by Dennis Tarwood / @tuffyr

Paul Pierce is now in his 11th year post-stabbing.  He’ll turn 33 next week and have a wife and family to celebrate with, both on the court and off due to the by-and-large preservation of the 2009 NBA Finalists and the 2008 NBA Champions.

For a brief moment after the violence to the peacemaking Pierce on September 25, 2000, it was Reggie Lewis and Len Bias.  It was Inglewood and NBA player stereotyping en total.

Instead, what do we have ten years later?  Paul Pierce sports two sets of rings, one for his summer marriage to his long-time girlfriend and another from 2008′s success.  He’sPaul Pierce coming off possibly his most successful career year offensively, daring to opt out of his final contract year (before the CBA gets blowed up good) but insisting on staying a Celtic.

Antoine Walker is on “Outside the Lines”, shrugging sheepishly at the mysterious loss of his career and all the earnings therein.  Al Jefferson continues to be the only person in his home market listening to urban contemporary stations, for which he should be called the Human Arbitron Rating in Minneapolis and Salt Lake City.

And, y’know, if you’ve seen Vitaly Potapenko recently, you probably should consider Promises Malibu for your hallucinations.

Even this season’s team is cause for reflection.  Shaquille O’Neal has joined Paul Pierce, yet the former is the afterthought despite gifting Pierce with his nickname, joining with Nate Robinson for a comedy team tentatively titled “Goofus and Goofus”.

Ray Allen is a year older, but he’s the ancient one who only has a mild chance of earning his paycheck while Pierce’s new four-year deal (threeish guaranteed) with heavy leanings towards retirement looks like a shamrock bargain.  Kevin Garnett will make sure you see how intense he is at every possible moment. Still, he’s not the leader; he’s the enforcer.

Yes, Pierce only played 71 regular season games last season, but it was really another 95-game season not counting preseason.  He had his knee drained as last year’s Christmas present, but he’s moving just as deliberately as he ever has.  He’s already working on his golf game for his retirement, but he’s not done just yet.  Due to this summer’s efforts by Danny Ainge to keep the band together, this team’s built for two more years of giving Kobe Bryant hell.

And yes, Paul Pierce heard about the offseason efforts in Miami.  He even offered a bit of advice to them:

“Now, can these guys say for the rest of their careers it’s not about winning the MVP? It’s about sacrificing the individual numbers for a greater good, and that’s winning a championship. I think the great players make the adjustment. If it doesn’t work out (the first year), I think as time goes, they’ll figure it out.”

Better hurry, Heat.  Paul Pierce has two more years with Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, Rajon Rondo, and enough size with Kendrick Perkins and Glen Davis to grind out seven nasty games against you when you fail to rebound.

It’s also entirely possible Chris Bosh still has to fit the hotel room bed with rubber sheets the night before playing against Kevin Garnett. If you don’t figure it out in the first year, you don’t have a lot of time left to show you were better than Paul Pierce’s team.

Because Paul Pierce knows about sacrifice.  He nearly sacrificed it all at the age of 22 to break up a fight yet didn’t shirk at giving back of himself after that day, from his flexibility with the Celtics and the salary cap to his team play to his Truth Fund and his Truth on Health campaign.  And now he’s ready to give the next two years of his life to weigh down another finger or two.  Just ask him how he feels:

“I’m a father, I’m a husband, I’ve grown, I’ve matured off the court, on the court. I have a chance to finish out my career here as a Celtic. I’m living in a dream right now truthfully. I’m at a good place in my life and I’m happy.”

That’s because Paul Pierce is still the ever-lovin’ Truth and he’s making the most of the second decade of his second life.

Ray AllenCelticsSG5036109
Gilbert ArenasWizardsSG493498
Lamar OdomLakersPF48331410
John WallWizardsPG47NR13NR
OJ MayoGrizzliesSG4646812
Al HorfordHawksC45NR6NR
Jason KiddMavsPG44451210
Joakim NoahBullsC43NR5NR
LaMarcus AldridgeBlazersPF42391312
David WestHornetsPF4131128
Monta EllisWarriorsSG40NR7NR
Andrew BogutBucksC39NR4NR
Yao MingRocketsC38NR3NR
Brandon JenningsBucksPG37NR11NR
Zach RandolphGrizzliesPF36NR11NR
Stephen CurryWarriorsPG35NR10NR
David LeeWarriorsPF34NR10NR
Brook LopezNetsC33NR2NR
Gerald WallaceBobcatsSF32NR7NR
Manu GinobiliSpursSG312967
Tony ParkerSpursPG301593
Kevin GarnettCelticsPF291393
Rudy GayGrizzliesSF284469
Josh SmithHawksPF2740813
Andre Iguodala76ersSG262656
Al JeffersonJazzPF252377
Russell WestbrookThunderPG24NR8NR
Chauncey BillupsNuggetsPG231975
Tyreke EvansKingsPG22NR6NR
Danny GrangerPacersSF212155
Carlos BoozerBullsPF203269
Paul PierceCelticsSF191744

• Rankings are based solely on projected ’10-11 performance.
• Contributors to this list include: Jeremy Bauman, Maurice Bobb, Erildas Budraitis, Sean Ceglinsky, Ben Collins, Bryan Crawford, Sandy Dover, Adam Figman, Manny Maduakolam, Eddie Maisonet, Ryne Nelson, Doobie Okon, Ben Osborne, Charles Peach, Branden Peters, Quinn Peterson, David Schnur, Todd Spehr, Kyle Stack, Adam Sweeney, Dennis Tarwood, Tracy Weissenberg, Lang Whitaker, Eric Woodyard, and Nima Zarrabi.
• Want more of the SLAMonline Top 50? Check out the archive.