What Will Happen? Pierce, Ray, Doc

24 hours from now, the Celtics could have a completely different look. When the clock hits midnight tonight, Ray Allen and now, Paul Pierce, will be unrestricted free-agents. While both have expressed a desire to stay in Boston, there's no guarantee they'll get what they want. Ray Allen is 34 and Pierce is 32, neither is worth a max contract or more than 2 or 3 years. Whether they believe that or not is the issue. Another factor in play is the teams sitting around with boatloads of cash for Wade, LeBron or Bosh. When the Knicks, Nets or Clippers don't sign any of them (and they won't) they'll have the option of stupidly over-spending to break up our aging core.

Amidst all this, coach Doc Rivers is yet to announce whether he will stay with the team or retire. Rivers' decision could either be the first domino to fall or the glue that keeps everything together. Whether Ray Allen or Paul Pierce would be willing to return to a Doc-less Boston is questionable. He's highly respected among Celtics' players and his leaving would create a great void.
(Edit: Doc has announced he will stay will the team)

So with all this uncertainty, here's what's most likely to happen and what's not so much:

Paul Pierce
Reason for Staying: Loyalty, Legacy.
Pierce was drafted by the Celtics and has always said that he would like to retire with them go down as one of the greats. Now, he will be an unrestricted-free agent for the first time in his career, the entirety of which he's been in green. He's stuck with the Celtics through some awful stretches and finally helped the C's return to glory in '08 and almost '10. By opting out of his contract, he actually increases the likelihood of retiring as a Boston Celtic - as he could sign a long term deal with a no-trade clause. However, that may also be the tricky part.

Reason for Leaving: Security, Money.
GM, Danny Ainge, has hinted that the Celtics may not be willing to offer Pierce what he really wants. Which is more a long term deal than a lucrative one. "I don't know", Ainge told WEEI. "because he may be able to get a long-term contract somewhere else. It may be better than what we have [to offer]." With an NBA lock-out and a new CBA on the horizon, it's smarter for Pierce to negotiate a new contract now than later. However, if he's looking for a max deal, that is something the Celtics cannot do. Ainge could offer him a max of 4 years for 96 million dollars - far too high a price for an aging veteran. If that's what Pierce wants, he will have to go elsewhere.

What Will Most Likely Happen: Speaking at a NikeTown conference in Chicago (before opting out), Pierce sounded like someone ready to come back, "Losing this year really left a bad taste in my mouth and hopefully we can reload and get back there". I'd expect Pierce to re-sign with the Celtics for a deal that's beneficial to both sides. Paul said he wants to retire in Boston, and fans should believe him. Its feasible to think that he would take a long term deal that's not exceedingly costly. Pierce has made it clear that he cares about winning and his best shot at another ring remains in Boston - granted that he takes less money so Ainge can bring help. That is something I believe he'd be willing to do. 

What Is Less Likely to Happen: If Pierce leaves the Celtics it will be to a team like the Heat, Nets, Clippers or Knicks - whom will have plenty of money laying around to pay Pierce a long term and lucrative contract. However, due to the teams emptying out their rosters to make room for LeBron, it's unlikely that Pierce would be heading to a contender. I also don't believe those teams would be willing to pay Pierce that much, even if they do have the cash. If he stays with Boston for a contract that's beneficial to both sides he could at least get one last run at a ring. I think the Celtics could offer Pierce three years and he would take that. Realistically, I do not see him leaving Boston to relive his depressing early Celtics days for four years and 93 million dollars.

Ray Allen
Reason for Staying: Family, Championship.
Around the trade deadline, Ray Allen said he wants to stay in Boston and would even accept less money and a reduced role. "There's no reason to be any other place. I'd love to retire with this organization," said Ray back in January. And on the money, "...I've made a great living throughout my career..I know, going into next year, whatever I sign, it won't be the money I'm making now". Ray's desire to stay in Boston could extend beyond just the basketball court. Ray may like the stability of staying in Boston and the access to doctors and hospitals he knows and trusts (his son is diagnosed with juvenile diabetes). He is also closer to his Mom here, whom he shares a close relationship with. Also, if Ray, Paul and Doc stay it'd be feasible to think the Celtics could possibly have another run at a championship. Provided of course that they are able to add some help.

Reason for Leaving: Security, Money, Championship
There are plenty of teams that can afford to overpay Ray and also give him a long term deal. Also, Ray is more likely to head to a contender. If a team like the Bulls lands LeBron and Bosh, there would be no better complimentary player than Ray Allen to stretch the floor. The Bulls starting five would be: Noah, LeBron, Rose, Bosh and Ray. If that goes down, it's safe to say that team would dominate the NBA for years to come - on paper anyway. If a team offers Ray the chance to leave an aging Celtics team to a situation like that, he'd be crazy not to take it.

What Will Most Likely Happen: Ray will be overpaid by someone and given the security he needs. The Celtics can't afford to have all their money tied up in aging veterans and thus can't give Ray what other teams  will. Plus, despite there being a chance that this big three could have one more run at a championship - the chance is slight. With Perkins possibly out for the season and Pierce and Rivers' future in question, there's no guarantee that this Boston team will make it far in 2011. If Ray's given the opportunity to sign with a team thats poised to dominate, I see him taking it. Ainge has said that he thought Red should have broken up the old big three when he had the chance. I see this as Ainge's chance to do just that and Ray is the odd man out.

What Is Less Likely to Happen: The Celtics would probably want Ray to sign a 2 year deal worth around $24 million or less. Ray will likely want a deal that's longer than that. That security is essential for Ray and I don't think Danny can afford to give it to him.

Doc Rivers
Reasons for Staying: Attachment to Team, Championship
Doc Rivers hasn't been shy about his love for the team. Recently saying, "I love it. I love teaching. I love the guys that I've had especially now for the last three years. It's a phenomenal group". It may be just as hard for him to walk away from this team as it would be to spend another year away from his family. As coach of the Celtics, he brought them to a championship in '08 and to the brink of one last season. He did a phenomenal job handling the egos of three star players, developing Rondo and getting the Celtics in position for the post-season run they had this year. He would be a key piece in keeping the band together for '10-'11 and one last shot at a championship. 

Reasons for Leaving: Family
Rivers has said that he would love to spend more time with his family and especially see his son Austin play. Austin is currently a senior in high school and if Doc returns to coaching, he won't be able to cheer his own son on the court. Austin Rivers, by the way, is pretty good - recently breaking the under-18 scoring record with 35 points.

What Will Most Likely Happen: It's hard to guess at this point, Rivers seems to be on the fence. However, he did promise to come to a decision before free-agency begins - which is at midnight tonight. Ultimately, I see Doc coming back for one more year. The chance for one last run won't exist without Doc, and he has to know that. If the Celtics had won this year, I could see him retiring. But, he cannot be satisfied with how things ended last year.

What Is Just as Likely to Happen: Rivers' want for more family time is a legitimate one. His son's brilliant performance the other night couldn't have made the decision any easier for him. The fact that, on draft night, he said he would reveal his decision before July 1st and it's gone this long suggests he's very torn. In interviews his tone has seemed like someone resigned to retire. On showing up on draft night Doc said, "I'm still an employee". If Doc returns, things won't be easy. The roster is getting older and could be without Ray, Pierce or Perk.