By A. Sherrod Blakely
WALTHAM Paul Pierce has established himself as one of the premier players in the NBA, and has a ton of accolades to validate it.
How about a new one, like Sixth Man of the Year?
Earlier this week, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge discussed the possibility of Pierce coming off the bench next season which would in all likelihood mean Jeff Green would replace him as a starter.
On Friday, Ainge clarified his comments.
"I said that just to get everyone excited," quipped Ainge. "So yeah, I'm sure I'll be hearing from Paul."
While Ainge said on Friday that it will be Doc Rivers' call on who starts at the small forward position, Ainge did say that Green will have a more expanded role next season if he's still with the C's.
The 6-foot-9 forward is a restricted free agent that Ainge hopes to re-sign this summer to a multi-year contract.
"Jeff playing a bigger role, if he comes back, I think that will be the case if he were to come back," Ainge said. "This core group of guys don't have to play the exact same way, or with the exact same players. There are some things that can be tweaked."
Pierce has appeared in 964 regular season games for the Celtics, and has started all but three times.
A career 22.2 points per game scorer, Pierce has led the C's in scoring every year since 2001. This past season, Pierce averaged 18.9 points per game while shooting 49.7 percent from the field and 86 percent from the free throw line - both career highs.
The idea of having him come off the bench has more to do with getting more from Green than it does any shortcoming in Pierce's game.
"He's proven himself," Ainge said of Green having a more prominent role with the Celtics in the near future. "He's been a starter on a 50-win team (in Oklahoma City); probably the third-most important contributor to the team."
Even though he averaged 9.2 points per game and shot 49.7 percent from the field - identical to Pierce's field goal percentage this season - in 22 minutes off the bench, there were some who felt Green didn't do enough to help the C's this season after they traded away defensive stalwart Kendrick Perkins whose Oklahoma City Thunder are still in the playoffs after the C's postseason run ended Wednesday night in Miami.
Ainge said he was pleased with what Green accomplished this season in limited minutes off the bench.
"We knew he wasn't going to start," Ainge said. "We knew he wasn't going to play 35 minutes (per game). We know what Jeff Green is. He's a highly efficient offensive player that plays good defense, has great character, 6-foot-9, versatile and he's young. He's only going to get better because of his work ethic and character."