Boston Celtics: 2012-13 Will Be Most Challenging Season of Paul Pierce's Career

Jeremy Gottlieb@@jmg2776Contributor ISeptember 3, 2012

This could well be Paul Pierce's last season in Boston.
This could well be Paul Pierce's last season in Boston.Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Paul Pierce is a Celtic for life.

Even if he plays a year or two in another city before he hangs it up, here is a guy who will be remembered as one of the greatest, toughest players in the history of this storied franchise.

That being said, there is a chance his run in Boston could end ugly. And what goes on this upcoming season will be key in determining how that goes.

Things are changing for the C's. The Big Three era, as we've known it, is over now that Ray Allen has taken his talents to South Beach. 

In Allen's stead steps Rajon Rondo, who is unequivocally the floor general of this team. Add to that the role Kevin Garnett has played in his time here along with the urgency the Celts showed in getting the Big Ticket locked up for three more years, and it makes one wonder if, at this point, Pierce is the captain in title only.

Rondo is talking a lot more now as well. Whether he's predicting the Celts will win another title or participating in wide-ranging interviews with this site, he has the look and sound of a guy who is ascending up the leadership ladder.

Does that mean that Pierce is descending? No. But there may be a little bit of a transition from one generation to the next going on in that department.

Even as Rondo's stature increases and the rest of the roster gets a little younger, Pierce still projects to be the man on offense, especially at the end of games.

This is a player who has been taking the last shot pretty much since the start of his career. Despite all of the new additions to this roster, none of them are go-to guys. Maybe Jason Terry might see his number called by coach Doc Rivers a time or two in that type of situation, but that's it.

Of course, this all may be a moot point if Pierce isn't healthy. After injuring his left knee during the Celtics' pregame shootaround prior to Game 4 of their first-round playoff series against Atlanta, he never looked quite right for the remainder of the team's postseason run, particularly on defense. 

He admitted that he's still not completely healthy about a month ago. And although he noted in that same interview that he was running "at about 90 percent" at that point, the fact that Pierce will be 35 when this season tips off on Oct. 30 is reason for concern.

He didn't suffer the sprained left MCL in a game, remember. He suffered it in a shootaround. Sure, these things happen. But when they happen to aging players, there's a good chance it's a byproduct of fragility. 

And don't forget, this is the final year of Pierce's contract. He told Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe that he thought the Celts might be blown up and that he was ready to move on after they were eliminated by the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals.

He also said that he won't be asking for an extension and that, "I think I'm going to play this one out. I want to see what it feels like to be a free agent for once in my life."

Read into those comments what you will. 

The bottom line here is that we may be sending Pierce, the captain and the Truth, on a farewell tour this season. Whether it's due to injury, his contract status or something else entirely, there is a good deal of evidence to suggest 2012-2013 will be Pierce's final year in Celtic green.

How challenging might it be for him? Only Pierce can answer that question. 

And only he has the power to control the answer.