NEW YORK — Paul Pierce stared straight ahead, an occasional smile or laugh interrupting the otherwise distant look on his face.
Now a Net, it’s clear he’s still getting over not being a Celtic.
“It’s tough when you’ve been in a situation like me for 15 years,” Pierce said.
But he’s getting used to it, and he and Kevin Garnett are ready to make the most of their new surroundings.
Traded from Boston to Brooklyn, the duo was introduced along with Jason Terry on Thursday at a news conference at Barclays Center, their new home.
Pierce said it was difficult to leave the city where he’d spent his entire career. He appeared dazed at times while listening to questions and answers, even having to ask for one to be repeated while trying to fight his way out of a fog.
“You saw the trade and it’s like, ‘OK, there’s a trade.’ But for me to actually be here now, looking for a place to live, being in this arena, trying to get to know my way around the city, it’s really starting to sink in now that it’s become real,” Pierce said.
“I’m no longer a Boston Celtic, I’m a Brooklyn Net and that’s what it is right now,” he continued. “It’s a business. At some point we all have to move on and I’m here to try to create some kind of legacy here in Brooklyn.”
The crowd applauded, appearing more excited about having Pierce in Brooklyn than he was about being here. That’s understandable given his history in Boston, where he is the Celtics’ No. 2 career scorer and was the NBA Finals MVP when they won the last of their NBA-high 17 championships.
“Hell yeah, he’s been with Boston his whole life,” Garnett said. “You’ve been in a system, been in a city, especially it’s the Celtics. Yeah, it’s very difficult.”
But Pierce realized it would be coming, saying he thought “the writing was on the wall” in June when the Celtics negotiated a deal with the Los Angeles Clippers to let coach Doc Rivers out of his contract in Boston.
“It’s sinking in and I’m liking what I feel right now,” Pierce said, adding he got a jolt when he saw his new white-and-black uniform in the locker room.
The Celtics and Nets agreed to the blockbuster trade on draft night and it became official last week. Garnett waved a no-trade clause to accept the deal — after some urging from Pierce during a lengthy phone call — and while saying it was “unfortunate” they had to move on, he seemed to have a little easier time embracing it, greeting the audience with “What’s up, Brooklyn!” before his first remarks.
“I don’t know anyone that loves change, but change has to happen for things to (get) better,” he said.
The three newcomers were joined on the podium by general manager Billy King and first-year coach Jason Kidd, who at 40 is a longtime rival, a former teammate of Terry’s and just a few years older than his new players. And they got a visit at the end from Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov, who made a late decision to attend the news conference and meet the players whose salaries helped the team’s payroll soar so high that the club will pay about $80 million in luxury tax next season.
“I think they’re still counting money in the back office, but frankly speaking, I just hope the check doesn’t bounce,” Prokhorov joked.
The Russian billionaire has said his goal was to win a championship within five years of buying the team in 2010. Including the signing of Andrei Kirilenko this summer, Brooklyn has now gotten into position to contend.
“For me, it’s not the way to wait 10, 15 years for results,” Prokhorov said.
With Pierce and Garnett joining the trio of Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and All-Star center Brook Lopez, the Nets will have one of the NBA’s most potent lineups. But they will have to win soon, as Pierce will be 36 by opening night and Garnett is 37 — though his refusal to answer to question about how much he has left showed he believes the answer is plenty.
The Celtics won a title in the first year that Garnett and Pierce were together, and they believe the Nets have the talent to compete for one this season.
“This is like mirror images,” Garnett said. “You see the talent that’s already here, you see us coming into it, now it’s about how well we gel.”
It will be strange trying to do it in jerseys that don’t have any green. Garnett’s even has an unfamiliar number, now in No. 2 in honor of his friend and former Minnesota teammate, the late Malik Sealy.
Pierce always envisioned them playing together, but not anywhere else. He figured when he signed his last contract that he would retire a Celtic, and felt even more certain after Garnett later re-signed.
“I thought we were going to be linked together pretty much the rest of our careers in Boston,” Pierce said. “As you can see we are pretty much linked together, but just not in Boston anymore.”