At least that’s been the case for the last decade and a half. Envisioning a Celtics squad without The Truth is almost unimaginable.
However, it just might be the reality facing Boston fans as soon as next season.
While Pierce is set to enter the final year of his contract, only $5 million of his $15.3 million salary is guaranteed. The team has until July 1 to make a decision on the matter.
Could we have witnessed Pierce’s last game in a Celtics uniform? According to Boston sideline reporter Greg Dickerson, that’s a very real possibility.
It would mark an unfortunate close to an era for one of the greatest players in the Celtics’ illustrious history.
Since being drafted 10th overall by the team in 1998, Pierce has led Boston in scoring for 13 of his 14 seasons. He also holds various franchise records, as well as earning several NBA awards and honors over his career. But most importantly, the 35-year-old played a vital role in delivering the Celtics their league-leading 17th NBA title in 2008—Pierce was named Finals MVP for his efforts.
But all good things must eventually come to an end.
Although Pierce put together a rather successful 2012-13 season—18.6 points, 6.3 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game—he’s shown signs of breaking down. He only shot 43.6 percent from the field.
With Jeff Green primed to step into Pierce’s shoes, can the team really afford paying an aging veteran $15 million?
Boston finds itself at a fork in the road, with three different options spread out in front of them.
Option 1: Trade Him
This is an option GM Danny Ainge has already considered.
With the Celtics flailing, paired with the loss of Rajon Rondo, the team sought out interest in Pierce during the NBA trade deadline back in February. Several options popped up, but none were good enough for Ainge to pull the trigger.
As summer’s free agency quickly approaches, don’t be surprised if Boston tests the market for Pierce once again.
Sure, it’s hard to imagine seeing the Celtics send off their captain to another team. But at the same time, it’s a move that makes a lot of sense.
With a trade, Boston could get a little cap relief, while bringing in some players who could address some of the roster issues. On the other hand, another team would receive an experienced veteran who could help push an “on the verge” team into a contender. Plus, Pierce has shown that he can still pour it in—he averaged 19.2 points per game over six contests against the New York Knicks during this year’s first-round series.
But every positive usually comes along with its negatives.
In this particular case, that arises with the team needing to keep Pierce past the July 1 deadline. That would require the Celtics to guarantee the full amount of his contract. It’s a tough situation, especially with the team not sure just how much it can get in return for Pierce.
Then there’s the whole ordeal regarding Kevin Garnett.
Basically, if Boston trades Pierce, the team should prepare to part ways with Garnett as well. That’s because back in February, the 36-year-old reportedly said that he would waive his no-trade clause if Pierce was traded. (via Sports on Earth's Shaun Powell)
Depending on the trade, this move would likely put the Celtics into rebuilding mode for at least a season or two.
Option 2: Waive Him
Sometimes, just cutting your losses is the best route to take.
If Ainge chooses this option, Boston would be able to release Pierce before the July 1 deadline. This would also ensure that the team only pays the $5 million of the salary that is guaranteed, leaving them with a little more than $10 million to play around with over the summer. As far as free agency goes, the Celtics would have their full mid-level exception ($5.15 million) and the bi-annual exception ($2.02 million).
While it would be nice to open up these exceptions, it doesn’t always guarantee that the team will get a good return. One only has to look at Boston’s offseason pickups last season as an example.
So is it really worth the risk to dump off a veteran scorer who is a guaranteed 16-5-4 guy just for the chance that there might be a free agent who could make a difference?
To make matters worse, as stated earlier, this would also likely result in Garnett walking away. This could be via retirement or by waiving his no-trade clause and requesting a trade.
Garnett will be 37 next season. At this point in his career, he would only come back if he felt like he was playing for a team that could contend. Without Pierce, Boston is not that team.
Option 3: Keep Him
Finally, there’s always the option of keeping Pierce.
He has proven that he can still produce, and his loyalty should grant him the opportunity to finish out his career as a Celtic. No one can argue that Pierce doesn’t deserve it.
However, at the same time, keeping Pierce would give Boston little to no room to do anything else. The team would most likely have to shed a player or two just to accommodate signing a draft pick.
Is the same roster that put together a 41-40 regular-season record, claimed the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference and made a first-round exit worth keeping together?
That’s because what the Celtics did this year was admirable. Battling through several key injuries, the team still rebounding and fought until the very end.
One can only imagine what this roster will be like with another year of experience and the healthy returns of both Rondo and Jared Sullinger.
In this scenario, Garnett would possibly make a return to have one more go at the ultimate prize. If he doesn’t, Boston will have around $10 million free to add to their already depleted depth at center.
The only pitfall here is whether or not Pierce would be OK with a lesser role on the team.
But hey, he did it once when Garnett and Ray Allen arrived in 2007. Who says he wouldn’t do it again?
Summing It All Up
Regardless of whether Pierce stays, is released or traded, it’s no surprise that the decision will significantly alter the face of the franchise.
For 14 years the Celtics have relied on him to get them through the ups and downs. Without him, the team wouldn’t be in the place it is right now.
The work ethic, dedication and talent that Pierce brought to Boston is a trait all other 29 teams in the league would die for. It’s something the team and its fans will never forget.
But in the end, the NBA is a business.
In the end, it’s all about doing what’s best for your team. Pierce knows that too.
If he leaves, be thankful for everything he’s done for the Celtics during his career. If he doesn’t, let’s hope Pierce can give himself the opportunity to ride off into the sunset.
There’s not another player in the NBA who deserves it more.