MIAMI As the Boston Celtics players mulled about the locker room following their season-ending 101-88 loss to Miami, there was a presence that well, wasn't present anymore.
It was Kevin Garnett, who skipped out of the locker room prior to the media entering.
Garnett's quick exit was a fitting departure for the one member of the Big Three whose return to Boston seems to be the murkiest.
Paul Pierce has two years remaining on his contract, and indicated following Saturday's loss that he planned to be back for them.
Ray Allen will be an unrestricted free agent this summer, and he's expected to field a number of offers. The C's have interest, but they've already replaced him in the starting lineup with Avery Bradley, as clear a sign as any that they're prepared to move on without Allen if he decides not to re-sign.
And then there's Garnett, arguably the most important player not named Rajon Rondo on this team whose future with the Celtics is very much up in the air.
There's no question that the C's want him back.
But the real question becomes, does KG want to be back?
He has shown a sincere love for Celtics Nation, and they in turn love him back.
But the lockout from this past summer has hardened an already hard-as-they-come Garnett.
Love is love.
But business is business.
As much as he feeds off the energy that Celtics Nation provides, Garnett understands his play and the C's impressive playoff run have all inflated his appeal on the free agent market to the point where he's sure to be on the short list of just about every team with significant cap space to spend - the Celtics included.
Danny Ainge, Boston's president of basketball operations, told CSNNE.com prior to the C's Game 7 loss that all of the Celtics' free agents are in the pool of talent that the C's will give some consideration to signing this summer.
But having Garnett around isn't just about keeping a talented player in the fold.
When you think about the Big Three era, it may consist of three players but the truth of the matter is it's all about Garnett.
Garnett, more than any player, defined this five year run by the Celtics.
When you talk about Celtics defense, you're talking about Garnett.
When you talk about being mentally tough, you're talking about Garnett.
When you talk about sacrificing your game for the team, yup, that's Garnett too.
But maybe more than what he achieved, Garnett should be remembered most for what he helped restore.
In between the post-Bird era of the 1980s and the Pierce-KG-Allen five-year reign, the C's were nothing more than just another good, but not great NBA franchise.
They had moments in which they were among the final teams standing in the East, but there was never a sense that they were anything more than just a one-hit wonder in those years.
In comes Ray Allen, soon followed by Kevin Garnett.
And just like that, the Celtics were back in business as the newest Big Dog pounding the NBA pavement.
But here's what gets lost in that success.
Yes, they won an NBA title right out the gate and have Atlantic Division titles every year.
But they did more than just crush opponents.
They helped establish a culture, a culture in which Garnett is the alpha and the omega of its existence.
"He's been everything with his locker room presence, desire, determination, and leadership," Pierce said. "He changed the culture of everything we did around here. He made everyone accountable. It'll be great for me to end my career with Kevin. I have a couple years left. Hopefully management can add a few pieces that we need to get over the hump. If not, it's been a tremendous ride."