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
Rank Player Team Position Pos. Rank
50 Luol Deng Bulls SF 8
49 Andrew Bogut Bucks C 7
48 Ray Allen Celtics SG 9
47 Marc Gasol Grizzlies C 6
46 David West Hornets PF 15
45 Kevin Martin Rockets SG 8
44 Andrew Bynum Lakers C 5
43 Brandon Jennings Bucks PG 11
42 Lamar Odom Lakers PF 14
41 Gerald Wallace Blazers SF 7
40 Brook Lopez Nets C 4
39 Joakim Noah Bulls C 3
38 Carlos Boozer Bulls PF 13
37 Kevin Garnett Celtics PF 12
36 Eric Gordon Clippers SG 7
35 Tony Parker Spurs PG 10
34 Andre Iguodala 76ers SG 6
33 Al Jefferson Jazz PF 11
32 Al Horford Hawks C 2
31 Stephen Curry Warriors PG 9
30 Tim Duncan Spurs PF 10
29 Josh Smith Hawks PF 9
28 Manu Ginobili Spurs SG 5
27 Tyreke Evans Kings PG 8
26 Rudy Gay Grizzlies SF 6
25 John Wall Wizards PG 7
24 Danny Granger Pacers SF 5
23 Monta Ellis Warriors SG 4
22 Joe Johnson Hawks SG 3
21 Paul Pierce Celtics SF 4

• 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.