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Pierce situation is one tricky deal

With the Celtics looking far and wide to move the No. 5 pick for someone to bring immediate help to an increasingly beleaguered Paul Pierce -- so far, with no luck -- the question looms: What will No. 34 do if David Stern gets up on the podium tomorrow night and announces that Yi Jianlian, Jeff Green, or Corey Brewer is coming to Boston?

Will he become Kobe Bryant East and let it be known that he wants out? And if he does, can the Celtics accommodate him? Would they accommodate him? Should they accommodate him?

These are all legitimate, if at present unanswerable, questions, although Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports wrote that Pierce has a phone in his hand and Danny Ainge on speed dial if the Celtics don't make a trade. Pierce campaigned for a trade all last season, even when the mathematically challenged were planning on having Greg Oden or Kevin Durant in Celtic green. He might be the mysterious Jacob from "Lost," the guy whose only words to date have been "Help me!"

Pierce won't be happy if the Celtics bring in yet another rookie, however heralded, because, as one league executive noted last week, "Who could they draft at No. 5 that would give them someone better than they already have?" Despite the suggestions of the Celtics that they really, really, really were a playoff team last year, they weren't close. (How those comments could even be made after they compiled the second-worst record in the league is mind-boggling.) There is a lot of ground to cover if the Celtics don't make a deal for someone to help Pierce.

Trading Pierce became one option following the disastrous results from Secaucus the night of May 22. Cedric Maxwell has suggested that maybe it's better now to deal Pierce and blow up the whole thing and start over. The thinking behind such a suggestion is that by the time the Celtics are ready to make some noise, Pierce will no longer be around to hear it. So why not move him now?

Principal owner Wyc Grousbeck has said in the past that the team has no intention of moving Pierce, and as if to underscore that sentiment, he authorized the three-year, $60 million extension for his captain last summer. That extension kicks in next season (2008-09) and will make Pierce one of the highest-paid players in the NBA.

How many teams are going to take on that salary if it threatens to put them into Luxury Tax Land? And, frankly, how many teams think Pierce is even worth the kind of money that is being paid to Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki? At the very least, it's a lot of money for another team to take on, and as one league official put it recently, "When you sign a player in his 30s to that kind of money, usually you're married to him."

Usually, but not always. The Nets would have moved a soon-to-be 34-year-old Jason Kidd to the Lakers last February had Los Angeles agreed to surrender Andrew Bynum. Kidd is in the same rarefied financial category as Pierce. Kevin Garnett, who turned 31 last month, is another $20 million-per player. He was on the move to Boston until he put his foot down.

There's also the health issue with Pierce, although the Celtics are convinced that there is nothing more to the foot injury that forced him to miss 35 games last season. In the last two years, however, he has shown some signs of wear and tear, undergoing elbow surgery in the summer of 2006 and then sustaining the foot injury this past winter. Until last season, he had been the paradigm of durability.

Two years ago on draft night, the Celtics came very close to dealing Pierce in a trade that would have brought them Chris Paul. The team had two ads ready for the next morning's Globe, one with Pierce and one without him. At the time, Pierce was 27, and had played in four straight playoffs and four straight All-Star Games. He had yet to have anything approaching a serious injury and was coming to the end of his six-year extension.

In other words, he was moveable with a capital M and desirable with a capital D, and the Celtics decided not to pull the trigger.

Two years later, the circumstances are quite different, both for the Celtics and for Pierce. And unless the team does something in the next day or two to bring in another decent veteran, it could be the start of something even more different in the days and months ahead.

Peter May can be reached at P_May@globe.com.

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