Who do the Celtics owe this to?
Which way they go depends on a host of outside factors that, based on a report by Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, are currently bubbling out of control. The Celtics have put Pierce on the back burner for now, which is fine since they have until June 30 to make a decision on his non-guaranteed, $15.3 million contract.
The more pressing issue right now involves the potential departure of head coach Doc Rivers and starting center Kevin Garnett. Whether Pierce is tied in with them in some way will be revealed later this month.
One benefit of all this trade posturing with Rivers and Garnett is that Pierce seems to be remaining silent. He has done nothing to fracture his relationship with the organization or his fans. What happens by June 30 will be purely a business decision.
One of the most fascinating questions to discuss at this point is what the Celtics should feel they owe Pierce.
With any long-term relationship, there is give and take. Pierce has given his entire basketball career to the city, but it hasn't always been smooth. There have been bad times and good, coming from each side of the relationship.
Do the Celtics owe Paul Pierce the opportunity to retire in Boston?
Obviously, $15.3 million appears on the high end of what a player of Pierce's age and caliber should be worth. The alternative of buying him out for $5 million just doesn't seem palatable, though. That high price tag may simply be the cost of allowing Pierce to retire as a Celtic, something he has stated repeatedly that he would appreciate being able to do.
With a lot of relationships, it is tough to separate the distant past from what has occurred recently. With Pierce and the Celtics, that means allowing the 2013 playoffs to cloud what came before.
Pierce struggled through that series against the New York Knicks.
He was at times stymied by Iman Shumpert, a player 13 years his junior. Pierce shot just 36.8 percent and surrendered 5.3 turnovers per game. There was a lot on his plate with Rajon Rondo out, but excuses in relationships rarely pan out.
Those playoff struggles shouldn't come as any wild surprise. Pierce will turn 36 before next season begins. His age has undoubtedly started catching up with him, as his fourth-quarter performances in that series were even more abysmal.
Pierce clearly can't do what he once could, and it could be a major cause in the fracturing of this relationship.
On the front page of The Boston Globe's June 16 edition, Shira Springer had a feature on the aging stars of Boston sports. It profiled how Tom Brady, David Ortiz, Zdeno Chara and Paul Pierce are defying Father Time and remaining near the top of their respective sports.
Pierce, for one, often travels with a hyperbaric chamber. He uses the device to speed recovery time of his tired legs. Whether you view this as a brilliant solution or a giant red flag is up to the individual. What it does prove is that Pierce realizes these new deficiencies and is being proactive about them.
There should be little doubt that Pierce can and will average around 17 points, five rebounds and four assists next season, if he is allowed adequate playing time. He has done so his entire career.
His career numbers are staggering for a player who could possibly be paid not to play for this team. Over 15 seasons, he has given the Celtics an average of 21.8 points, 6.0 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 1.4 steals. Pierce is a career 44.7-percent shooter, with clips of 37.0 percent from beyond the arc and 80.6 percent from the free-throw line.
The Celtics organization has paid Pierce around $175 million over the course of his career. He has been well compensated for his play and durability over his years in Boston. He was by far the highest-paid player on the team last season and more than likely would be again in 2013-14.
The argument can be made that the Celtics don't owe Pierce anything at this point. He has been properly paid for what he has done, and if they choose not to compensate him for his services moving forward, so be it. The NBA is a business, and the Celtics franchise employs a lot of people outside of Pierce.
What is forgotten here is that the relationship we've been talking about isn't just a two-way street. The Celtics brass must realize that this relationship is a triangle that includes one more participant.
The fans are that third piece to the puzzle. Plain and simple, the Celtics owe their fans the privilege of seeing Pierce go out in green.
According to Forbes, Pierce had the No. 13 highest-selling jersey last year. After 15 seasons in the NBA wearing the same jersey, how is that even possible? What Boston fan who wanted one didn't have a No. 34 jersey by the time he started year No. 15?
This is doubly impressive because Pierce doesn't appear to have the large-scale marketability of some of his peers. He has never been in the MVP discussion and makes only rare appearances on All-NBA teams. Kobe Bryant (No. 3), Dwyane Wade (No. 6) and Dirk Nowitzki (No. 7) are all in similar situations with their original teams, but have much more name recognition worldwide.
If fans are still purchasing Pierce memorabilia at a high rate 15 years into the relationship, there is something special there. What he has done spans generations. Parents who own Pierce jerseys are now buying them for their kids, something that is very rare in the NBA.
It was a freezing-cold Sunday in December, a typically raw, 35-degree Boston day, when Pierce was scheduled to make a brief appearance outside Faneuil Hall. It was another in a long strand of charitable holiday events to which Pierce would lend a hand. This particular event was put on by American Express to aid Toys for Tots.
Pierce showed up on time, rolling onto the cobblestone in a big, black SUV. After a brief interview with Bleacher Report, Pierce was set to take photos with a few diehards. However, upon turning to face the front, he witnessed a line with hundreds of fans wrapping around a good length of Quincy Market.
There were young kids and elderly grandmothers, all decked out for the cold and waiting to meet their basketball-playing hero. They all braved the elements to catch a moment with Pierce, the man they have watched make big shot after big shot on television for the last 15 years.
Midway through the meet-and-greet, Pierce, a true New Englander by now, peeled away his coat to reveal a New England Patriots shirt.
Those fans that lined up that day deserve to see Pierce finish with the Celtics. As do those who continue to buy the same jersey 15 years in. The franchise owes them the opportunity to watch No. 34 making the same rounds during the holiday season and shooting at the same baskets of the TD Garden.
They'll be watching from the same couches and on the same TVs. At this point, it just seems right.