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Tim O

Tim O’Sullivan: Celtics should stand pat, then hope for the best

  • Boston Celtics head coach Doc Rivers, right, gives forward Kevin Garnett a pat on the back after taking him out of the game in the final minute during the second half in Game 6 of their first-round NBA basketball playoff series against the New York Knicks in Boston, Friday, May 3, 2013. The Knicks won 88-80, eliminating the Celtics from the playoffs. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

    Boston Celtics head coach Doc Rivers, right, gives forward Kevin Garnett a pat on the back after taking him out of the game in the final minute during the second half in Game 6 of their first-round NBA basketball playoff series against the New York Knicks in Boston, Friday, May 3, 2013. The Knicks won 88-80, eliminating the Celtics from the playoffs. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

  • Boston Celtics small forward Paul Pierce (34) heads to the bench during the second half in Game 6 of their first-round NBA basketball playoff series against the New York Knicks in Boston, Friday, May 3, 2013. The Knicks won 88-80, eliminating the Celtics from the playoffs. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

    Boston Celtics small forward Paul Pierce (34) heads to the bench during the second half in Game 6 of their first-round NBA basketball playoff series against the New York Knicks in Boston, Friday, May 3, 2013. The Knicks won 88-80, eliminating the Celtics from the playoffs. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

  • Boston Celtics small forward Paul Pierce (34) heads to the bench during the second half in Game 6 of their first-round NBA basketball playoff series against the New York Knicks in Boston, Friday, May 3, 2013. The Knicks won 88-80, eliminating the Celtics from the playoffs. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

    Boston Celtics small forward Paul Pierce (34) heads to the bench during the second half in Game 6 of their first-round NBA basketball playoff series against the New York Knicks in Boston, Friday, May 3, 2013. The Knicks won 88-80, eliminating the Celtics from the playoffs. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

  • Boston Celtics head coach Doc Rivers, right, gives forward Kevin Garnett a pat on the back after taking him out of the game in the final minute during the second half in Game 6 of their first-round NBA basketball playoff series against the New York Knicks in Boston, Friday, May 3, 2013. The Knicks won 88-80, eliminating the Celtics from the playoffs. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
  • Boston Celtics small forward Paul Pierce (34) heads to the bench during the second half in Game 6 of their first-round NBA basketball playoff series against the New York Knicks in Boston, Friday, May 3, 2013. The Knicks won 88-80, eliminating the Celtics from the playoffs. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
  • Boston Celtics small forward Paul Pierce (34) heads to the bench during the second half in Game 6 of their first-round NBA basketball playoff series against the New York Knicks in Boston, Friday, May 3, 2013. The Knicks won 88-80, eliminating the Celtics from the playoffs. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

When the Celtics finally fell to the Knicks a week ago, it was the first time Boston had exited the playoffs in the first round since 2006. That early departure, the ugly offense and the nightmare series for Paul Pierce seemed to mark the end of an era.

The reality, however, is that Boston is facing the same question it’s been facing since 2009 – is it time to move on from Pierce and Kevin Garnett and build for the future? The answer is probably the same as well – no.

Danny Ainge will explore all the options and make and take all the phone calls. If he can somehow turn Stephen A. Smith’s rumor into reality, Ainge probably wouldn’t hesitate to ship Garnett, Pierce and Coach Doc Rivers to the Clippers for Blake Griffin, Eric Bledsoe and Caron Butler.

But that rumor is insane at worst and a long, long, long shot at best. The rest of the

options for Ainge that would involve trading Garnett and Pierce, or just trying to dump then in order to rebuild, aren’t looking all that great either.

Pierce is owed $15.3 million next year, although he could be bought out for $5 million, but that still wouldn’t give the Celtics enough cap room to sign a major free agent because their total team salary is too high. Ainge could try to trade him, but he would probably have to take on longer and worse contracts in return.

Garnett has said he would like to keep playing with Pierce, so if The Truth goes, the Big Ticket might want to go with him, or he may just call it quits. Even if Garnett retires, his salary (two years, $24 million) would still count against the cap. Garnett would have better value on the open market because who wouldn’t want a team-first, defensive-minded Hall of Famer who plays every game like it’s his last? Every team would love a guy like that, including the Celtics.

Considering his value as a role model, leader, defensive game-changer and viable scoring option (14.8 points per game on 49.6 percent shooting this season), Garnett is worth keeping. And even though Pierce was brutal against the Knicks, let’s not forget that he was really being asked to do too much ever since Rajon Rondo went down with season-ending knee surgery. The 36-year-old was trying to facilitate the offense and be the first scoring option for half the season and then in the playoffs. He still had good numbers in the regular season (18.6 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 4.8 apg), but it all caught up to him in the postseason.

Now if Ainge can dupe the Clippers into parting with Griffin and Bledsoe, or swing a sign-and-trade for someone like Al Jefferson, or a straight trade centered around someone like Kevin Love, or maybe land a few lottery picks in the 2014 draft (which looks full of potential stars), then dealing Garnett or Pierce might make sense. But working any of those deals is going be very difficult, even for Trader Danny.

The more realistic approach would be to keep Pierce and Garnett, tinker with the roster around the edges to get some interior help and a backup point guard, hope that Rondo comes back healthy and with a better perspective on what he can be, hope Jeff Green continues the improvement we saw this year, hope Avery Bradley shakes off his season-ending slump, and hope Jared Sullinger stays healthy and develops.

Yes, that’s a lot of hoping, but it’s not unfounded. Rondo was the best player in the 2012 Eastern Conference finals until LeBron James remembered who he was and took over the last two games. If Rondo can harness his emotions and talent, he has the potential to be the best player in any series that doesn’t involve James.

Green was inconsistent and passive at times, but don’t forget this was his first year back after major heart surgery. Bradley was a mess against the Knicks, but he did spark that 20-0 run with his dervish defense, and he was coming off a pair of offseason shoulder surgeries. As for Sullinger, he may never be healthy (that’s why he slid so far in the draft, after all), but then again he might.

There’s also the question of Rivers, who was evasive when asked about returning to the team during his post-game press conference after the Game 6 loss to the Knicks. If Rivers leaves, Garnett and Pierce will probably follow him. But Rivers isn’t going anywhere.

Rivers gets so emotionally invested in his team that he likes to give himself a cool-down period after the season to make any decisions, which is why he was evasive in the press conference. He loves being part of the Celtics tradition, he knew when he signed a five-year deal last offseason that some of those years would be rebuilding to some degree, and most Celtics followers believe Rivers will honor his contract and return to the organization he loves.

If they bring back the old band for one more run, the Celtics won’t be among the championship contenders, at least not to start the season. But they will still have Garnett’s passion, Pierce’s pride, Rondo’s playmaking, and the potential of some young, developing talent in Green, Bradley and Sullinger. They might not be bringing home Banner 18, but they will be entertaining.

Plus, if all goes wrong, Ainge can make deals at the 2014 trade deadline, or we can talk about rebuilding again at the end of next season, just like we have been for the last four years.

(Tim O’Sullivan can be reached at 369-3371 or tosullivan@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @timosullivan20.)

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