by Dan Shapiro

The Truth: Still at it.

Take a second and look at who’s already made our Top 50. How many more guys been in the League for 10+ years are going to be included? Not many. It’s only a handful of guys who can call themselves elite this late in their career.

Paul Pierce is about to, hopefully, enter his 14th year in the league. In his 13th year, Paul did 18 and 5 and you can’t put a number on the fact that he’s one of a handful of guys who you feel good about giving the ball to at the end of the game. Sure, Ray’s likely to take the shot, but do you really feel comfortable leaving Paul Pierce with an open look with the game on the line? I’d think not.

Full disclosure: I’m a Celtics guy. Like a Dino Radja, Tommy Point, Walter kind of Celtics guy who wells up with tears watching “Larry Bird’s 50 Greatest Moments.”

Concerning last year’s team, I felt like they got the rug pulled from under them. The Perkins trade cut short the storyline of the Celtics’ revenge campaign coming off the crushing, and I mean crushing, ’10 Finals collapse. Maybe it was the likelihood of having to put money behind Kendrick’s inconsistent knees, maybe it was something Danny Ainge saw in Jeff Green that the rest of the world couldn’t see. It was likely some combination of both but either way the second half the last season, to my mind, was a recovery from that trade.

Still, they managed a first round sweep of the new look Knicks. There’s no question Paul’s got help. Ray, KG and Rondo all hold spots in our Top 50. But if you look at Paul’s history with the Celts he’s taken this team on his back time and time again.

He got drafted into a team trying to resuscitate itself from a rudderless decade of Celtic basketball. A run down of the Celtic ’90s: a move from the Garden to the generic confines of the Fleet Center, the death of Reggie Lewis, 1997’s 15-67, and not winning the Duncan lotto.

Having survived a near fatal stabbing, Paul, with a mixed bag of characters, has made the Celtics some version of relevant almost every season during his tenure with the team.

Add KG and Ray to the mix and the ’08 Finals run was the most fun a Celtics fan had in more than a decade. On top of that he’s turn around from the kind of guy that could be in a near fatal stabbing to a family man, and the kind of teammate any fan, player or owner would gladly have on their team.

As a Celtics fan, I’m hoping we can find some stability and toughness in the middle because I don’t have a doubt that, with Rondo and the Big Three, we got a formidable shot next year at taking down any team in a Playoff series. I start to laugh out loud (LOL) when I picture the Armageddon-levels of intensity Paul and KG will bring into next year’s Playoffs.

Paul’s an intense, passionate Celtic lifer and what would cap off his Celtic career nicer than a NBA Championship?

In a league where a player’s loyalty to his city’s been thrown out the window, it’s been the pleasure to have Paul Pierce as the guy in Boston all these years. And that’s the Truth.

SLAMonline Top 50 Players 2011
RankPlayerTeamPositionPos. Rank
50Luol DengBullsSF8
49Andrew BogutBucksC7
48Ray AllenCelticsSG9
47Marc GasolGrizzliesC6
46David WestHornetsPF15
45Kevin MartinRocketsSG8
44Andrew BynumLakersC5
43Brandon JenningsBucksPG11
42Lamar OdomLakersPF14
41Gerald WallaceBlazersSF7
40Brook LopezNetsC4
39Joakim NoahBullsC3
38Carlos BoozerBullsPF13
37Kevin GarnettCelticsPF12
36Eric GordonClippersSG7
35Tony ParkerSpursPG10
34Andre Iguodala76ersSG6
33Al JeffersonJazzPF11
32Al HorfordHawksC2
31Stephen CurryWarriorsPG9
30Tim DuncanSpursPF10
29Josh SmithHawksPF9
28Manu GinobiliSpursSG5
27Tyreke EvansKingsPG8
26Rudy GayGrizzliesSF6
25John WallWizardsPG7
24Danny GrangerPacersSF5
23Monta EllisWarriorsSG4
22Joe JohnsonHawksSG3
21Paul PierceCelticsSF4

• Rankings are based solely on projected ’11-12 performance.
• Contributors to this list include: Maurice Bobb, Shannon Booher, David Cassilo, Bryan Crawford, Sandy Dover, Adam Figman, Jon Jaques, Eldon Khorshidi, Ryne Nelson, Doobie Okon, Ben Osborne, Quinn Peterson, Dave Schnur, Abe Schwadron, Dan Shapiro, Irv Soonachan, Todd Spehr, Tzvi Twersky, Yaron Weitzman, DeMarco Williams and Ben York.
• Want more of the SLAMonline Top 50? Check out the archive.