The 2013-14 Boston Celtics could be one of two teams: one consisting of a blown up roster looking to rebuild around young talent, or one consisting of the players and head coach that Celtics fans have grown to love over the past six years. While the fates of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Doc Rivers are yet to be determined, one thing is for sure: the identity of the franchise will never the the same if all three aren't regulars at the TD Garden come October.
The 2013 NBA Finals currently features two polarizing teams: one that has built itself up on a foundation of integrity under a trusted head coach and one that has signed its way to three finals appearances in just as many tries.
Danny Ainge now has to decide whether he wants to earn it the old fashioned way—like the Spurs—by hanging onto his core playmakers, or kick one of the franchise's most beloved players in its long history to the curb and turn the team into a poor man's Miami Heat.
If the latter occurs, the Celtics' front office will be making one of its biggest mistakes in team history. The last time the Celtics blew the team up, they brought in Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to play with a proven franchise player in Paul Pierce. This time around, they would be bringing in players with far less star-power to play with unproven playoff contenders Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green.
While Rondo is undoubtedly a difference maker come playoff time, his unpredictability is a liability. One night he's putting up 44 points against the Heat, another he's getting suspended for bumping into an official. Jeff Green has yet to win a playoff series as a starter, so there's that.
Nevertheless, it's already quite clear that these are the two players the Celtics will depend on come playoff time next season. If they don't show up, the Celtics will get bounced in the first round. That's a given. If they do show up, Boston could make a title run.
Everything that's happening now with Pierce has to do with the guys that will be there to support Green and Rondo. If Pierce goes, smart money says Doc and KG go with him. That's decades' worth of experience out the window, along with one of the league's best coaches, the team's defensive anchor and one of the best shooters in franchise history.
The Celtics won't be signing LeBron in lieu of their veterans, they'll be signing guys that are pretty good in the regular season—irrelevant in the playoffs. Pierce and KG, while old, are far more reliable options.
Just because it didn't work this year doesn't mean it won't work next year, especially if Rondo and Sullinger come back healthy and Ainge finds a role-playing big man that can help KG on the boards.
The Boston Celtics have the most championships in the history of the NBA. Their legacy defines them just as much as their performance year in and year out.
There are certain comments to be made on behalf of loyal players—guys that choose to stay with their franchise through the good and the bad, like Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki, and of course, Paul Pierce—guys that put the city before winning percentage on their list of priorities.
Furthermore, there are certain comments to be made on players that leave their franchise for the sole purpose of winning. I'm talking about Ray Allen, LeBron James, and Dwight Howard—guys that will take a surefire title shot at the expense of the teams and cities they leave behind when the going gets tough.
A lot of these comments revolve around the word "integrity." Paul Pierce has played with the Celtics for fifteen seasons. Only one of those seasons provided an ending that left him satisfied. And yet, if it were up to him, he would retire a Celtic.
The question is: will the franchise reciprocate a career's-worth of selflessness by allowing him to stay? If so, and Pierce stays in a Celtic uniform next season, then the team's legacy will remain untainted in the eyes of the city, and it's front office integrity will be up there with the league's best.
If not, I don't know what to tell you.