Posted Jul 6 2010 12:15PM
As delighted as the Boston Celtics were to learn that coach Doc Rivers, after considering a sabbatical, was returning for the 2010-11 season, they weren't inclined to put him in charge of the team's Contract Negotiations Dept. Not after Rivers gushed his unabashed coach-love for Ray Allen, apparently the Celtics' key free agent this summer from inside or outside the organization.
"Oh, it's huge. I mean, we need Ray back," Rivers told the Boston Herald. "He's big for our team and what we try to do. You know, Ray has sacrificed more than anybody on our team of the Big Three. ... We need that shot. We need him in the locker room. ... For us, it's as important as LeBron going wherever he goes."
That smack-smack sound you heard was Celtics managing partner Wyc Grousbeck and president of basketball operations Danny Ainge slapping their foreheads. While they're at it, Grousbeck and Ainge better make sure Rivers isn't named captain of the Celtics' poker tournament entry, either.
On paper, this would seem to be a fairly low-leverage free agency for Allen. In two weeks (July 20), he will turn 35. For NBA players, that's old; for backcourt stars, that's ancient. LeBron James was 11 years old when Allen took his first professional jump shot. Kevin Durant had just turned 8. On a Boston team considered long in the tooth, Allen's canines are lengthy enough for a guest turn in True Blood.
It isn't just the years, it's the mileage. Across 14 NBA seasons, the veteran shooting guard has logged nearly 38,000 minutes in regular-season games and another 4,000 in the postseason. That translates into 700 hours spent running up and down basketball courts, weaving through defenders, curling off screens -- in essence, 29 days, 4 hours of perpetual motion at his sport's highest level. And that doesn't include any of the wear and tear of travel, training camp, offseason workouts, locker-room down-time or trainer's room hurt-time.
Allen averaged 16.3 points and 12.2 shots last season, his lowest numbers since he was a rookie. His 36.3 percent shooting from 3-point range was his lowest since the 1998-99 lockout season. And as electrifying as his Game 2 performance in The Finals was -- 27 points in the first half, a record eight 3-pointers overall -- Allen's struggles with his shot over the final five games (19-of-62, 30.6 percent) were a stark reminder of how quickly fortunes can fade.
So by late June, Allen's NBA future and bargaining power both seemed fairly limited. The Celtics were facing a serious rebuilding, what with Rivers' possible exit, Paul Pierce's decision to opt-out of his final contract year and Rasheed Wallace's announced retirement. Center Kendrick Perkins was going to be sidelined for a chunk of the coming season anyway, due to the knee injury he suffered in Game 6 against the Lakers. Point guard Rajon Rondo was the young backcourt star around whom Boston was likely to build. Allen? Nice guy, good player, swell shooter ... but probably expendable.
Then things changed, as they invariably do.
Now? Allen is an indispensable leader, role model and mentor. He looks like the perfect complement to the game's greatest and most coveted stars, his 3-point ability the perfect sharp pin to prick every opposing coach's defensive balloon. Rivers is back for the express purpose of chasing one more championship with the same crew. Pierce is back, too, with an agreement for a four-year extension worth an estimated $62 million, which will be paying him significant cash at age 36 in 2013-14.
All of a sudden, Allen doesn't seem so old anymore.
There's more: The great free-agent chase of 2010, at manic levels right now, is having a secondary effect on Allen's marketability. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, in particular, understand the value of reliable outside shooters to unclog the middle and to keep possible double-teaming defenders off of them. Both are deciding where they want to play this season and beyond. Both would love to have a shooter of Allen's pedigree over in the corner or cutting across the lane. Both would love to add him as a deputy in their locker rooms.
Then there is the financial reality of too much money available for too few top free agents. If a team that lands one of the big names sees Allen as a nice piece to their new puzzle, the teams that don't will have cash to spend and roster spots to fill. The very best of them, just to keep up with whatever clubs sign James and Wade (and assorted caddies), could dangle the mid-level exception at Allen or work harder to arrange a sign-and-trade.
All of a sudden, a 35-year-old shooting guard figures to have leverage ... like LeBron? Why, his coach even said so.
Frankly, Allen already had a fair amount. Remember, Reggie Miller -- with a similar game of constant motion and hair-trigger release -- played until he was on the brink of 40 (and even then, the Celtics tried to lure him back for what would have been a ring-bearing finale). Miller finished with nearly 53,000 minutes on his odometer -- roughly 25 percent more than Allen.
No one in the league takes better care of his body than Allen. No one grooves his game as incessantly in warm-ups and after practices. And no one is more mature in navigating the NBA's many emotional turns and challenges.
So as quiet as it's been, in terms of Allen getting drowned out by the clamor over the big names, his stock has risen steadily.
Is he a lock to return to Boston? That, after all, was what he talked about during and after the Finals. It is home to him and his family as surely as Cleveland is to James or Miami (er, Chicago?) is to Wade. But Allen would be within his rights to make the Celtics twist a little before solidifying their Grand Finale tour of 2010-11. They weren't shy, after all, about ducking his request last summer for a contract extension or dangling him and his expiring $18.7 million contract in trade discussions prior to the February deadline.
But Allen is a grownup, too adult to leave the Celtics simply out of spite or even for a few dollars more (Allen's three previous NBA contracts have paid him about $160 million). So if he leaves, it will be for loftier reasons.
And perhaps partly thanks to Rivers' tub-thumping, making an unexpectedly good market for Allen even better.
The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.
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