The Boston Celtics have a major decision to make this offseason: what to do with Paul Pierce. He's been the face of the franchise for more than a decade, remaining as competitive as possible despite the team's struggles. The very idea of waiving or trading Pierce should be completely disregarded by the front office, as doing either would tarnish the past and current legacy of the Celtics.
Being one of the league's perennial franchises is a badge few organizations can wear proudly, and it comes with a plethora of unwritten rules. The Celtics pride themselves on loyalty, teamwork and defense. While the latter comes based on the team's roster and abilities, the attitude of being one group and leaving it all out on the floor stems from the early years of Boston.
While it is now epitomized in head coach Doc Rivers and the Celtics' current Big Three, it is lacking from the staff in the front office. Ray Allen was crucified for his decision to leave Boston and sign with the Miami Heat last offseason.
Make no mistake, leaving your brothers and joining your rivals is no easy decision. Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce both expressed their contempt for Allen's choice, including the majority of the Boston fanbase.
It was ultimately Allen's decision to make, but the backlash was monumental. One could hardly blame him, after being featured in several trade scenarios to the point Rivers contacted him to inform him of a move to the Memphis Grizzlies. Rivers ultimately had to call back and report the deal fell through, but it was clear Allen was fed up with being treated as trade bait.
Signing with the Heat was a surprise. Danny Ainge's offer—which included a no-trade clause—could not sway Allen. The no-trade clause was an indication of "too little, too late" as Ainge tried to patch things up at the last minute.
As it was Allen's decision, he receives the fingers pointed in terms of blame or fault. However, the same treatment should fall on Ainge's shoulders. Had he never dangled Allen to other teams, it's unlikely he would have ever left the team where he secured his first championship ring.
Fans were disgusted at Allen turning his back on the Celtics' passion and togetherness, which while completely correct, was not the driving factor in his relocation to South Beach.
The concept of sending away Pierce, the franchise's second-leading scorer, would carry the same backlash, but in Ainge's direction. It would be Pierce's 16th season in a Boston uniform next year, which is not only indicative of his loyalty, but his commitment to keep the team competitive.
His 2012-13 campaign saw 18.6 points, 6.3 rebounds and 4.8 assists to keep the Celtics' afloat without Rajon Rondo. Pierce shot 43.6 percent from the field, and although it isn't as accurate as he's been in the past, it remains a solid percentage.
In addition, Pierce knocked down 38 percent of his attempts from long range. Keeping in mind he did all of this in a career-low 33.4 minutes per game, and it's clear he has plenty left in the tank to compete.
In the playoffs, his field goal percentages dropped to 36.8 (overall) and 26.8 (from three). The general consensus is that age is the grounds for this, however it is more likely fatigue played the biggest role.
Pierce played an average of 42.5 minutes per game against the New York Knicks in the first round, which is almost the equivalent of another entire quarter of play when compared to his regular-season usage.
He still managed to post a stat line of 19.2 points, 5.7 rebounds and 5.3 assists, which is extremely efficient, considering Pierce will turn 36 in October.
To see him leave the Boston Celtics through a waive or a trade would be catastrophic to what the organization stands for. It is Ainge's job to keep the team competitive, but sending away one of the franchise's greatest players to keep the Celtics in the middle of the East is not worth it.
The decision on Pierce's future ultimately hinges on the financial flexibility of the team. His $15.3 million for next season is non-guaranteed, meaning Boston would only pay a fraction of that total should they waive him.
It seems arbitrary to shed their best player while Rondo is out, only to save money for one season, when they would be better off shipping out Brandon Bass' $6.4 million or Courtney Lee's $5.2 million.
Neither player was overly effective in the postseason for the Celtics, with Lee playing an average of 9.8 minutes for the entire series. He played at a satisfactory level in the regular season, but is well overpaid at a little over $5 million.
Bass is an important role player for Boston, thus trading him would be hard, however the pros of keeping Pierce vastly and inexplicably outweigh the cons. Jared Sullinger showed a lot of promise this season, and should be ready to go next year. He can seamlessly replace Bass' production, and signing someone to step in should Sullinger be injured again is the best route to take.
As mentioned, it is Ainge's job as general manager to do what is in the best interest for the team's success. However this is not a situation like Dwight Howard's last season; this is Paul Pierce. When the NBA world thinks of the Celtics, they think of Pierce as well.
Prematurely ending his tenure with what is considered one of the classiest and professional franchises in all of American sports would forever tarnish their storied legacy. After leading his team to its first NBA title in more than 20 years, Pierce deserves a better farewell.