BOSTON – There are no easy answers here. The run is over and it was over long before the Knicks ushered them off the stage in the first round. As the Celtics left the 2012-13 season behind them, there was a greater sense of uncertainty and unease than at any other time in their half-dozen years together.
Doc Rivers wouldn’t commit to coming back next year, saying he needed time to think things through. Kevin Garnett has two years left on his contract but the word "retirement" wasn’t a whisper like it has been in past years. The Celtics can buy out the last year of Paul Pierce’s contract. Rajon Rondo was nowhere to be found.
Rivers spoke of Garnett in the past tense, and then quickly reversed himself saying he was only talking about this year when he said, "I really didn’t want him to go out that way on our court. I just didn’t want it. He is a winner. The best that I’ve seen."
Danny Ainge has tried to trade just about everybody on the roster over the years and there’s no telling what he’ll do this offseason. Team sources said they didn’t know which way he would go and they were hesitant to offer any predictions one way or the other. If there’s value to be had, he’ll likely pull the trigger but that’s been the case since the 2010 season and he hasn’t yet.
One thing that does seem clear is that the fates of Pierce and KG are intertwined. If Garnett does retire, or if they can convince him to waive his no-trade clause, then it might make sense to bid Pierce farewell. If they decide to part ways with their captain then that might make the decision easier for Garnett.
"Well, one of the big reasons I came here was because of Paul," Garnett said. "Obviously you know you want to be in a situation where it’s better, want to make sure I can always help the team, want to be in position to where I’m giving something. I demand a lot out of myself, both physically and from a skill level. I’ll be honest, or I’ll be lying to you if I said Paul didn’t play into that."
Translated that means he won’t want to be part of a rebuilding project and, just as importantly, he won’t leave Pierce behind either. Asked about his future, Pierce also deferred to the great unknown, but he did make it clear he wants to keep playing.
"That’s a question for Danny Ainge and his team to figure out," he said. "I have no idea."
Rivers took Pierce out of the game in the final minute or so and the crowd didn’t really sense what was happening. He just walked to the end of the bench as if he had been taken out of a late February game against the Bucks. It was an awfully unfulfilling end to a brutal series that saw him turn the ball over 32 times.
"He’s one of the greatest Celtics to ever play," Rivers said. "He’s done so much for this franchise. Listen, we live in a day and time where guys are changing teams like socks. Paul has chosen to stay here throughout his career when clearly he had all rights to leave and he chose to stay here. I have so much respect for him for that. He wanted to get it done here. He made that choice. I hope he’s remembered for that and obviously I hope he comes back. I just don’t know right now, anything."
What is clear is that the Celtics can’t continue with so much on Pierce and Garnett. That’s not new. They tried to do that in the offseason, but once again it came down to the two old legends when Rondo got hurt. It should also be said that the mix wasn’t working even when Rondo was healthy. Something has to change even if they do all come back, which is also a possibility.
"We need more," Rivers said. "I need that little girl on the commercials that says, ‘I need more, I need more.’ Because we need more and we do. The key is for us, do you want to take away to get more. That will be a decision that they make later."
Honestly, it wasn’t fair to either of them, particularly Pierce who looked like a shell of himself going 4-for-18 with five turnovers.
"I’m down at times during the game because I’m thinking about Paul’s emotions because it’s not the game he wanted," Rivers said. "And you’re trying to coach the game.
"It is an extra layer with them. We don’t know how many more years we’re going to have them period, in the league. You just want it to always be perfect for them and as a coach you want to protect that. Tonight I just didn’t."
Asked point blank if he’d be back next season, Rivers said, "I don’t know. I don’t know that right now. I can’t make that decision. I’m under contract and we’ll see. Honestly, I just can’t even think about that right now. I’m not leaning that way, I can tell you that. If I told you right now, I’m coming back. I need to just detox."