Their pasts intertwine, dating to 1995 when Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett were part of the same high school class and played ball during summers in the same basketball camps.
And now, their futures are entwined as well.
To remove one is to likely remove them both from Boston.
If Pierce leaves the Celtics this offseason, Garnett likely will do the same; he acknowledged as much Friday night, after the Celtics’ season ended with a loss to the Knicks.
“Well one of the big reasons I came here was because of Paul,” said Garnett, who came to the Celtics in 2007, joining Pierce and Ray Allen — the Big Three.
“Obviously you want to be in a situation where it’s better,” Garnett added. “I want to make sure that I’m able to always help a team. I want to be in positions to where I’m giving something. I demand a lot of myself, both physically and from a skill level. But, I’d be lying to y’all if I said Paul didn’t play into that factor.”
Garnett, who turns 37 this month, provided no concrete answers about his future with the Celtics. The sting of the loss to the Knicks was still too fresh, he said. The All-Star big man does have two years left on his deal, but the latter year (2014-15) is only partially guaranteed.
“I’d hate to see him go,” guard Jason Terry said. “I hope he’s not thinking that. It’s solely up to him. It’s on him. No pressure from this side of the locker room. Again, just an honor to play alongside a great like him.”
Garnett did say that Boston needs to make some additions.
“Health hit us pretty hard this year, and I’m pretty sure they’re going to address that,” Garnett said.
One subtraction that is possible is Pierce, who has a team option on his contract for next season, with a $5 million buyout option before June 30. The Celtics can attempt to trade him, or use the amnesty tag.
Pierce, who recently said it’s his desire to ultimately retire a Celtic, reiterated that it’s up to management — and largely president of basketball operations Danny Ainge — whether he remains a Celtic next season. But Pierce’s underwhelming play throughout most of the playoff series, especially his 4-for-18 performance in Game 6, certainly won’t do much to impress the brass that it would be a good idea to bring back the 35-year-old forward.
Regardless of what the Celtics do, Pierce said he “definitely” expects to be playing somewhere, even if it’s not in Boston.
“I’ve been here 15 years and I’ve seen a lot of changes each and every year,” he said. “So, I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of changes here and we’ll see what happens.”
Pierce and Garnett are the last pieces of the Big Three era; their departures, though not certain, would mark a complete rebuild, which fans have called for.
But several Celtics players want them back, as you might expect.
“Those guys are the best players I’ve ever seen or played with,” guard Avery Bradley said. “Of course we would want them here, just like [Rajon] Rondo. We all want them here. They’re part of this team, and since I’ve been here, they’ve made this team.”
There was even a sense during Friday’s game, Courtney Lee said, that the Celtics fought so hard not just to win and not because of pride, but also because there was the sense that it might be the last game there for Pierce and Garnett.
“You never know what the future may hold, both of those guys have wonderful careers and they are at that point where they can make that decision to come back or retire,” Lee said, “and they will still leave a legacy behind at this point right now.”
Coach Doc Rivers became especially emotional when talking about Garnett after the loss.
“You know, Kevin limped into the playoffs and . . . I mean he was unbelievable,” Rivers said. “He is as tough of a guy, as tough of a competitor, that I’ve ever been around.”
Rivers added, “Obviously we lost to a better team, but for him, in particular, I just didn’t want him to go out that way. But he is a winner. He’s the best. The best I’ve seen.”
After the game, Garnett told Rivers he loved him and Rivers said the same back. Garnett also checked in on Rivers, who was becoming emotional near the game’s end.
“He’s walking off the floor playing 41 minutes and exhausted,” Rivers said. “I don’t know if we had won if he could’ve gave as much if we had a 1 o’clock game Sunday. And he was checking on me, to see how I was. And that’s Kevin Garnett, in a nutshell.”
As for Pierce, second in scoring in the history of the Celtics, Rivers said, “We live in a day and time where guys are changing teams like socks. And Paul has chosen to stay here throughout his career, when he clearly had all rights to leave. And he chose to stay. So I have so much respect for him, for that.”
Rivers added, “He wanted to get it done here, he made that choice, where other guys are running around trying to find it. Paul decided, ‘I’m going to stay here and see if I can win it.’ And he did that. So I hope he’s remembered for that, and obviously I hope he comes back.”