Pierce gives a hand to Rondo, Boston

BOSTON -- Rajon Rondo doesn't always let opposing players help his teammates up off the floor -- just last Saturday he pushed Indiana's Roy Hibbert out of the way to peel Jeff Green off the parquet on his own. But there are exceptions.

Like when it's old friend Paul Pierce sticking out his hand to pick Rondo up after putting him on the floor late in the first half of Friday's Celtics-Nets tilt at TD Garden. Fans roared and Pierce smiled wide after he pulled Rondo up and patted him on the rear.

Just the former captain looking out for the new one.

A couple hours later, in the still-odd confines of the visitors' locker room, Pierce praised Rondo while assessing the new captain's ability to lead Boston back to contender status.

"In the end, me and Rondo share a special bond," said Pierce. "We'll always be friends, we'll always have something in common with our championship, our kids still hang out together."

Amid the heartfelt words came a brief moment of levity.

Pierce said their children "hung out for [Rondo's] birthday, actually," giving himself a good belly laugh knowing full well the hoopla that ensued in these parts after Rondo skipped a trip to Sacramento last month to celebrate his birthday in Los Angeles.

Turning serious again, Pierce offered, "Rondo, I respect him and what he's doing moving forward with this franchise and it will always be that way."

If the Nets' January visit was one of emotion and indulgence for Pierce, this time around it was all about his former squad. Pierce and the Nets were ice cold shooting and the Celtics overcame their own sloppiness to emerge with a 91-84 triumph.

Pierce said it's always emotional returning to Boston, but that this visit couldn't compare to his first game back in a Nets uniform. He savored that night and the tribute video that rolled, allowing him to reflect on his 15 seasons with the Celtics.

This time around, Pierce spent most of his postgame chat with reporters gushing about Rondo and Boston's future.

"They are a young team, they got a mix of some veterans, some young guys they are developing and they are only going to get better," said Pierce. "Rondo is leading them right now, moving into the next generation of Celtics. I think their future is going to be very bright."

What is the key for Rondo as captain?

"Just being patient," said Pierce. "When you're in the middle of your prime like Rondo is and you're frustrated with the losing, it's about staying patient, staying with the guys, helping them develop. At times, it's going to be frustrating, and you have to understand that and the position you're in.

"At times, things don't always go your way and you want everything to be better right away. But you understand it's a process. Danny Ainge understands it's a process. And they have to be on the same page. Your lead player, your franchise player, your organization -- you have to be in communication with what they want from each other and you go from there. You build with each other."

Pierce watched Rondo make three first-quarter 3-pointers, showcasing a new weapon that Rondo added to his arsenal while rehabbing from the ACL surgery that kept him away from game action for nearly a year, including the end of Pierce's Boston tenure.

Rondo put up 20 points, nine assists, seven rebounds and four steals over 35 minutes on Friday, his effort only slightly diminished by a team-high seven turnovers.

"He's unstoppable," Pierce said of Rondo. "I always said the more he's improved, the more he's expanded his game, he's one of the best. If he's coming down and knocking down 3s ... it's almost impossible to keep him out of the paint at times, he has the floater, the way he finds people in traffic. If he continues to consistently knock down that [3-point] shot, watch out."

Pierce was asked if he saw any similarities between this Boston team and the 2006-07 season -- one of the leanest years in franchise history -- that Pierce endured before Boston assembled its championship roster the following summer.

"I try to forget those days," joked Pierce. "Those were trying days. But you grow from there. I think it made me a better player, physically, mentally, it made me stronger. You can only learn from this process. You find out what type of players you have when you go through moments like this.

"I think Rondo really understands it. He understands probably more than I did at the time. When I first got here, we were in rebuild mode, we made the playoffs, then we went back into rebuild mode. Same with him. He came in, we were rebuilding, we went through a phase of winning, now he's back in rebuild mode. But he's still young enough to see it out to where he's still going to be in his prime. I know the Celtics are going to do whatever it takes. They've got great owners, great management, to get back to that top level again."

Pierce, who is set to be an unrestricted free agent after this summer, was asked if he'd entertain the idea of coming back to Boston.

"Yeah, why not?" he said. "Maybe play for them, maybe work for them. Who knows what the future holds?"

Maybe Pierce and Rondo could be co-captains. Or maybe Pierce would just tell Rondo it's his show now. Maybe Pierce would wait until after his playing days and come back to help Ainge cobble together the right mix of players for the team's next title charge.

In any case, it's clear that there's still a bit of Boston in Pierce. He will always be a Celtic. Maybe that's why Rondo let Pierce pick him off the floor.