Where do the Celtics go from here?

With just five players — Rajon Rondo, Kevin Garnett, Glenn Davis, Kendrick Perkins and Rasheed Wallace — under contract, their best player, Paul Pierce, with an early termination option (ETO), and their head coach considering a hiatus, the Celtics are certainly in a state of flux heading into the summer.

Pierce has said that he’d like to retire a Celtic, so chances are he plays out his contract or the two sides work out a deal. Pierce might lower his annual salary if it means he can sign a long-term contract prior to the new collective bargaining agreement which is likely to be unfavorable to the players, at least in terms of overall salary.

But he’ll be 33 heading into next season. Is he really a franchise player anymore?

To answer this question, I compiled his points, rebounds and assists from the playoff run in 2008 and compared them to his run this year. In 2008, he averaged 29.1 (points + rebounds + assists) and shot 44.1% from the field. This year, he averaged 28.6 (points + rebounds + assists) and shot 43.8% from the field.So relatively speaking, he’s pretty much the same player now as he was two years ago.

While it seemed like he was throwing up more clunker games this postseason, on a percentage basis, he actually was a bit more consistent in 2010 than he was in 2008. (I definied a ‘clunker game’ as a game where he shot less than 40% from the field.)

In terms of compensation, the Celtics should treat him well, but they need to keep the contract length to three or four years, because at some point, Pierce’s game is going to fall off a cliff. They all do, eventually.

However, the Celtics took the league’s best team to seven games in the NBA Finals, and it looks like there is going to be a major power shakeup in the East with LeBron, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Joe Johnson all possibly on the move. So it makes sense to keep this group together. Who knows, maybe Kobe or Pau Gasol will go down with an injury and the C’s would be right there to pick up the fumble.

There are two other key contributors who are free agents this summer: Ray Allen and Tony Allen. The former proved he still had it with a record-setting eight three pointers in Game 2 of the Finals, but then he shot 4-for-28 (14%) from long range over the remainder of the series. He’ll soon be 35, but should be able to play into his late thirties as long as he isn’t expected to take the ball to the hole very often. For a guy who has been known as a less-than-stellar defender for most of his career, he did a nice job on Kobe throughout the Finals.

As for Tony Allen, Jeff Van Gundy called him one of the premier, if not the premier wing defender in the league, and I tend to agree…at least with the first part. He did a nice job hounding LeBron in the semis, Vince Carter in the conference finals, and Kobe in the Finals. In terms of decisions, he makes some head-scratchers on offense, but he’s a good athlete and can finish around the rim when his teammates find him. (Side note: It’s amazing that this is the same guy who averaged 16-6-3 in 18 games as a starter during the 2006-07 season.)

If the Celtics work out a deal with Pierce and re-sign both Ray Allen and Tony Allen, they’ll have their top eight players back. If the franchise is willing to spend a bit more, maybe they can grab a guard for the mid-level (Kyle Korver, Mike Miller?) who could add some scoring punch off the bench.

With their strong run this season, the Celtics proved that its not time to blow this thing up yet. Of the ‘Big 3,’ Ray Allen is the most likely to leave because he’s getting older and is going to have plenty of suitors, but he has said that Boston is where he wants to be. The C’s might swap him out for a cheaper option, like Korver or Miller, but they’d have to burn their mid-level there instead of using all or part of it to shore up the bench.

As for Doc Rivers, it really isn’t the C’s call to make. He supposedly wants to spend more time with his kids, who are all seniors in their respective schools. If he retires, he’ll probably take a year or two off and then jump right back in the game. If he does leave, the chemistry of this group hangs in the balance. Boston would need to find a coach that would command the respect of all of these egos, and the pickings are getting slimmer by the week.

Photo from fOTOGLIF

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