Garnett weren't brought in to be stars. Glorified role players is more like it, keepers of energy, conviction and manifested fury. 

On a team with so much talent and star power, the numbers wouldn't be the same. But they weren't supposed to be like this.

Garnett, the healthier of the two, is averaging 6.4 points on 36.2 percent shooting, both of which would be career lows—and both of which are absolutely pathetic. Pierce, when healthy, hasn't been much better. Though he's pitching in 12.4 points per game, his 36.8 percent shooting and 12.2 PER are the worst of his otherwise illustrious career.

Numbers wouldn't be as big of a concern if the Nets were winning, which they aren't. It wouldn't even be news if Pierce and Garnett were rising to the occasion when needed, but they haven't.

Oct 12, 2013; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Brooklyn Nets power forward Kevin Garnett (left) and Brooklyn Nets small forward Paul Pierce look on before the first half of the preseason game against the Detroit Pistons at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Joe Campore
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Brooklyn has dealt with copious amounts of injuries, most notably those to Deron Williams, Andrei Kirilenko and Brook Lopez. And still, Garnett and Piercethe real Garnett and Pierceare nowhere to be found.

Life has been taken out of them. Shots are no longer falling, but more unnervingly, the raw vigor is gone. There is a disconnect between them and their new franchise, between them and the city of Brooklyn. It's not Boston; the Barclays Center is not the TD Garden, the house either player helped build.

This is nothing like the situation they left, and it shows. In individual stat lines, yes, but also in the standings. The Nets rank in the bottom eight of points scored and allowed and in assists and rebounds per game. They're 6-14, in possession of the third-worst record in the Eastern Conference, falling faster and faster and faster still.

Healthy bodies will go a long way in remedying collective woes. Williams might be able to tie this mess together for Jason Kidd. The Nets might be able to turn their season around.

Things might get better, but, as Tuesday night's trip down memory lane reminds us, they will never be the same. Not for Pierce, not for Garnett.

"We got guys beat up," Garnett said on the state of the Nets, via Washburn. "We’re not a whole, period."

Displaced from Boston, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett will never be whole again.

*All stats were compiled from Basketball-Reference and ESPN.com are accurate as of Dec. 9, 2013 unless otherwise noted.