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With the basketball season unfortunately ending for the Celtics last month, many questions remain about the future of the team. One of the biggest questions, with perhaps the biggest impact on the team’s future, is the return of Paul Pierce. The 36 year old Captain has spent his entire 14 year career with the Boston Celtics and helped the team to a championship in 2008. However, with the recent disappointment of an early playoff exit and the obvious signs of father time wearing on the Captain’s body and game, the return of Pierce next season seems slim to none. With a $15 million contract on the line, there is speculation Celtics general manager, Danny Ainge, will buy out Pierce’s contract by the end of the month at the $5 million buyout in his contract, making him a free agent.
Ainge will have the next couple of weeks to contemplate the best decision for the franchise as this decision will have a ripple effect on the rest of the team. Teammate Kevin Garnett has been publicly adamant on the return of Pierce to secure his own return. Coach Doc Rivers has expressed a desire to return to coach Pierce and Garnett but would feel differently if the two stars were no longer with the team.
With the Pierce decision affecting the future of the franchise, the choice for Ainge will be difficult to say the least. Despite multiple reports of a likely buy out, there are other options for Ainge to consider. One option would be to trade Pierce, but with age as a factor, a lottery pick and a young prospect is likely a long-shot and the best the Celtics can probably hope for is a mid-to-late first round draft pick and the contract of another high paid veteran. One of the more viable and beneficial options for all parties involved would be to award Pierce’s loyalty to the team by honoring his contract for next season, but ask the veteran to come off the bench so a younger player like Jeff Green can flourish.
One of the main benefits of keeping Pierce would be the package deal of Garnett and Rivers. Instead of thinking of Pierce’s contract as a money pit, the Celtics should view it as an investment in next season by keeping three of the major components that won them a championship. The chances of Garnett and Rivers returning to the team are higher with the return of Pierce. Some may argue Pierce is not worth the $15 million coming off the bench. True, that is a steep price to pay a bench player but Pierce would would act more like a starter, just coming off the bench, ala Manu Ginobili of the Spurs.
The Celtics would also benefit from having increased bench production from the veteran player. Critics of Pierce argue his numbers and production have declined over the past seasons. Although there is no question Pierce, along with the rest of the team, struggled to close out games in the fourth quarter, coming off the bench would provide a solution and increase bench production. In a game based on momentum and timely runs, the fourth quarter represents a crucial time in deciding the outcome of games.
Along with increased bench production, Pierce will be able to provide a strong veteran presence for the rest of the team. Pierce is a proven competitor, winner and Captain, and brings intangible qualities to a team that no one else can. This team needs a strong leader that understands the organization and that is something Pierce can deliver on.
More importantly, the Celtics will be keeping one of the franchises most storied players. Pierce is second all-time in the franchise in points scored and is one of only three Celtics, along with the incomparable Larry Bird and John Havlicek, to score over 20,000 points in their careers. He also holds the Celtics record for three-point field goals made and ranks in the top five in other categories such as total assists, steals and defensive rebounds. With numbers like those, it seems like a no-brainer as to the value of Pierce and his importance to the team.
There are two crucial reasons for Pierce to stay a Celtic. The main reason to stay and come off the bench is so that he can retire as a Boston Celtic, the only team he has played for his entire career. His jersey is pretty much guaranteed a spot in the TD Banknorth Garden rafters, and will join the likes of legends such as Bird. For Pierce to have his name mentioned in the same sentence as Bird, Bob Cousy, Havlicek and others is an really impressive accomplishment. He is already a legend in Boston and the fans would love to see him end his career in green.
The other reason for Pierce to stay with the Celtics is to pursue another championship with a coach that helped elevate his game to a championship level and a teammate who believed in Pierce’s ability enough sign with the Celtics again. Anything can happen in an NBA season, and the way the Spurs are thriving with an elite point guard, a hall of fame coach, and aging stars, has to resonate with Pierce, Garnett and Rivers.
Retiring as a Celtic and the pursuit of another banner with a team he has put on his back should compensate for coming off the bench and convince Pierce this is where he belongs.