With news of the potential Doc Rivers and Kevin Garnett deal with the Los Angeles Clippers falling through, according to ESPN Los Angeles' Ramona Shelburne, the collective eyes of the Boston Celtics faithful are beginning to shift to the future of Paul Pierce.
While Pierce was not a direct part of the Clippers rumor, there is still widespread speculation that the 10-time All-Star, who was nearly dealt to the Dallas Mavericks at the trade deadline, could be moved imminently.
Pierce is coming off of another solid season in which he averaged 18.6 points, 6.3 rebounds and 4.8 assists while shooting 38 percent from three-point range, and is sure to garner interest in the offseason from title contenders who feel they need an added scoring punch. However, another option for Boston is to look to move him to a lottery team and move itself up in the draft.
The Celts currently hold the 16th pick in the draft, and while there is always the small chance of finding a star in the mid-first round. Players like Kelly Olynyk, Shane Larkin, Gorgui Dieng and Mason Plumlee are all good, experienced players, but none of them are going to emerge as the kind of building block that Boston needs.
Although it's unlikely that one of the teams in the top five of the lottery is going to look to absorb Pierce and his substantial salary for the 2013-14 campaign, there are teams that are close to breaking into the playoffs that might consider adding the former finals MVP.
One possibility is to pursue a deal with the Minnesota Timberwolves, who were viewed by many as a dark-horse playoff squad before a slew of injuries resulted in a disappointing 31-51 finish.
Though Minnesota has Andrei Kirilenko and Derrick Williams at the wings currently, it is woefully thin at the shooting guard spot and could use a player capable of stretching the floor and creating offense for himself and his teammates. With Kevin Love sidelined for all but 18 games, the Timberwolves averaged just 95.7 points per game, good for 20th in the league.
The teams could swing a deal that would center on Pierce and the 16th overall pick for Williams and the ninth pick. Williams averaged a respectable 12 points and 5.5 rebounds as a sophomore, and the C's could use the ninth pick to draft a player like Cody Zeller or Alex Len who could help plug Boston's hole down low.
Another similar move would be to ship Pierce to Detroit along with the 16th pick for Rodney Stuckey and the eighth pick. Moving up to eighth would give them an opportunity to possibly snag Shabazz Muhammad, a gifted wing scorer who could give the team some much-needed perimeter offense.
Stuckey is only under contract for one more season at $8.5 million, and bringing Pierce to the Motor City would give the Pistons a veteran presence in the locker room to help mentor Greg Monroe, Brandon Knight and Andre Drummond while potentially making them a playoff threat in the Eastern Conference.
If Boston desperately wants to vault itself into the upper part of the lottery, it could consider engaging the New Orleans Pelicans in talks for Pierce. The Pelicans are thin at the center position and might be interested in acquiring Jared Sullinger.
A deal of Pierce, Sully, Jordan Crawford and the 16th pick for a package of role players like Jason Smith and Lance Thomas in addition to the sixth pick would give Boston the chance to grab one of the few impact players available in the 2013 draft.
Should a player like Otto Porter or Anthony Bennett slip a bit, the Celtics would have the chance to snatch him up and add a strong piece to their young core. Both Porter and Bennett provide unique skill sets offensively: Bennett with his rebounding and outside shooting, and Porter with his mid-range game and playmaking. Having one of them could potentially expedite the C's' rebuilding process and give Rajon Rondo another youthful running mate.
Beyond those three moves, though, it is tough to envision what Boston could do to make a meaningful leap upwards in the draft. Dealing Pierce to a team like Philadelphia, Dallas or Oklahoma City is a possibility, but is it worth losing Pierce just to move up a few spots in a relatively weak draft class?
Even the moves suggested here are far from guarantees given the lack of any "sure thing" player in this group of prospects. It would be one thing if this draft had the kind of top-shelf talent that many expect from the 2014 draft, but this is a year where even potential top-three picks like Nerlens Noel and Trey Burke may not be able to make a significant impact at the NBA level.
There is also the matter of what sending Pierce to a lottery team would do for a fanbase that has watched him mature and grow for 15 seasons. Given that Pierce does not have much time left playing at a high level, to see him languish on a team years away from a playoff run would be undoubtedly saddening.
Though he struggled somewhat against New York's stingy defense, averaging 5.3 turnovers per game, Pierce still managed to throw up 19.2 points, 5.7 rebounds and 5.3 assists while playing more of a point-forward role with Rondo down.
Pierce's shooting at the rim is down slightly (64.8 percent in 2011-12, 62 percent in 2012-13), and he is hoisting more threes than he has since the 2006-07 season. But his ability to play strong defense and hit big-time shots is undeniable. His PER has also basically stayed the same over the past six years, hovering around 19.
For a team that has a rebuild looming on the horizon, trading up in the draft is never a bad idea. However, because of the uncertain nature of this crop of prospects and the mysteries surrounding the future of the Boston Celtics franchise, it would simply be too risky for Danny Ainge and the front office to gamble on moving Pierce just to move up in the draft.
A major move may soon be coming for Boston, but it should not come in the form of a Paul Pierce-based attempt to squeeze into the draft lottery.