After 14 illustrious seasons with the Boston Celtics, it is safe to say that Paul Pierce is forever enshrined in franchise history. With the likes of Larry Bird, Bill Russell and John Havlicek having come before him, Pierce's name is amongst the franchise's all-time greats.
To cement his legacy as one of the legends, however, Pierce must retire as a member of the Boston Celtics.
With an NBA championship, the 2008 NBA Finals MVP award, 10 All-Star Game appearances and five All-NBA selections, let's just call this what it is: a Hall of Fame worthy career. Due to the franchise he plays for, however, there is more to it than said feats.
There is an aspect of loyalty that no other franchise values quite as much as the Celtics do.
This creates a dangerous situation for Pierce, who enters his 15th year in the league. Despite having spent his entire career with the C's, there is a possibility that this year will be his last with the team.
Pierce has a player option at the end of this season and would become an unrestricted free agent in 2014.
For those who believe that it is a given that the former Kansas Jayhawk will be a Celtic for life, slow down and bear witness to a frightening reality. Pierce may actually end up wearing another uniform, despite the rapport he has developed with the Boston franchise.
In an interview with CSN New England, Pierce addressed that possibility. He also revealed that playing elsewhere has crossed his mind.
[Playing elsewhere] really did cross my mind because of the way things went with the trade rumors, the possibility of me being traded, possibility of us rebuilding. It's like, it was hard not to think about that. Sometimes it wears on your mentally. You don't know what your future is going to be or what's your next step.
Where does Paul Pierce rank all-time?
It would be difficult [to play elsewhere]...I was telling somebody the other day that I was pretty much institutionalized. If I go anywhere else — I couldn't see it.
Breathe easy, Celtics fans. Pierce will be donning the storied Celtic green for at least one more season. For the sake of his legacy, however, Pierce must extend his tenure in Boston for as long as his body will enable him.
As for why, take a look at history and ask yourself a question.
What do Bill Russell, Larry Bird, John Havlicek, Sam Jones, Kevin McHale and Tom Heinsohn have in common? For one, they're all members of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
They also spent the entirety of their career with the Boston Celtics.
For Pierce to find his name in their presence, it is imperative that he honors the Celtic way and remains a member of the franchise throughout the duration of his career. If he opts to sign elsewhere, a tainted legacy could be the result.
Now, there are clearly Celtics greats who have left the franchise.
Bob Cousy and Dave Cowens both came out of retirement to spend a season with new teams. Robert Parish and Tiny Archibald, meanwhile, each played for four total franchises.
Even still, those three players are revered as Celtics legends and are all members of the Hall of Fame.
Due to the loyalty aspect of the Boston franchise, however, there happens to be a different feel about those career-long members. Fortunately for Cowens and Cousy, they basically fall under the label of the greats.
When the Celtics look back on the greatest players in the history of their franchise, loyalty is one of the primary factors in the evaluation process. Although Pierce has been as loyal as any in this era of jumping ship, to depart at any stage of his career could damage his legacy.
Pierce deserves to be remembered as one of the greatest players in franchise history. Where exactly he places on the tiers of legends, however, depends entirely on the decisions he makes in the final years of his illustrious career.
Remain in town and become a legend. Leave and be remembered as just another great.