Celtics may look to retain Ray Allen

The smooth stroke of Ray Allen

Boston had two major contract concerns heading into the 2009-10 season. They moved quickly to take care of Rajon Rondo, locking him into a 5-year, $55 million contract extension. The soon-to-be-35 year old Ray Allen, on the other hand, appeared to be the forgotten man.

There has been a lot of groundwork laid in Boston to get rid of Allen – the Celtics made several public overtures about their desire to get younger and cheaper at the position on the trade market, putting an extra emphasis on the $18.8 million salary he didn’t quite earn this year (his contract also includes a $1.0 million bonus for winning an NBA title).

The 14-year veteran was supposedly interested in heading south to the Miami Heat or, in order to stay near his home in Connecticut, the New York Knicks.

Heat fans couldn’t help but think to about how nice the free agent-to-be would look in red and black. Allen is the best pure shooter in the game today. He has also secured his place in NBA history as one of the game’s all-time best. No other human has ever been able to duplicate the grace with which he shoots the basketball.

What a difference a few months make.

Unable to find a trade partner in February, it would now appear the Celtics are likely to try to retain the 6’5″ guard for one final season. The change in logic is as much dictated by the team’s finances as it is by Allen’s on-court resurgence.

Allen struggled through a difficult regular season in which he shot just 36.3% from beyond the arc, his worst such mark since his junior season in Milwaukee. His Game 2 performance against the Lakers in the NBA Finals would suggest, however, that Allen still remains a viable scoring option. Allen broke his own NBA Finals record with eight three-pointers, en route to 32 key points in his team’s victory in Los Angeles.

Boston’s financial situation may ultimately dictate his fate.

In the season to come, the Celtics have $63.6 million in guaranteed salary to its six-player core of Paul Pierce (player option), Kevin Garnett, Rasheed Wallace, Kendrick Perkins, Glen Davis and Rajon Rondo. With a salary cap projected at just $56.1 million, allowing Ray Allen to walk would provide the organization no additional flexibility with which to acquire a replacement. The team’s cap space is already used up, and the Mid-Level and Bi-Annual exceptions would be available under either scenario.

In 2011, the story changes considerably. Paul Pierce, Kendrick Perkins and Glenn Davis come off the books, leaving just $38.1 million in committed salary. Of that total, $21.2 million is attributed to Kevin Garnett’s expiring contract.

Despite an impressive post-season run, the Celtics looked old and washed up for the better part of this past season. Pierce is 32, KG is 34, Ray 34, and Sheed 35. There is no question the core pieces are past their primes. A rebuilding plan is inevitably coming. At this point, 2011 appears to be the more likely timing should Pierce exercise his player option. And that means, with the team holding Bird rights on Allen, the highly profitable Celtics can afford to slightly overpay the game’s best marksman one final time.

While team president Danny Ainge has remained silent on Allen’s potential free agency, Celtics coach Doc Rivers has made it known that he wants Allen back. “Hopefully we sign Ray back. I think I can say that. If not, I just got fined,” Rivers said in a jovial reference to the tampering fines levied against executives across the league for even mentioning the name Lebron James and his impending free agency.

For the Heat, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

With Wade unwilling (and unable) to shift to the point guard position full time, Ray doesn’t project to have a firm spot in the rotation. Allen is what you’d consider a true shooting guard; there’s simply no way Pat would look to employ his services full-time at the small forward position. And while he would certainly be an upgrade over Raja Bell as a backup to Dwyane, financial considerations would dictate the Heat would be more wise to allocate its funds elsewhere.

Miami does have alternatives.

Should the Heat desire a floor spacing alternative to complement the likes of a Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh tandem, it may be better served looking to secure the more versatile and potentially less expensive Mike Miller (a Riley favorite) or Kyle Korver, each of whom could be deployed at their more natural small forward positions. While Korver is not much more than a spot up long-range shooter at this point, Miller offers above average passing and rebounding as upside.

Josh Howard is also likely to be carefully scrutinized as a playmaking alternative. Riley has a small obsession with the 30-year old, having pushed hard to acquire him from the Mavericks at the 2009 trading deadline before discussions were derailed when Dallas sent DeSagana Diop to Charlotte. The Wizards have a team option on Howard, which they are certain to decline. Despite seemingly being around the league forever, he’s still just 30 years old. In the right situation he can still be a solid scorer, rebounder and defender. The biggest issue is his mere presence on the court. In a February 22 game against the Chicago Bulls, Howard tore the ACL in his left knee when he collided with an opponent. He underwent surgery in March and is expected to make a full recovery in six to eight months.

Ray, we’d love to have you. But you just don’t seem to be a natural fit.

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