Forgive us if we've spent a lot of time talking about Paul Pierce this postseason. The former Boston Celtics captain has been one of the most endearing storylines of the 2015 playoffs and Boston fans have taken a great deal of pride in watching his exploits from afar.
Heck, Celtics fans felt the same 1-2 stomach punch that Washington Wizards fans endured this week while watching the Atlanta Hawks win Games 5 and 6 of an Eastern Conference first-round series in dramatic fashion. Boston fans celebrated Pierce's late-game heroics in each of those games, and groaned each time they were dashed (by Al Horford's putback in Game 5, then by the game clock in Game 6).
After Friday's loss ended the Wizards' season, Pierce pondered his murky NBA future and offered, "I don't even know if I am going to play basketball anymore. These seasons get harder and harder every year, every day. Summers get even harder when you start getting back in shape. I'm 37 years old."
And yet it seems impossible that Pierce could be done. Not the way he played this postseason. There's simply too much left in the tank to walk away now.
It made us think back to one of the more memorable snapshots of Pierce during his time in Boston. It's Pierce hunched over in the Celtics weight room with a motivational quote hovering above that reads, "What hurts more, the pain of hard work or the pain of regret?"
It seems unfathomable that Pierce can just walk away now. Maybe he just needs a little time to digest the 2014-15 season and then he'll feel that familiar tug. Maybe Pierce will decide that it's best to trigger a $5.5 million option and make one last charge with this Wizards team that he enjoyed so thoroughly this season.
If Pierce finds himself needing a little extra motivation, a little something to push him to do all those runs through the California dunes this summer, he could always consider finishing his career where it started.
OK, so we can't say for certain how Boston's roster is going to look. The Celtics are hopeful to add some top-tier talent this offseason, either utilizing cap space to lure big-name free agents or turning their assets (draft picks, young talent, trade exceptions) into known talent.
But regardless of how Boston's roster looks, there's always a spot for someone like Pierce. Even in its current construction, Pierce could be the veteran presence who nurtures the younger players (imagine Pierce taking the likes of James Young under his wing). He could do what he did in Washington and be the guy who steps up in big moments having been through every situation imaginable in the NBA (and that's something Boston clearly needed this postseason).
Maybe Pierce will call old friend Kevin Garnett and ask what it was like to go back to Minnesota this season. Maybe he'll realize that he doesn't need another championship to cement his legacy, that riding off into the sunset with these Celtics might be the most fitting -- and fun? -- way to put a bow on his NBA odyssey.
There is always the wild-card option. Pierce's Inglewood, California, roots could make the Clippers (or, gulp, the Lakers?!) a desirable situation. A few years back, Pierce talked about an interest in wrapping up his career by playing overseas. He seemed genuinely intrigued by the idea of taking his family abroad and using basketball as a means for a new adventure.
The guess here is that he ends up back in Washington. It's a good situation and maybe one of his better chances to get the second ring that Pierce so clearly covets. And if the Wizards fizzle next season, there's always the chance of being traded to another contender (and maybe, just maybe, Boston would be in that mix with the right offseason moves).
But it feels safe to say that Pierce is not done. If things were just a little bit different, the Wizards would be bracing to meet the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference finals. And Celtics fans would be skipping down memory lane while thinking about those old Pierce-James battles.
But the first two rounds of the playoffs only confirmed that Pierce has more basketball in him. Regardless of where he plays next season, Celtics fans know this is not the time for Pierce to hang up his high-tops. He'd regret it too much.