By A.Sherrod Blakely
BOSTON In the aftermath of the Boston Celtics' season-ending loss to the Miami Heat on Wednesday, Kevin Garnett was nowhere to be found inside the locker room.
Having already boarded the team bus, Garnett's actions made it quite obvious that he was ready to move on.
The question remains, though: Where to?
Will he return to Boston for one final season, or will he call it a career?
When you look at the core pieces to the Green machine, Garnett's status is the only one with a high degree of uncertainty.
Coach Doc Rivers said he's "leaning heavily" towards coming back next season, with multiple reports on Thursday indicating the Celtics and Rivers were working towards a new multiyear contract. Ray Allen, who can opt out of his contract (worth 10 million next season), has indicated that he plans on returning to the C's as well.
Pierce signed a four-year, 61.3 million extension last summer that'll take him through the 2013-14 season while Rondo's contract runs through 2014-15.
That leaves the return of Garnett, the anchor of the Celtics' defense, very much in limbo.
During the season, Garnett would not address his future specifically. But he dropped a number of hints that would lead you to believe that retirement was something he was at least giving some thought.
"Obviously, we're singing the Boys II Men theme here, 'End of the Road,' " Garnett said recently. "But it's all good. I paid my dues. I put down the blood, sweat and enough tears and I'm happy where where I'm at in life. No complaints."
This most recent playoff series brought out the best and worst of Garnett.
In Game 3, Garnett's 28-point, 18-rebound night led to the C's lone victory in the series. He followed that up 48 hours later with a 1-for-10 shooting night, the worst shooting performance of his career.
That sequence speaks volumes about how Garnett's role with the team has changed.
For years, Garnett has been one of the NBA's top players because being good was never enough. The 6-foot-11 forward has worked tirelessly on his game, which is deeply rooted in playing tough defense.
But Garnett, who will turn 35 years old next week, also has the ability to stretch defenses with his perimeter game as well.
After having spent almost half of his life in the NBA, it's clear that Garnett has lost a step or two at both ends of the floor. And while he's still an effective player, those times of dominance that fans have come to expect, are fewer and farther between.
Rivers knows all too well that there will come a day when his days of coaching Garnett will end.
"I say it all the time, if you can coach one guy or work with one guy in your career, you should work or coach with Kevin Garnett at one point," Rivers said. "He's a pro's pro. He understands when he doesn't play well. And when he plays well, he comes back the next day to play better. That's just the way he is."