Kevin Garnett's Boston Celtics Future Hinges on Paul Pierce's Fate

Michael PinaFeatured ColumnistMay 21, 2013

BOSTON, MA - MAY 3:  Paul Pierce #34 of the Boston Celtics and Kevin Garnett #5 exchange words in the final moment in the 4th quarter in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals of the 2013 NBA Playoffs on May 3, 2013 at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. The Celtics lost 88-80. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

Six years ago, and a few weeks after their prayers in the Greg Oden/Kevin Durant sweepstakes went unanswered, the Boston Celtics weren't an attractive place for any marquee player to call home.

Paul Pierce was there, sure, but the rest of the roster was infected with inexperience and far from realized potential.

It was a coddled collection of assets on cheap contracts, led by a much unhappier version of Pierce than the one we've grown accustomed to watching over the past half-decade.

At the same time, Kevin Garnett was being shopped by the Minnesota Timberwolves, as they tried to get as much for their own franchise player as possible. The Celtics weren't in play until they made a draft-day trade with the Seattle Supersonics to acquire Ray Allen, the right piece to convince Garnett that signing an extension with the Celtics was a good idea.

As his career winds down, Garnett's future may once again be tied to another player. This time, it's Pierce, and the questions loom large over what Celtics general manager Danny Ainge will do with the future of one of Boston's all-time greats.

If nothing happens, Pierce will make $15 million next season, ut he isn't guaranteed that money until a June 30 deadline passes. Before that, Ainge has the option of waiving or buying out Pierce for the $5 million he is guaranteed in 2013-14 to amnesty him, therefore wiping his salary and luxury tax totals off the Boston books.

The third option, of course, is a trade. As we all witnessed in Boston's first-round playoff loss to the New York Knicks, Pierce is far from a No. 1 option on a championship caliber team. He struggles to get his own shot and was utterly demoralized by the likes of Iman Shumpert, Pablo Prigioni and Ray Felton.

He'll be 36 years old next season and shot 36.8 percent in the playoffs with the third-lowest PER of his career in the regular season. Miraculously, he's still one of the most competent defensive players at his position and a feared scorer who'd be able to complement any team in the league.

If Pierce is traded, amnestied or bought out of his contract, the Celtics will finally head into their franchise's next era, and it most likely won't be one that sees consistently deep playoff runs and championship contention.

It's a situation that Garnett understandably would want no part of, but the probability of him retiring, or threatening retirement, is probably less than you think. He could fill yachts with the money he's made since entering the league nearly two decades ago, but walking away from the game of basketball at this stage would also mean walking away from a cool $12 million.

That doesn't mean the Celtics can afford to call his bluff if they want to remain competitive without one of the NBA's 20 best players ever returning to their team. He's still playing at a high level, albeit while averaging his fewest minutes per game since he was 19 years old, and was voted an All-Star in February.

Garnett's per-36-minute numbers this season were about on par with his career average, if only one or two digits lower in a major category like points. He also grabbed 82 rebounds in six playoff games while knocking in exactly half his shots from the field.

What makes this situation even more interesting is the possibility of Boston choosing to part ways with Pierce in a trade, then convincing Garnett to waive his no-trade clause for an opportunity to ride out the final year or two of his career with Pierce wearing a different colored jersey.

The two packaged as part of a blockbuster trade could help a frustrated team over a playoff hurdle while facilitating a quick Celtics' rebuilding phase. The Los Angeles Clippers, Denver Nuggets, Houston Rockets, Oklahoma City Thunder or even Los Angeles Lakers might all be interested in temporarily pushing all their chips to the middle.

If Pierce goes, and that's entirely possible, Garnett most likely will head out as well either by retirement or trade. Similar things have happened over the past few years with one or two big chips needing to fall in order for the team to finally embark on rebuilding.

This year, it's all predicated on how Ainge deals with Pierce. Once that happens, how Garnett reacts will set the rest of Boston's offseason in motion.