Why Paul Pierce Is Still Essential to the Celtics' Title Hopes

Jeremy Gottlieb@@jmg2776Contributor ISeptember 19, 2012

Paul Pierce remains as crucial a piece to the Celts' championship puzzle as ever.
Paul Pierce remains as crucial a piece to the Celts' championship puzzle as ever.Elsa/Getty Images

2012 could wind up a very tough season for Paul Pierce.

There's even some reason to believe he could be traded away at some point from the only team he's ever known.

But if the Celtics want to compete for another title this season, they'd better keep him. And make sure his role is just as sizable and vital as he can handle.

This could well be the last season in which Pierce plays for the Celts no matter what. He's in the final year of his deal, the team hasn't made any overtures about a contract extension and he's publicly expressed a desire to test free agency.

As it is currently comprised, the Celtics need Pierce. There is nowhere near a proven scorer with Pierce's credentials on the roster. Yes, both Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo are capable of scoring a lot of points if need be. The team doesn't want that though. Its best chance at success is with Garnett controlling the game defensively and Rondo running the offense.

Enter Pierce. He's the scorer who is the third leg of this triangle. And he's up to taking on a big load, even now that he's well into his mid-30s.

ESPN.com's John Hollinger points out that last season, Pierce was still among the league leaders in usage rate, ranking fourth among small forwards in that department. And he can still get himself to the free-throw line, coming in at fourth in free-throw rate among all 3s.

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And furthermore, if the Celtics were to move Pierce, or keep him but phase him out, who would take his place taking the most shots and drawing the most fouls? Again, if Garnett and Rondo are asked to replace his scoring, it would take away from what each does best to help the team win. 

Jeff Green would likely see the majority of his minutes at small forward, but in Green the Celts have a player who, despite an extravagant contract, has never really done anything to warrant it.

Green didn't play a minute last season thanks to heart surgery but before that, he looked a lot like an eighth man, which is what he projects to be when the Celtics break training camp come late October. He scored in excess of 15 points per game twice in his three full years in Oklahoma but was never asked to take more than 13 shots a night.

He made 39 percent of his three-point attempts in 2008-2009, his second season. But that number plummeted to 33 percent the next season and just 30 the year after that. In 26 games as a Celtic in 2001, he neither scored in double figures or shot threes at better than 30 percent.

Maybe Green will grow into a star or a go-to guy. He is, after all, only 26 years old. But in the here and now, he is a complementary piece. 

Pierce is a star. He's the go-to guy on this roster. 

That will change at some point, maybe even as soon as next season, if not some time during the upcoming one if the Celts wind up floundering and look to move him at the trade deadline in February.

But until then, and until he shows categorically that he is no longer capable of handling the kind of workload that he's been given throughout his career, he is as critical to the Celtics' title hopes as anyone.