Per Jackie MacMullan of ESPNBoston, the Boston Celtics dealt Doc Rivers to the Los Angeles Clippers for a first-round pick, all so Paul would re-sign. And the Clippers did so without a guarantee that they could acquire Garnett or Pierce later, putting their futures with the Celtics in an even greater limbo.
For all three of these superstars then, the Rivers trade is the beginning of something new. Or the end of something that has been years in the making. We just don't know.
But we will.
Eventually, the speculative dust will have to settle. Decisions will be made, players will leave or stay put or even retire, and all the affected parties will need to move on.
Of all those impacted by the dealings between the Celtics and Clippers, Garnett is the one immersed in the thickest cloud of ambiguity.
First, he was supposed to land in Los Angeles with Rivers and, inevitably, Pierce. Then, he wasn't. The NBA wouldn't allow it, and according to Ken Berger of CBS Sports, it still won't. And if we're to believe Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, Garnett is no longer interested in joining the Clippers anyway.
It's a mess. One big, 6'11"-sized shipwreck.
With his path to the Clippers seemingly blocked, Garnett can either return to the Celtics, be dealt to another team that would prompt him to waive his no-trade clause or retire.
Before Garnett chooses a path, he has to ask himself: Do I still want to play?
The answer is obviously a resounding yes. He wouldn't have been linked to the Clippers in the first place if he didn't. That cleared up, and he now has to figure out where he wants to continue his career.
Fetching a first-round pick for Garnett shouldn't be too difficult a deal for Danny Ainge to assemble. Finding a contending team that is able to pull the trigger on that accord will be.
Most championship-caliber outfits aren't below the cap, meaning they're not in a position to take Garnett without unloading a contract or two of their own in return. The challenge then becomes finding a package that suits the Celtics' future personnel and financial plan. Once again, not easy.
Which brings us to retirement. If Garnett decides he doesn't want to be part of a rebuilding plan, walking away from the game entirely becomes a viable option.
What's next for Kevin Garnett?
Negotiating a package that suits all teams involved, while also putting Garnett somewhere he actually wants to play, may prove impossible. The situation in Los Angeles was an entirely different scenario. Rivers would have been there and Garnett even calls Hollywood home. There's no telling if he'd be willing to play somewhere else.
There's the situation with Pierce to consider as well, which we're about to get to. Playing alongside him will still appeal to Garnett, assuming he wants to continue his career. Should Boston trade Pierce or buy out the last year of his contract, the chances of Garnett returning to Boston diminish even further.
Barring the revival and sudden legalization of any Clippers talks, Garnett's next step will likely consist of staying put or taking the last stride he ever will as player, walking himself straight into retirement.
Unlike Garnett, retirement is most definitely not in the cards for Pierce, even if the Celtics elect to buy him out.
Should he be bought out, pencil him in as an inevitable member of the Clippers. That was the initial hope, and if he finds himself on the open market, in control of his own destiny, it will likely lead him back to Rivers.
MacMullan writes that the Celtics aren't at a point where they are prepared to just pay Pierce to leave, though. Buying him out for $5 million saves them more than $10 million, but he's also still a future Hall of Famer, fresh off a regular season where he averaged 18.6 points, 6.3 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game. Simply bidding him adieu in exchange for some cap relief may not be enough.
As of now, per MacMullan, a first-round pick is what Ainge is seeking for Pierce. No surprises there, really. Stockpiling first-round picks is how teams used to rebuild, before free-agency coups were a daily water-cooler topic.
Landing a first-round pick also saves the Celtics even more money. They'll have to pay whomever they draft with said pick, but won't be responsible for a dime of Pierce's $15.3 million.
Whether such an offer will present itself remains to be seen. According to Bob Finnan of The News-Herald, however, the Cleveland Cavaliers are prepared to offer two second-round selections in exchange for Pierce.
Second-round prospects clearly aren't what Ainge has in mind at the moment, though the offer is intriguing if only because it would wind up saving Boston more than $15 million next season.
Put in that context, it seems foolish to believe Pierce would be bought out. If the Celtics were going to buy him out for $5 million, they might as well ship him off to Cleveland—if the offer is still on the table—to receive some sort of compensation and, more importantly, trim more dollar signs off their bottom line.
Here's where emotions come into play.
Boston owes Pierce more than it does Garnett and Rivers. All of his 15 years have been spent in Beantown. He bleeds more green than Rivers and Garnett ever will.
Sentimental value in tow, if a first-round pick fails to materialize and Pierce asks to be bought out instead of being sent to a team like Cleveland, the Celtics may grant his request. Missing out on two second-rounders and a few million dollars in savings isn't going to cripple them.
Then again, the NBA is a business. And trading Pierce marks the start of a complete rebuild. Saving money is part of doctoring a new era of basketball. Every cent counts. Just ask Donald Sterling.
Who will Paul Pierce be playing with next season?
Ultimately, that will be the case. The Celtics aren't Donald Sterling stingy (who is?), but they're cognizant of what it's going to take to make this work. Failure to procure a first-round pick will result in them shipping Pierce out for the next-best offer or keeping him on the roster, in hopes of perhaps moving him at the trade deadline when other franchises are desperate or allowing him to finish out his 16th year in Boston.
Deals in the NBA are never dead until the death certificate has been issued, so there is still a chance Pierce gets bought out and heads to Los Angeles. Don't sleep on that storyline.
Don't place too much stock in it, either. Pierce is going to begin next season in Boston or be shipped off to the highest bidder, the latter of which won't be the Clippers.
Somewhere, delusional New York Knicks fans started shedding tears of agony the moment Rivers was dealt to Los Angeles.
According to Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times, Rivers' acquisition ensures that Paul will re-up with the Clippers.
But will it really?
The Clippers were always considered near locks to re-sign Paul, courtesy of their market size and ability to offer him more money than anyone else. Bringing in Rivers only increases the chances of Paul remaining in Tinseltown. It may even guarantee it, though "guarantee" is a strong word considering how this all went down.
Sterling's Clippers took far too much time to submit to Paul's will. He wanted Rivers (and Garnett) and this deal "died" multiple times before Los Angeles ponied up that first-round pick. Paul could look at that and experience some trepidation behind his return.
Latching on to an organization that has been seemingly as stubborn and reluctant to gamble as the Clippers isn't going to instill much confidence in any player, let alone one like Paul whose championship-less legacy is officially going to be put under a Carmelo Anthony-esque microscope with his next contract.
Blaming him for Vinny Del Negro's departure and the potential rifts that may or may not exist between him and Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan only complicates matters even further. Rivers or not, those personnel problems aren't going to disappear overnight (if they exist at all). Paul could still leave—but he won't.
Barring something insane, Paul isn't going anywhere. Though it took them a while, the Clippers got him the coach he wanted and have therefore shown their willingness to surrender to his desires once again.
Which team will Chris Paul wind up with this summer?
Let's also be brutally honest, too. It's not like Paul has a whole lot of other options.
Elite point guards aren't exactly a rare breed in today's NBA. Paul is the best of the best, but a scarcer commodity like Dwight Howard has more avenues open to him. Interested teams will be more aggressive in pursuing sign-and-trades and he fits better next to ball-dominating guards like James Harden than Paul ever would.
Franchises like the Dallas Mavericks and Atlanta Hawks, among others, can make their respective pitches to Paul, but they don't have the personnel in place that the Clippers do, nor are they an immediate powerhouse-like threat.
Leaving is still an option for Paul. It's the same one every unrestricted free agent is afforded, though not everyone finds a better situation. Logic dictates Paul isn't going to find a more appealing and realistic destination.
Los Angeles, the Clippers and the sudden need to justify his value by adding some hardware to those bare fingers of his await. So forget about him leaving. He has a championship to win and a legacy to defend.