By Brian Robb, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — The homecoming of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to the TD Garden last Sunday night brought back fond memories of the Big Three era to New England.

Their returns also reignited a debate regarding the legacy of players in that era, and, specifically, which numbers from Boston Big Three’s will be retired in the coming years.

The retiring of Pierce’s number 34 is a no-brainer. He spent 15 years in Boston, was a top-10 all-time Celtic, and the franchise will undoubtedly put him in his rightful place in the rafters shortly after his retirement.

Garnett and Ray Allen are different cases. Garnett was a lifetime Minnesotan before being dealt to the Celtics in July 2007. He won a championship, but only played six years in green before being dealt to Brooklyn last June, making the length of his tenure a factor to consider in deciding whether his No. 5 should be raised to the rafters.

Allen played just five years in Boston before moving on to Miami, but he was a crucial contributor to the 2008 championship as well. Many people maintain that if you are going to put Garnett in the rafters, Allen ought to be there as well.

Danny Ainge had some revealing comments Thursday morning on Toucher and Rich about the prospect of putting the former number of either player in the rafters in the coming years. The Celtics president of basketball operations said that Pierce and Garnett would “probably” have their numbers retired. That’s a statement that Celtics co-owner Wyc Grousbeck backed up last year.

“[Pierce and Garnett] are guys that I can’t imagine giving those numbers out to anybody else,” Grousbeck said in radio interview last February.

There’s far less certainty within the organization around retiring Allen’s No. 20, which was also addressed by Ainge on Toucher and Rich.

“I’m not sure yet.” Ainge said about Allen’s number. “I don’t know the answer to that. It will be something that Celtics ownership will decide. I think that … who knows what happens when those guys’ careers are over and time settles in. I honestly don’t know.”

While some maintain that Allen’s number belongs in the rafters if Garnett receives the honor, I present the case for retiring KG’s number and not raising No. 20 to the rafters.

The Case For Retiring No. 5

After arriving in a trade from Minnesota in July 2007, Garnett changed the culture in Boston. Even though Pierce was the team’s de facto captain on the floor, KG was Boston’s emotional leader both on and off the floor, and he set an example for his teammates every day during a memorable six-year run in Beantown. Whether buying rookies new suits each year throughout his tenure or telling the media that “I bleed green, I die green” in the face of trade rumors last year, Garnett embraced everything there was about being a Celtic and its rich history. The future Hall of Famer played with an unmatched intensity during every game he played in Boston, creating an incredible standard for other players on the team to follow.

His on-the-floor numbers in Boston speak for themselves. He put together one of the best defensive seasons ever in 2007-08, and he anchored a top-notch defensive team through the 2010 season. He had five All-Star appearances in six seasons.  He won a championship and was likely robbed of another one in 2008-09 due to a knee injury. Long playoff runs in 2010 and 2012 cemented his worth as a proven playoff performer as he averaged a double-double per game in four of his five postseasons in Boston.

Much of the case against retiring Garnett’s number is centered around his brief tenure in Boston. He played 12 years in Minnesota and just six in Boston. Is that long enough to retire a guy’s jersey? In this new day and age of free agency, I say yes. One-team players like Dirk Nowitzki and Kobe Bryant are few and far between now. Sometimes, even when superstar players want to spend their entire careers with one team, it doesn’t happen, as we saw with Pierce last summer. Garnett had every intention of finishing his career in Boston, signing a three-year deal with a no-trade clause after the 2012 season.

When Ainge wanted to speed up the rebuilding last season, Garnett was dealt, ending his Celtics tenure  two years prematurely. Garnett sacrificed for the Celtics franchise by waiving his no-trade clause and allowing the deal with Brooklyn to go through. KG hates change, and probably the last thing he wanted to do at this stage of his career was start over somewhere, but he respected Ainge’s desires to start building for the future. It left the team in a better place for the years to come, and that fact should only strengthen KG’s case for retiring No. 5.

Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen (Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)

Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen (Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Case For Not Retiring Ray Allen’s No. 20

Let’s get a few things out of the way here first. Ray Allen was a great player in Boston, and there is no way the Celtics could have won a championship in 2007-08 or have gotten to the NBA Finals in 2009-10 without him. This case against retiring No. 20 is not meant to belittle his accomplishments.

With that said, Allen was simply not as good of a player as Garnett while both were in Boston. He played one year fewer, had two fewer All-Star appearances, and lost his spot in the starting lineup towards the end of his Celtics tenure in 2012. Allen was an incredible shooter and offensive weapon during his tenure, but he couldn’t impact the game on both sides of the floor the way Garnett could. It’s not a knock on Ray, it’s just the truth.

Allen’s departure from Boston to the rival Heat also has to enter the equation. Ainge addressed the issue with Toucher and Rich on Thursday morning.

“I think that’s obviously somewhat of a factor, but I think time heals those hurts, and logic will take over,” said Ainge. “The question is did he play long enough and that kind of thing. There are a lot of great Celtics in history, and Ray Allen is certainly one of them. I know there will be consideration and discussion about that happening. I just don’t know whether it will or when it will.”

Should Allen’s departure from Boston as a free agent exclude him entirely? Absolutely not. However, the fact he left Boston for the enemy while the rest of The Big Three remained intact has to count for something. The Celtics were offering more money and the security of a no-trade clause for his return. Yes, Ainge had toyed with Allen by nearly trading him away at the trade deadline in 2011 and 2012. But, Boston’s offer should have been enough to appease Allen, if he had actually wanted to stay in Boston, instead of chasing another ring.

The fact is that in sports, you can’t have it all. Allen had every right in the world to go to the better situation in Miami. You can’t begrudge him for that. However, by doing so, he sacrificed a major part of his legacy in Boston. If Allen had left for any other team besides Miami, it would have been accepted more easily. Leaving for the enemy? That leaves a mark that’s tough for anyone involved in the C’s organization to get over. There is nobody in the Garden rafters that left the Celtics in a manner similar to Allen’s. Given how much this franchise values loyalty, it makes sense that it would be challenging to overlook this blemish on Allen’s resume.

Putting all of these factors together, you have a questionable on-court case combined with a hasty departure for Ray. The end result is a no vote on sending Allen to the rafters.

While the fans of Boston should always appreciate what Garnett and Allen brought to the franchise during the past several years, both players hold distinctly different spots in Celtics history.

Brian Robb covers the Celtics for CBS Boston and contributes to, among other media outlets. You can follow him on Twitter @CelticsHub.


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