Boston Celtics: 5 Reasons This Will Be Paul Pierce's Final Season in Boston
Perhaps lost among all of the moves, all the wheeling and the dealing made and done by the Boston Celtics this summer has been the status of the Truth.
Paul Pierce has just one year left on his contract. The captain, who has spent every day of his 14-year career as a Celtic, has a team option on his deal for the 2013-2014 season. But by no means is it a given that the C's will pick it up.
If you look at the team's moves since free agency opened on July 1, the Celts are clearly looking with one eye toward the future. They invested multi-year deals in three players under the age of 28 in Brandon Bass, Jeff Green and Courtney Lee.
Along with Bass, Green and Lee, Rajon Rondo is obviously a mainstay. And rookie Jared Sullinger stands to see plenty of time as well.
Boston is reloading without having to tear the whole thing down and start from scratch. And a year from now, just a couple of months away from his 36th birthday and potentially a free agent for the first time in his career, it may make the most sense for Pierce to move on.
Here's a few reasons why.
The Celtics defied logic with their spirited run to the brink of another finals appearance in the spring.
They were old, one of the oldest teams in the league. The constant commentary that exists in our 24-hour news cycle never forgot to remind everyone of this fact. Including the Celts themselves.
Sooner or later, the Celts are going to have to fully commit to getting younger. They've started down that road with some of the moves they've made this summer. Re-signing KG and bringing in Terry to replace Ray Allen were moves made out of necessity more for this year than for the future.
Pierce, of course, is one of the old-timers. He can still play consistently at a very high, near-elite level, as his 2011-2012 numbers (19.4 points, 5.2 rebounds, 4,5 assists, 37 percent from three-point range) will attest.
Still, some of the wear and tear is already beginning to show. He sprained an MCL in a shootaround during the Celts' first-round series win over Atlanta and it slowed him noticeably at times. He's not the defensive maven he once was (for reference, see the way he played LeBron James in 2008 and 2010 versus how he played him this past year). His legs don't last as long as they used to, making for more flat-looking shots as games wore on.
Given the demands of his position, age is a very big factor for a player like Pierce. Even if he has a vintage Paul Pierce-like season this year, it may be a reach for the C's to try extending much further into the future.
4. Trade Rumors
For a guy bound to go down in Celtics' lore as one of the best ever to play for the franchise, his name sure has come up in trade rumors a lot.
This past year, when it seemed no one was safe as the C's stumbled into the trade deadline, the mentions were fairly frequent. Atlanta and Portland were named as possible destinations. So was New Jersey.
The rumors surrounding Pierce have swirled on and off for years, going as far back as the early days of Doc Rivers' coaching tenure in Boston.
Even though none of these rumors have ever come to fruition, maybe Pierce is sick of it. As a player with an expiring contract, if the C's find themselves scuffling again this year, the rumor mill will likely begin to churn again.
It may be the same story for Pierce.
That same website notes that if the Celts pick up his team option for 2013-2014, the salary will go down slightly, to $15.3 million.
That kind of money for a player of Pierce's age, even considering his history with Boston, may be too rich for the team's blood.
Boston isn't exactly a major free-agent destination. Remember, both Allen and Garnett became Celtics in trades, not because the chose to sign with them.
But clearing that kind of money—the most the C's will be scheduled to pay anyone in 2013 if they pick up the option—off the books a year from now, would allow them to go after a big, younger, fresher name.
2. The End of an Era
Perhaps along the lines of age being a factor, so too is the idea that the Big Three era can't last forever.
It's already over in a way. Even though Rondo had pretty much universally graduated into a role that made the group the Big Four by the end of last season and will replace Allen as the third leg of the Big Three this year, the original Big Three ended the minute Allen put his name to the Heat's contract offer.
Pierce knows it, as his comments to Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe over the weekend will attest. Everything must come to an end sooner or later, and the incredible run of these three future Hall of Famers is over.
KG looked like he was as good as gone before signing his three-year extension.
It remains to be seen whether Pierce is the second wheel to fall off.
It's not necessarily up to him. But Pierce seems resigned to not re-signing with the Celts.
"I think I'm going to play this one out. I want to see what it feels like to be a free agent," he told Washburn in that Globe story.
Again, Pierce's current contract contains a team option for 2013-2014, not a player option. If the C's decide they want to pony up that $15.3 million for next season, it's a certainty that Pierce will gladly accept it and see what it feels like to be a free agent in two years instead of one.
Or maybe it won't get that far. Pierce also said to Washburn, "My body may not be where I want it to be, I could retire, a lot of things could happen."
Pierce is realistic about the possibility. The team surely is as well.
Who knows what will happen with Paul Pierce and the Celtics? The time to make those kinds of decisions is still roughly a year away. A lot can happen between now and then. Whichever way it goes, one thing remains certain.
Paul Pierce is one of the greatest Celtics of all time.