NEW YORK -- When Paul Pierce walked onto the Barclays Center court on Thursday, he instinctively looked to the rafters and saw an unfamiliar sight for his home floor: no banners.
Despite being flanked by Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry, Pierce looked somewhat somber and maybe a bit lost as he was formally introduced as a member of the Brooklyn Nets during a glitzy afternoon ceremony -- one that included a video montage introduction, season-ticket holders who cheered most responses and a surprise appearance by billionaire owner Mikhail Prokhorov to close the spectacle.
Pierce, dressed in a gray suit and tie, looked like he was still processing the blockbuster swap that ended his 15-year tenure with the Boston Celtics, the only NBA home he's ever known. At times, it seemed like he was only now realizing the magnitude of a nine-player, three draft-pick swap that altered two franchises.
"I'm trying to get a feel for the environment," Pierce offered when asked about his emotions as he entered the press conference. "That's what I always did when I walked into the Garden; the first thing you do is you look up and you see the banners. Now you look up and I say, 'How can I help put one up?'"
It was ultimately that quest to taste another title that sold Pierce on playing in Brooklyn. In turn, he put a hard sell on teammate Garnett in hopes of bringing some familiarity to the Nets and further strengthening the team's chances of competing for a championship. And it was the realization that another title quest was unlikely in Boston that allowed him to stomach the notion of moving on from his first love.
But it's telling to hear the way Pierce describes that acceptance, as he described Boston with familiar-but-now-incorrect references like "us," "we" and "our."
"If you look at our situation, it would have been tough for us to even improve," Pierce said of Boston's situation entering a murky offseason. "We had no cap room, probably a couple tradeable pieces, but who knows what kind of players we would have got in return? I think we thought we were probably in no-man's land as far as trying to either compete for a championship or nothing. That's what Boston has been about over the last few years. [The front office] realized this summer that it was going to be tough for us next year to compete for a championship, and I understood that there was going to be some moves."
Pierce had dreamed about ending his career in Boston, particularly after Garnett signed a three-year extension last summer. But the Celtics labored through a .500 season and endured a first-round playoff exit during the 2012-13 campaign. As Piece and Garnett repeated often on Thursday, the writing was on the wall.
Coach Doc Rivers bolted for a better opportunity to win in sunshiny Los Angeles. The Celtics began examining a youth movement and the possibility of using their veterans to help net future assets from a deep-pocketed, win-now team like Brooklyn. Pierce readied himself for a trade and admits that, despite a strong desire to finish his career with one franchise, it was tough to fathom the idea of going through another rebuilding process.
"It would be tough to go back to an environment that wasn't trying to win a championship," said Pierce. "When you get that taste of success, you get that good meal, that taste of something good, you don't want to go backwards. And that's how I felt. I think Doc felt the same way, Kevin felt the same way. And that's why all of us put ourselves in these situations where we could try to win."
Now Pierce finds himself in unfamiliar territory. Asked about ties to this borough, he joked, "the only Brooklyn connection I've had was listening to Jay-Z and Biggie Smalls."
Even still, Pierce gushed about the opportunity to play in front of the bright lights of the Big Apple, with a star-studded lineup and an owner who's willing to stomach a luxury-tax bill that currently stands at around $80 million. Pierce firmly believes the Nets will be in the mix atop the Eastern Conference with the likes of Miami, Indiana and Chicago. And he won't be called upon to shoulder the load as much as he had to in Boston.
Pierce playfully joked about the chance to further needle a Knicks fan base that despised him while he was in Boston. He said he has to find a new place to live, and frets about the traffic gridlock that could make getting to and from team events a bit trickier than it was in Boston.
But he says he feels great after battling some nerve damage near his neck last season. "You probably all saw on TMZ that I said I feel like I can play another 10 years," Pierce said. But he suggested he'll take it year by year after his contract expires following the 2013-14 season.
By the end of a 20-minute chat with a reporter group heavy with Boston faces, he seemed to have calmed his nerves and was genuinely excited about what lies ahead. But his eyes still darted around the building, trying to soak it all in.
The only time Pierce's mood changed was when a reporter asked about going back to Boston. At first, he mistook the question and noted he is headed back to the area in early August for his annual basketball camp.
The reporter clarified that he meant Brooklyn's first game back in Boston, when Pierce will see TD Garden and all those banners -- including the one he helped hang in 2008 -- for the first time as a visitor.
The emotion washed over Pierce, despite the fact that he's pondered this moment countless times since the Nets and Celtics agreed to the trade in late June.
"I know it's going to be really emotional," Pierce said. "I have already pictured it in my head probably about 100,000 times. And every time I picture it, I shed tears. So I'm trying to ... "
His voice trailed and he collected himself a bit.
"It's going to be difficult, man. I don't know. It's going to be difficult."
Then he tried to lighten the mood.
"It's like the first girl you were in love with and y'all broke up," he said. "You cried, you thought about her, you probably sent her letters -- she rejected them and you cried some more. Then you moved on."
One thing is clear in the aftermath of his breakup with Boston. Pierce still hasn't moved on.