Whether the Boston Celtics should bring Paul Pierce back for the 2013-14 season, keep Kevin Garnett and hope Rajon Rondo returns early from his injury is a question Danny Ainge and his staff will have to explore in the coming weeks and months. A mediocre season and first-round exit with two aging stars doesn't inspire much hope for the future, but neither does rebuilding around Rondo, Avery Bradley and Jared Sullinger.
But the Celtics certainly can do it. And with Garnett, Rondo, Jason Terry, Courtney Lee and Jeff Green all signed on for the next couple seasons, it may make sense to transition to a new era instead of bringing out the demo crew.
The Celtics cannot renegotiate Pierce's $15 million salary for 2013-14 -- that's against the NBA's contract rules.
But because Pierce has a player option on the deal, that rule can be (quietly) circumvented. If Pierce executes his early termination option for the 2013-14, he becomes a free agent on July 1. Boston retains his Bird rights and could go over the cap to sign him. Needless to say, Pierce could be had for far less than $15 million -- Garnett signed a 3-year, $36 million deal last summer. Depending on how badly he wants to retire a Celtic, Pierce could go lower, maybe even something like two years, $18 million. It wouldn't get Boston under the cap, but it'd shrink or eliminate the luxury tax bill while keeping a key cog in place as Jeff Green develops.
Update, May 5: Pierce does not have a player option as reported above. We regret the error. If the Celtics waive Pierce, NBA rules appear to prevent him from being re-signed for one year.
The other options for Boston: let him play the season out for $15 million if he doesn't want to opt out, trade him to get his salary totally off of the books or waive him to take a $5 million cap hit for 2013-14. Pierce is actually also amnesty eligible -- Boston could waive him under that clause to get that $5 million taken off of the books, too. But Paul probably wouldn't like that much as another team would surely claim him for a portion of that $15 million, preventing him from hitting free agency. One would like to think Ainge has enough reverence for The Truth to avoid a situation that results in Pierce playing one of the final seasons of his career for the Bobcats. (No offense to DeSagana Diop, who experienced just that.)
Just remember as the rumors ebb and flow and us amateur cap hawks figure out what's going to happen: the Celtics have lots of options, and Ainge historically has shown he knows perfectly well how to use them.