The futures of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and the Boston Celtics team that both players have led for the last six years -- and for 15 years, in Pierce's case -- are up in the air after the Celtics' first-round loss to the New York Knicks in the 2013 NBA playoffs.
There are a few schools of thought on the way forward for Boston. Forward Jeff Green summed up the most wishful of them in his post-game press conference: "If I had a wish, everybody'd be back -- healthy. The way we started." Green's lament about the Celtics' health has merit: Garnett and Pierce each battled injuries during the regular season, and will turn 37 and 36 before the 2013-14 season; Rajon Rondo and Jared Sullinger both suffered season-ending injuries; Avery Bradley, a key component of the Celtics' backcourt, played in just 50 regular season games.
This Celtics team wasn't great, even when it was healthy, finishing the regular season with a 42-40 record after starting the year 20-23 with Rondo, but a fully healthy Rondo and a deeper bench might be enough for one last playoff run. And as recently as earlier this week, Pierce was saying he expected to play in 2013-14.
The more realistic options probably involve one or both of Garnett and Pierce retiring. And there's plenty of smoke on both fronts, and especially around the idea that their fates are linked.
Talked to some close to Paul, they are certain he's played his last game as a Celtic.Their quote, all good things must come to an end— greg dickerson (@gdickerson_csn) May 4, 2013
Pierce and KG are two interdependent dominoes. Hard to see one of them here without the other.— Paul Flannery (@Pflanns) May 4, 2013
KG hasn't made a decision. Spoke a lot about Pierce, coming to Boston to play with Pierce. Pierce's fate seems very related to KG's choice.— Celtics Town (@CelticsTown) May 4, 2013
That would seem like a fitting ending for two players who shouldered loads for their respective franchises before teaming to win their first and only title, and their departure might also allow Celtics coach Doc Rivers -- who said, of Garnett, "I really didn't want him to go out that way, on our court," before clarifying that he was thinking about the season alone -- to step away from the game.
Then again, there's also this, from our own Paul Flannery:
I'll say it. I don't think KG's retiring, but I really don't know.— Paul Flannery (@Pflanns) May 4, 2013
Pierce's path to retirement seems much easier than Garnett's: he has just a one-year player option left on his contract, and could decline it fairly painlessly. Garnett has made nearly $300 million from just his NBA contracts, but he's got two more years on the three-year contract he signed last summer, and more than $20 million due to him.
Of course, there's also a course available to Pierce that would leave a bad taste in every Celtics fan's mouth: Pierce could decline that player option, become an unrestricted free agent, and sign with another team. The most likely candidate for that? A certain team that wears purple and gold and plays about a half-hour from Inglewood, where Pierce grew up.
If the thought of Pierce spurning the Celtics for the Los Angeles Lakers is far-fetched, that's because it is, and because Pierce is about as wedded to Boston as Larry Bird was. But don't be surprised if you hear that theory floated -- or hear the lack of an ovation for Pierce, who came out to little fanfare late in the fourth quarter of Game 6, with the TD Garden crowd likely thinking Pierce would come back in -- used as a reason for it.