- Chris Forsberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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With the Boston Celtics on the brink of playoff elimination, allow this to serve as your annual reminder to savor what could possibly be the final time Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett share the Garden floor together.
I know, I know. We've been here before in each of the past few seasons. But last year we saw the end of the Big Three era when Ray Allen defected to rival Miami. With each passing season, it seems the likelihood of a potentially larger roster overhaul grows. Maybe more so this season, given that these Celtics are on the verge of being swept out of the first round of the playoffs after a season plagued by injuries and inconsistencies.
Antennas are further heightened after Garnett and Pierce, along with Rajon Rondo, huddled in the shower area inside the team's locker room at TD Garden for a lengthy confab after a Game 3 loss to the New York Knicks on Friday night put Boston in an 0-3 hole.
Was it a gabfest about how the Celtics could pull off the biggest comeback in NBA history? Or was it a trip down memory lane for a championship trio that knew it might never share that sort of moment again?
Neither Pierce nor Garnett was available to the media during Saturday's off-day availability. Both did speak after Game 3 and weren't overly maudlin, keeping the focus on what went wrong and how to reverse the momentum of the series in Sunday's Game 4.
Here's what we do know: Garnett, who will turn 37 next month, inked a three-year, $36 million contract to return to Boston last season. The expectation has always been that he's on a year-to-year plan and he'll walk away when he cannot compete at the extremely high level he expects from himself. Earlier this season, Garnett raised eyebrows when, after being voted an All-Star starter, he noted this would be his last trip to the midseason classic. A hint at retirement? Garnett later clarified that he simply couldn't assume he'd be voted back again.
Garnett put up another batch of solid numbers this season (at both ends of the court), but did sit out 12 of the team's final 17 games while nursing injuries like an adductor strain and left ankle inflammation (though sources indicated to ESPN Boston's Jackie MacMullan that Garnett has lingering issues with bone spurs between his foot and ankle that have not subsided). Garnett has often noted all the work that goes into keeping him upright and that he'll eventually tire of the maintenance necessary just to stay on the floor.
But will that happen this offseason?
Even if Garnett desires to continue playing, his future in Boston could hinge on the team's direction and whether Pierce is around.
Pierce, set to turn 36 before the start of next season, is set to earn $15.3 million in the final year of a four-year, $61.3 million extension he inked during the summer of 2010. The final season includes only $5 million guaranteed, and the Celtics could elect to swallow that sum to move in another direction. The team could also consider -- as unfathomable as it seems -- amnestying Pierce since he was one of the few players on the roster inked before the new collective bargaining agreement went into effect.
Pierce hasn't had a great series, as the Knicks have made every touch difficult for him, and he's been prone to an ill-timed case of the fumbles. Both Garnett and Pierce saw their names dance in trade rumors this season, but Garnett holds a no-trade clause (while the idea of sending out Pierce, the lifelong Celtic, remains a touchy issue for Boston brass).
Rondo is rehabbing from ACL surgery in February with hopes of being back on the floor for the start of training camp in late September. But that's no guarantee -- just ask Derrick Rose -- and it adds a layer of uncertainty to the 2013-14 campaign. Boston could have as many as 14 players back next season (Chris Wilcox is the only player on the current roster without at least an option for next season), but it could also look radically different.
And given the way the 2012-13 season played out, do the Celtics really want to roll the dice with this core one more year? A healthy Rondo and Jared Sullinger would help, but Boston -- at least in this series against the Knicks -- looks like a team in need of a makeover.
Which is why Celtics fans should, once again, take a minute to savor the sight of Garnett and Pierce together on the court. No one can say with any certainty that this will be their last game together, but with another uncertain summer ahead, you're better off assuming it might be.
4dMatt Walks, ESPN.com
5dESPN Stats and Information Group
7dESPN Stats & Information