The Boston Celtics are done licking their wounds from a relatively embarrassing Eastern Conference playoff series loss to the Knicks that practically produced a role reversal of the Celtics' 2011 playoff sweep of the Knicks.
Now, general manager Danny Ainge is forced to contemplate whether or not to put the franchise into the hands of Jeff Green, who saved the team time and time again this past season while averaging 20.3 points and 5.3 rebounds in the playoffs.
If so, Paul Pierce would find himself in another team's jersey for the first time since joining the Celtics in 1998—back when "Gettin' Jiggy Wit It" was considered a hot new single.
A lot has happened since then for Pierce, including a NBA Finals MVP in 2008 when the Celtics raised banner No. 17 after picking up Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett.
Of course, a lot has happened since then, too.
The Celtics are coming off their worst season since 2007, as they conceded the Atlantic Division to the Knicks and got knocked out in the first round of the postseason.
Where they spend their money next year will be important, and many are convinced Pierce will not be worth $15.3 million next season.
Here's why they're wrong.
A Pierce-less Celtics would rely on a foundation of Rajon Rondo, Jeff Green, Avery Bradley, and Jared Sullinger next year.
Imagine how the Celtics would have done in the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals with a healthy Green and Bradley. Now imagine how they would have done against the Knicks with a healthy Rondo and Sullinger.
Better yet, imagine how both series would have played out if all four players remained sidelined and the Celtics didn't have Paul Pierce.
As far as 2012 goes, this means no dagger against the Heat in Game 5. Hell, the Celtics wouldn't have even made it past the first round in 2012. Remember Rondo's bump into the ref and eventual suspension for Game 2 against the Hawks? Pierce dropped 36 points in that game, which was a definite must-win.
The Knicks' series would have been even worse. The Celtics would have put up middle-school numbers without Pierce.
Boston averaged 82.3 points in the series, as Pierce finished second on the team in scoring by averaging 19.2 points. The third-best scoring Celtic was Garnett at 12.7. Clearly, Green and Pierce were the only ones the Celtics could rely on to consistently put the ball in the hole.
Even though he struggled against the Knicks, Pierce has been the most reliable Celtic in the playoffs since he joined the team.
Remember the last time he missed a playoff game?
There's been much speculation surrounding whether or not Kevin Garnett will stay if Paul Pierce goes.
For those keeping score at home, if KG leaves too, that would mean 33 years worth of NBA experience out the window.
That's kind of a lot.
If the Celtics expect to be a championship team once again, they're going to need seasoned veterans on the floor to attain it—veterans who have seen every stage of the playoffs and know what it's like to be in the big game.
The NBA is just that type of league. You can't wander your way into a championship. LeBron James lost to the Spurs before winning a title. Dirk Nowitzki lost to the Heat. You need to lose before you can attain glory in the NBA.
Sure, there's Rajon Rondo, but who else in Boston?
Jeff Green has no clue what it's like to play in the conference finals, nor does Avery Bradley. Those two have combined for 31 playoff games over the course of their young careers while Pierce and Garnett have amassed 267.
Yeah, I know they're old, but with Pierce putting up numbers close to his career average and Garnett averaging a double-double in the playoffs, it looks like the two resemble the aging characteristics of a fine wine rather than a lonely, forgotten yogurt in the back of the refrigerator.
With Rondo in his prime and Green and Bradley on the up-and-up, a small dip in production from Pierce and Garnett will be more than made up for in the playoffs next year.
While Paul Pierce passed the torch to Jeff Green at the end of the season as the team's best scorer, he's still a definite asset to the Celtics on offense.
He put up a team-high 18.6 points per game in the regular season while digging into his arsenal of step-backs, fadeaways and crossovers.
Pierce is capable of mesmerizing moves on any possession, and with the Celtics averaging 96.5 points in the regular season—tying them with Cleveland for 18th in the league—those moves should be valued heading into next year.
Jeff Green will put up numbers in 2014, as will KG and Rajon Rondo if they suit up. The fact of the matter is, however, that none of them will be able to make up for Pierce's consistency if he's gone, nor would any of his potential replacements.
While the likes of Josh Smith and other relatively big names potentially finding themselves in green next season, it's likely that most of the high-impact players would do so without having Paul Pierce as a teammate.
It would be a case of tit-for-tat that, quite frankly, wouldn't be worth the risk. Doc Rivers will be entering his 10th season with Pierce, so you could say they know each other pretty well. While Rivers is capable of adjusting to any group of starters—something he's done year after year— he's never done so without No. 34.
While players like Smith and Al Jefferson are certainly younger, they don't provide nearly the aforementioned playoff experience as Pierce and KG.
When taking into account the free-agent options in 2014—a group that includes the likes of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Paul George—it makes a lot more sense to sit back and let the franchise players finish their careers as franchise players.
Considering this will be the last year of Pierce's contract and the team will have a lot more money to play with without worrying about dropping one of its star players, it makes a lot more sense to wait and see at this point rather than making a potentially regrettable move for superstars who haven't proven a thing in the playoffs.
While Jeff Green stole the show on multiple occasions this year, Paul Pierce is a proven commodity in late-game situations. With the clock winding down and the game on the line, is there anyone on the Celtics roster that you would trust more to knock down a jumper?
There just aren't that many players in the league who have remained faithful to their teams—and more importantly, their cities—over the course of their NBA careers. So, when I saw this Boston.com article in which Pierce stated, "I've always wanted to retire a Celtic," and even mentioned plans of signing a one-day contract to do so should he end up elsewhere, I couldn't help but find myself on his side. The 15 years of Hall-of-Fame caliber play didn't hurt either.
Pierce has been with the Celtics through good times and bad. Considering he's coming off one of his worst seasons, it's only right for the Celtics to do the same for him.
Pierce is already a future member of the Hall of Fame. He's already passed Larry Bird in points. He's already won a championship and a Finals MVP trophy to match.
At 35 years old, all that's left for Pierce to do is win another NBA title. That's all he needs at this point in his career. When the Celtics do make that run next year, The Truth will be chomping at the bit to raise banner No. 18, fighting tooth and nail to make sure the city of Boston sees another Duck Boat parade in June.
All the Celtics need to do is keep him.
All stats courtesy of NBA.com.