With uncertainty looming around every corner, no NBA team is facing as many tough decisions as the Boston Celtics. With the exception of perhaps the Los Angeles Clippers, no team is realistically facing the prospect of losing its coach and veteran stars in one fell swoop.
As wild rumors swirl around the sports world, the mysterious picture of what the 2013-14 Celtics will look like has become no clearer than it was after Boston's disheartening loss in Game 6 against the New York Knicks.
None of these decisions are even remotely easy. Intelligent, rational arguments could be made for a number of different answers to how the Celtics should approach the draft, free agency and, of course, the future of the three people who were so instrumental in the overhaul that led to Boston's resurgence back in 2007.
The Finals are drawing to a close and, as Boston fans pass the time gritting their teeth and trying to figure out what Danny Ainge and company will do come the official offseason, let's look at some potential answers to the five most difficult questions facing the Celtics.
Currently in possession of the 16th pick in the 2013 draft, the Celtics have the opportunity to add a potential instant impact player to their roster.
This year's crop of prospects is not as strong as years past, but given that the Celtics have several pressing areas of need, they should be able to find at least one player who can help plug a hole in the short-term.
This draft class has a number of decent scoring guards who could help Boston's stagnant offense, but the real value in this draft is down low, where there are a number of center prospects who could really help the C's inside.
Among the players available are Duke's Mason Plumlee, fresh off of a senior season during which he averaged 17.1 points, 10 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game. Plumlee, who started his career as nothing more than a rebounder and effort guy, has emerged as a polished scorer on the block.
Another option is Pittsburgh's Steven Adams, a 7'0" freshman who played well but did not exactly dominate in his only season as a Panther. Adams averaged 7.2 points, 6.3 rebounds and two blocks per game while shooting 57.1 percent from the floor.
Though he needs to develop the skill aspects of his game (he shot 44.3 percent from the free-throw line), Adams is a good help defender who could grow into a starting-caliber center for Boston down the road.
The best option though, in my opinion, is Louisville's Gorgui Dieng. Dieng is one of the more athletic bigs available in the draft and is coming off of a national championship run with the Cardinals. He averaged 9.8 points, 9.4 rebounds, two assists and 2.5 blocks as a junior and showed tremendous growth under Rick Pitino.
Dieng has a unique combination of skills: He runs the floor extremely well and can both finish and protect at the rim but is also a legitimate threat as an outside shooter. He needs to add some muscle, but he already has the talent to be a rotation player for the size-strapped Celtics.
The Celtics' moves in free agency depend largely on whether or not they choose to bring back the core of Garnett, Pierce and Rivers, which we'll obviously discuss later, so it's difficult to create a plan for free agency with their futures still in question.
Should the three return to Beantown, that would leave the Celtics with some pretty limited options. Guys like Will Bynum, Marco Belinelli or Leandro Barbosa would all make inexpensive, low-risk additions to the roster.
In the frontcourt, Boston could gamble on a mercurial talent like Andray Blatche or a battle-tested veteran like Kenyon Martin or Samuel Dalembert. None of them are going to transform the team, but their size and rebounding abilities would help plug the Celtics' hole in the paint.
If the C's opt to blow up the roster and rebuild, they have some far more intriguing options. They could pursue a top-shelf big man like Al Jefferson or Josh Smith, or target an up-and-coming wing player like O.J. Mayo or Tyreke Evans, who could potentially grow alongside the team's young core of Rajon Rondo, Jeff Green, Avery Bradley and Jared Sullinger.
Given the team's lack of size and athleticism, pursuing Josh Smith may be the best option if they decide to rebuild the franchise. He has the highest ceiling of any top-shelf free agent available besides Chris Paul and Dwight Howard and would give the Celtics a dominant athlete and finisher to run the floor alongside Rondo, Bradley and Green.
Smith is not always a brilliant decision-maker, but he has a phenomenally versatile skill set on both ends of the floor and is coming off of a 2012-13 season in which he averaged 17.5 points, 8.4 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 1.8 blocks per game on 46.5 percent shooting from the floor.
He still needs to cut down on the jumpers, but there is no denying what Smith would bring to Boston as an interior scorer, rebounder and shot-blocker.
Plugging Josh Smith at the power forward spot would solve the C's issue at the 4 for years to come and give them a formidable forward tandem of Green and J-Smoove to build around. If they could snag a decent young center either through free agency or a trade they could be set up to contend again sooner than anyone expects.
Rumors about Doc Rivers being shipped to the Los Angeles Clippers as part of a Kevin Garnett-based package have reportedly been put on hold, according to the Boston Globe's Baxter Holmes, but despite the three-years and $21 million remaining on Rivers' deal, there is still plenty of uncertainty surrounding the championship coach's future with the C's.
At this point, some bad blood between Rivers and the Celtics' fan base may be inevitable given this complex, drawn-out saga with Los Angeles, but the reality is that Boson cannot necessarily do much better than Rivers at this juncture.
While proven, quality coaches like George Karl and Lionel Hollins are available, it is unlikely that either of those two coaching veterans will be looking to undertake a rebuilding job when they could potentially nab jobs with teams closer to contention than Boston.
Although Rivers' refusal to play young players and his mediocre offensive system are legitimate issues, there is no denying his ability to motivate his team and create effective defensive schemes.
That being said, if a quality deal involving Rivers and Garnett is available, then the team should pursue it. Bringing in impact players like DeAndre Jordan and Eric Bledsoe along with multiple draft picks would be a major boost for the Celtics and potentially expedite their rebuilding process more than keeping Rivers around for another season or two would.
Ultimately, Danny Ainge and company should look to keep Rivers pacing the sideline for Boston if a deal doesn't present itself, but if a deal like the Clippers one becomes a reality then they need to pursue it. Doc simply is not going to be the coach of the future in Boston, as his hesitancy to return over the past few offseasons has shown.
The connection between the Boston Celtics franchise and Kevin Garnett is one of the most incredible bonds in the NBA today. For a player who has spent just six seasons in green, Garnett has turned the Celtics from a laughingstock to an elite team and redefined the phrase "Celtic Pride" for a new generation of Boston fans.
That is what makes it so difficult to decide what to do with KG going forward. Garnett had a good 2012-13 season, averaging 14.8 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.3 assists on 49.6 percent shooting from the floor, but the physical toll of 18 years playing as hard as he possibly can began to show by the playoffs.
The Big Ticket still managed to average 12.7 points, 13.7 boards and 3.5 assists while shooting 50 percent from the floor, but battling with Kenyon Martin and Tyson Chandler clearly wore on Garnett over the six brutally physical games.
Still, Garnett's value to the Celtics organization goes beyond statistics. He remains one of the better defensive big men in the league and is a tremendous leader and locker room presence. During the course of the 2012-13 season he helped Jeff Green and Jared Sullinger mature and develop into more physical, aggressive players.
With Boston likely looking to bring in more youth, it could pay to keep Garnett, who holds a no-trade clause, as a teacher and leader for the team's young pieces. His contract, which has another two years and $24.4 million on it, certainly hurts the salary cap, but it is not an unreasonable amount to pay for a player of his caliber.
Like Rivers, if a deal comes along that presents Boston with the opportunity to really expedite the rebuilding process, it should be explored, but given the uncertainty at the 4 and 5 spots for Boston, the C's should not be pursuing every avenue to deal the former MVP.
While many Celtics fans would love to see Pierce, Garnett and Rivers have one more season together to contend for a title, it is unlikely that all three will be around when the 2013-14 season rolls around. Although Paul Pierce has been with Boston for 15 seasons and has seen the franchise go from the depths of irrelevancy to the NBA Finals, he is the player who should be most aggressively shopped by Boston.
Pierce had a strong 2012-13 campaign, averaging 18.6 points, 6.3 rebounds and 4.8 assists while shooting 43.6 percent from the floor and 38 percent from three-point range. However, he struggled in the playoffs, putting up 19.2 points, 5.7 rebounds and 5.3 assists but connecting on just 36.8 percent of his shots overall and 26.8 percent of the 6.8 threes he jacked up per game.
To make matters worse, Pierce struggled in a point-forward role, coughing up the ball repeatedly and averaging 5.3 turnovers over the course of the series.
Because of his ability to hit clutch baskets and create space off the dribble, Pierce remains one of the game's better offensive players, but he has had more difficulty getting to the rim and the foul line as he has aged. His defense, while still solid, has also regressed noticeably as the Celtics went out of their way to avoid creating long stretches with Pierce matched up on Carmelo Anthony.
Unlike with Garnett, the Celtics have a clear-cut starting-caliber player at Pierce's position. Jeff Green had a sensational playoffs, averaging 20.3 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.3 assists while shooting 45.5 percent from beyond the arc. Green, who is just 26 years old, has not yet reached his peak as a player and needs to be consistently seeing 36-40 minutes of playing time per night.
Because Pierce does not have a no-trade clause Boston has the opportunity to pursue any deal they want. There are likely to be several playoff-caliber teams in need of a scoring bunch and some veteran savvy that would take a long look at trading for The Truth.
Pierce's value to the organization and his place in Celtics history have been cemented and, while it would be great to see him retire in the same place his career began, if Boston is going to look to trade any of its stars in the offseason, it has to be Pierce.