The Boston Celtics enter the 2012 NBA offseason with only four players under contract for the 2012-2013 season, meaning that the entire rest of their roster can become free agents on July 1st. Over the next few days Celtics101 will detail the pros and cons of retaining each impending free agent followed by a recommendation for each. The first piece will focus on possibly the largest name to hit the free agent market – Ray Allen.
First of all the Celtics obviously want to keep Ray. The question is at what cost and in what role. Avery Bradley will continue starting at shooting guard next season meaning that, if Ray were to return, it would be for a bench role and a corresponding drop in salary. Ray can easily get more money and a larger role somewhere else, so the question becomes what his priorities are. Great sixth men are hard to find, and if Ray can return next year healthy and accept a bench role, he would give the Celtics one of the deeper back courts in the NBA. The question is, what does Ray want at this stage in his career?
For the brief four game stretch when both Ray and Bradley were healthy and Ray was coming off the bench the Celtics looked like a juggernaut. Bradley's pressure defense threw opposing offenses completely out of whack, then Ray came off the bench and start firing up threes. It was a lethal combination, and one has to wonder how far the Celtics would have gone if Bradley hadn't succumbed to shoulder injury and Ray hadn't been slowed by bone spurs in his ankle. The Celtics will return Rondo, Bradley, and Paul Pierce as their three perimeter starters next season. If they could add Allen's sharpshooting to that equation they would easily have one of the best back courts in the league and could almost be considered a title favorite if the rest of the roster were to fall into place. It all comes down to where Ray's priorities are at this point in his career.
Many think that the time has come for Ray and the Celtics to part ways. He never said a word, but it wouldn't surprise anyone if he was stung by his move to the bench and by Boston's attempt to swap him for O.J. Mayo at the trade deadline. He is not the player he was. His defense in particular has fallen off in the past two years, and while it's difficult to gage just how much he has left based on a season where he was slowed by injury almost the entire way, it's clear that his days of making over $10 million and playing 40 minutes a night are over, at least in Boston. However that does not mean that the Celtics wont bring him back. Quality sixth men are hard to find. After Oklahoma City's James Harden, San Antonio's Manu Ginobli, and Dallas' Jason Terry, one really has to think about it. Allen would be at the very top of that list, and the thought of a healthy Ray coming off the bench and jacking up three balls is obviously an attractive one to Celtic coach Doc Rivers and GM Danny Ainge.
The other thing to consider is, while there are plenty of teams out there that Ray could start for, very few will be legitimate contenders. He wouldn't start for Miami and there would not be a lot of minutes available as a sixth man behind Dwyane Wade. Chicago already has All-Star Loul Deng and veteran Rip Hamilton hogging most of the perimeter minutes, and Indiana is also deep with Paul George, Leandro Barbossa, and Dahntay Jones all likely to return. In the Western Conference San Antonio does not have a spot for him, and he is not going to go to the Lakers and back up Kobe Bryant. Oklahoma City already has the sixth man of the year in James Harden, and the Clippers and Grizzlies, the two Western Conference fringe teams, have more perimeter players than they know what to do with. The Dallas Mavericks are the only legitimate contender that could probably find a spot for him, but they will likely be more concerned with retaining Terry than going after Allen. So the bottom line is, if Ray wants more minutes and more money, it will likely cost him a shot at a second championship.
Regardless of how old and tired the Celtics are, the team was 12 minutes away from a trip to the finals despite being so injured that even their coach was fighting off back problems by the end of it. If the pieces fall into place in free agency this team should have a legitimate shot at another title next year. Ray could be one of those pieces. They will offer him a reasonable contract and a sizable role off the bench. This is a significant ego check for the greatest shooter in NBA history, but it's likely more than he'll get from any other contender. Sure he could start for the Magic, Jazz, Nuggetts, or even Knicks next season but, barring major changes, none of those teams are going to contend for a title next year. Some team will offer him more money and more minutes, but with the Celtics he would still have a sizable role and a better shot at winning. At this point Ray must decide what is more important to him – minutes and money or wins. The Celtics will likely win more games than any other team Ray could choose. He wont start and he'll make less money, but he'll win more. The ball is in Ray's court, he has to decide where his priorities are.
Celtics101's Advice – Keep him.
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