Commentary

Rivers, Celtics face uncertain futures

Updated: June 18, 2010, 11:26 PM ET
By Chris Forsberg | ESPNBoston.com

LOS ANGELES -- The black "Game 7" T-shirt that Paul Pierce wore into the arena before Thursday's showdown with the Los Angeles Lakers was noticeably missing when the Celtics' captain emerged to talk with reporters after Boston's agonizing loss in the deciding game of the 2010 NBA Finals at the Staples Center.

Pierce clearly didn't want any reminders of what had just occurred. But he wasn't particularly keen on looking toward the future quite yet, either. Asked about next season and the early contract termination option he holds, Pierce remained noncommittal about whether he'd definitely be back.

"Man, stuff's going so fast, truthfully, I don't really know what to think right now," said Pierce. "I'm just reeling from this loss. I'm going to sit down with my family, wind down a little bit, then figure it out."

It's hard to imagine Pierce not finishing his career in a Celtics uniform, but it's clear that he's going to take a wait-and-see approach to the process, watching how the first dominos fall before making a decision.

Pierce's uncertainty highlights an offseason of questions for the entire Celtics organization. At the onset, it appears that everyone is waiting for the first shoe to drop, then things will trickle down from there.

One day after Boston fell one win shy of accomplishing its ultimate goal, here's a look at the top offseason issues facing the Green:

What's up, Doc?

No decision may have a greater impact on the Celtics than whether coach Doc Rivers elects to return to the bench next season. After rumors swirled in April about his potential desire to walk away after the 2009-10 campaign in order to spend more time with his family, Rivers admitted he weighs whether it's worth coming back each season.

[+] EnlargeDoc Rivers
AP Photo/Jae C. HongDoc Rivers says he'll take some time before deciding whether to return as coach of the Celtics.

In the days leading up to Game 7, Rivers noted that, at some point, he needs to watch his kids' athletic endeavors. Rivers' son Jeremiah will be a senior on the Indiana basketball team, while his daughter, Callie, will enter her final season as a volleyball star at Florida. Sons Austin, a senior, and Spencer, a freshman, will both be high school hoopsters.

Rivers said it will take some time for him to make a decision.

"I don't know," said Rivers. "I'm going to wait. I'm going to go and watch my kids play AAU basketball, and I'm going to wait for a little bit."

His players are certainly campaigning for his return. The mere thought of playing for anyone else left Kevin Garnett a bit emotional, as he called Rivers "everything" to the team.

"I think everyone wants him back; that's not even an issue," said Garnett. "It's just a matter of whether Doc wants to come back and whatever decision he sees fit for himself and his family."

Rivers could be swayed by how Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge attacks the offseason. If there's an effort to maintain the current core, you can't help but wonder if Rivers will come back to give it one more try at a championship with the group.

If the Celtics blow it up and start a youth movement, maybe the desire to spend time with his kids will supersede his interest in working with kids.

Will Ray stay?

Could Thursday's loss have been the Big Three's final game together? Only time will tell whether the Celtics have the interest -- and resources -- to bring back Ray Allen, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent.

Allen, whose shot went cold for much of the Finals, expressed a desire to return should Boston's core remain together, saying after Game 7, "I'll deal with that when the time comes, but it's obvious that I don't want to be anywhere else."

Ainge admitted the Celtics explored potential trade options for Allen before the February deadline with an eye toward getting younger. But the team didn't find a deal that made sense.

Could Boston allow Allen to walk away and look for a lower-cost, youthful alternative at shooting guard? While Allen struggled at times during the 2009-10 season, his stats improved after the trade deadline, when the rumors floating over him dissipated. Even though he'll turn 35 this offseason, it's clear Allen has gas left in the tank.

It seems reasonable that the Celtics would explore a deal in the neighborhood of two years (running through the end of Garnett's contract) at a rate well below the $19.8 million Allen was paid this season. Allen already acknowledged earlier this year that he understands his salary will decrease at this stage of his career.

But the great unknown is what other teams will be willing to offer him. Teams spurned in the free-agent bonanza starring LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade might turn their attention to the next level of available talent. Likewise, a team that believes it simply needs a veteran sharpshooter -- and a sage locker room presence -- to become a championship contender could attempt to lure Allen away with a deal that offers more money and/or years.

Boston's locker room seemed in support of bringing back Ray and, when asked if he thought the Celtics could remain a title contender next season, Allen said, "I don't see why not."

Wallace walking?

One of the more shocking revelations after Thursday's Game 7 was Rivers' statement that Rasheed Wallace might have played the final game of his NBA career.

[+] EnlargeRasheed Wallace
AP Photo/Mark J. TerrillAfter battling back problems much of the postseason, Rasheed Wallace apparently is considering retirement.

With Wallace under contract for two more seasons at a total of more than $13 million, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that Sheed would return. But a troublesome back plagued him late in the postseason and teammates agreed Wallace might very well walk away on his own terms.

On the surface, it appears that if Wallace does decide to retire, the Celtics could negotiate a buyout of his contract, freeing up money for the team to spend elsewhere. The caveat: The team doesn't get an extra mid-level exemption, and would likely need to use this year's MLE simply to replace Wallace.

With Kendrick Perkins potentially sidelined for the start of the season as he will need surgery to repair two torn ligaments in his right knee, the Celtics could be in desperate need of front-court help.

Then again, all proclamations about potential retirement should be taken with a grain of salt this time of year. Coming off an ultra-emotional, nine-month season, it's not unexpected that Wallace might ponder a break. But in two months, the $6.3 million on the table might be enough to bring him back for the 2010-11 season.

What does draft hold?

Before the Finals, it seemed Boston's biggest draft need would be a shooting guard who could provide instant offense off the bench, or even step into a starting role should Allen not return.

That's still a priority, but with the uncertainty around Wallace and Perkins, it will be interesting to see if Boston audibles and goes in search of an athletic big man, particularly one who could shore up its rebounding troubles.

How the draft unfolds might ultimately dictate Boston's path. If a scorer like James Anderson is available at No. 19 -- as fortuitous a first-round spot as Boston could have imagined considering it went to the NBA Finals -- the Celtics might be tempted. If not enamored with any of the remaining sharpshooters at that pick, Boston could instead look to a big man like Florida State's Solomon Alabi.

One other scenario: Looking for discount prices with so many roster spots to fill, the Celtics could explore the option of trading down and stockpiling affordable second-round picks in a move not unfamiliar to the local football squad. But Boston's need for immediate impact players might prevent that.

Who fills Thibodeau's shoes?

With associate head coach Tom Thibodeau to be formally introduced as the head coach of the Chicago Bulls on Wednesday, the Celtics have a large void in their coaching ranks, as the man credited as being the architect of Boston's vaunted defense is leaving town.

It will be interesting to see if Rivers searches outside the organization for an established coach to plug into his cabinet. Then again, there's always the chance that Rivers could also depart, which would turn this coaching staff on its head.

Coming or going?

In addition to Allen, the Celtics have five other players set to test the waters of unrestricted free agency in Shelden Williams, Brian Scalabrine, Marquis Daniels, Michael Finley and Nate Robinson.

Watching Finley struggle at both ends of the court, it's not unreasonable to assume he'll retire. Daniels and Robinson will draw interest elsewhere based on potential (potential they failed to live up to in Boston).

Williams proved to be a liability in the postseason, but was a good teammate and ready when called upon during the regular season. The Finals might have simply been too big a moment for him. It wouldn't be a surprise if the Celtics investigated keeping him at low money.

Scalabrine, a fan favorite, is unlikely to see an offer in the $3.4 million range he earned this season in Boston and it will be interesting to see if any market develops for his services.

Boston needs low-cost options and could be limited in its pursuit of big names outside the organization. Ainge will be challenged to find players like Daniels, who have potential to fill key roles but will take short money for the chance to win a title.

Will Pierce cash out?

And then there's Pierce, who has the option to return at the not-too-shabby sum of $21.5 million or to terminate his contract and enter the free-agent bonanza.

Pierce also could opt out and re-sign with Boston at a number that's a little easier on the salary cap, while ensuring he finishes his career with the Celtics. Or he could stick with the $21.5 million option, then position himself for a final payday -- in Boston or elsewhere -- after next season.

Pierce seemed reluctant to even consider the team's cloudy future, but acknowledged the uncertainty of it all.

"I don't know what to think," Pierce said Thursday. "To be around a great group of guys, to build relationships … it's unfortunate, but players move on to other teams. It is what it is. I'm happy with the guys I was able to play with this year. I'd go to war with them any time.

"As far as next year, we'll go back to the drawing board and address some things, figure out how to get back over the top."

Chris Forsberg covers the Celtics for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.

Chris Forsberg

Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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