Paul Pierce is the greatest player that the Boston Celtics have had in the post-Larry Bird era. But despite his place in Celtics' lore, the team may not be totally opposed to having Pierce come off of the bench as he rapidly approaches the end of his career.
While the idea may sound ridiculous at face value, it's something that the Celtics' front office has considered for quite some time now.
It was almost a throwaway quote to be sure. But in the aftermath of the Boston Celtics' loss to the Miami Heat in the 2011 Eastern Conference Semifinals, team president Danny Ainge offered some interesting thoughts when asked if there would be any changes to the Celtics' starting lineup.
"Maybe there's a change of roles. Maybe Paul [Pierce] comes off the bench, cuts down on his minutes. Maybe we find a way to get Jeff [Green] more minutes. His role will expand if he's back here next year. There’s no question about that..."
Danny Ainge, May 2011
More than a year has passed since Ainge made those statements, and during that time, Green missed the entire 2011-12 season after undergoing heart surgery. Now that the 6'8" small forward has a clean bill of health—and a new four-year, $36 million contract to go along with it—what does that mean for the future of Pierce?
In the short term? Nothing at all. Pierce is still a top 30 NBA player and the heart and soul of a team that has legitimate championship aspirations. The 6'6" small forward has actually seen his scoring average increase in each of the past two years, and few players are as crafty on the offensive end of the court as "The Truth" is even after 14 seasons in the league.
So while Pierce won't be eligible to win the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year Award anytime soon, a reduced workload seems to be all but certain. At the Celtics' media day on September 28, Pierce didn't completely dismiss the possibility (via ESPN Boston) of taking part in the same 5-5-5 plan head coach Doc Rivers instituted for Kevin Garnett last season.
"I trust [Rivers'] judgment in everything he does," said Pierce. "I think, me and Doc, we'll figure things out, because if I'm on fire the first five minutes, I can't come out."
It's hard to justify having a bench player make $9 million per season, so there is obviously some impetus to get Green into the starting lineup sooner rather than later. And if Ainge is to be believed, the franchise has already had discussions to that end.
Green is a young, versatile wing who is probably Boston's best defender at the small forward position. If the 26-year-old swingman is able to regain the form that he had prior to his heart surgery, Boston will have to take pause before deciding whether to pick up Pierce's $15.33 million option for the 2013-14 season.
Pierce is a consummate team player, but he also isn't the type who will be pushed to the margins silently. If he continues to play at an All-Star level, then there shouldn't be much of an issue. But the Pierce/Green situation definitely bears watching, especially since it could mark the end of one of the most storied careers in Celtics history.