ESPN.com's Chris Sheridan examines whether the Celtics will explore the idea of trading Ray Allen given their recent struggles to compete against championship-caliber opponents:
BOSTON -- The next time the Celtics and Lakers meet, it will be Feb. 18 -- just hours after the trade deadline.
And something worth considering over the next two-and-a-half weeks as that game approaches: How different might the Celtics look on that night?
More specifically: Will Ray Allen still be a part of the team?
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The record will show that Kobe Bryant hit the game-winning shot Sunday while being closely defended by Allen, and it'll also show that Allen missed the final shot of the game -- a 24-footer that could have won it in the final seconds for the Celtics.
But the ball didn't bounce Boston's way, and January ended with the Celtics having a losing month (6-8) for the first time since the Big Three took shape back in the summer of 2007.
Yes, the month ended with losses to the Magic, Hawks and Lakers -- three teams that can be considered legitimate final four contenders -- and the current three-game losing streak was preceded by victories over the Clippers and Blazers. But before that, there was another three-game losing streak comprised of home losses to Chicago and Dallas followed by a road loss to Detroit.
Look at that stretch as a whole, and there are six losses in the past eight games for a team that steadfastly maintains its confidence has not been shaken. Yet the Celtics are still going through one of the more extended periods of introspection they've experienced since the acquisitions of Garnett and Allen altered their destiny.
"Losing teams point fingers, but we are not that kind of team," said Pierce, who was double-teamed on the perimeter when he rose and rifled a cross-court pass to Allen, who was wide open at the 3-point line in front of the Lakers' bench.
"Ten times out of 10 I'll give that to him for the game," Pierce said.
To which I pose this question to Celtics fans: If Allen has a chance to hit the game winner 10 different times, how many times do you think he'll knock it down?
If your answer is five or fewer, you may be thinking the same thing I am: The time has come for the Celtics to think long and hard about whether they want to head into the postseason with their main core intact, or whether they want to explore the possibility of trading Allen and his expiring $18.8 million deal for a package of players that'll make them a better team.
Allen is aware it's a possibility.
"Nothing would surprise me," said. "I've seen guys come and go, whether on my team or another team, that you didn't expect to go. That's just the nature of the business. You can always say somebody is untradable or untouchable, but that's the guy who has all the value."
That was the lesson Allen learned back in 2003 when he was the Milwaukee Bucks' franchise player but was being pushed for playing time by a young upstart who played Allen's position, Michael Redd.
Allen was deemed expendable by then-Bucks GM Ernie Grunfeld, who called the Seattle SuperSonics to inquire about the availability of Gary Payton. Told there would be no Payton discussion unless Allen was in the conversation, too, Grunfeld decided against hanging up the phone, requested that Desmond Mason be included in the deal, and then pulled the trigger on a trade that blindsided Allen and the city of Milwaukee.
"Yup, the guy who wasn't supposed to get traded got traded. That's the lesson I learned -- if somebody ever says you're untouchable, then that's the one you need to worry about. Everyone wants you, because the value you bring to that franchise you could bring to another franchise," Allen said. "I've seen stranger things happen."
Allen's stock dropped precipitously two seasons ago when he had a prolonged postseason slump as the Celtics needed seven games to get past Atlanta and then Cleveland before they defeated Detroit in the Eastern Conference finals and went on to defeat the Lakers for the title.
He was only a 40 percent shooter in the postseason last year when defenses keyed more on him and Pierce, not having to concern themselves with the injured Kevin Garnett.
This season, Allen is averaging 15.7 points but has made better than 50 percent of his attempts in only three of the last 11 games. And it should not go unmentioned that coach Doc Rivers considered pulling Allen on the Celtics' final defensive possession in order to have Tony Allen guard Bryant instead.
But Doc stuck with his veteran, and no one could argue that Ray Allen's defense was anything less than stifling on that last play. But Bryant did what Bryant does, nailing a tough fadeaway 18-footer to give Los Angeles its first lead of the second half. And in the final 7.3 seconds the Lakers' focus was the same as it had been all game -- let anybody but Pierce, who was defended admirably by Ron Artest all afternoon, try to beat them.
The Lakers gave Rajon Rondo so much room to shoot, Rivers said they might as well have been sitting on the rim. Yes, Rondo produced another studly line of 21 points, 12 assists and five rebounds, but he played into the Lakers' strategy of never allowing Pierce, Allen, Garnett or anyone else get on a hot streak.
Allen finished 2-for-10, including 0-for-6 from 3-point range, for seven points.
"I had a good look," Allen said of the final shot. "I think I may have rushed it a little bit, but I did have a look."
Which brings us back to our original point: How many times is he going to make that shot in the future, and is it time for the Celtics to take a look at moving him?
For all the chatter about Amare Stoudemire and Tracy McGrady (with his $22.4 million expiring contract) being the most desirable pieces out there, if Allen goes on the block, it could be a game-changer leaguewide.
Would both teams be happy with a trade (and we're merely speculating here) that sent Allen and a minor player to Chicago for Kirk Hinrich, Tyrus Thomas and Jerome James (a 3-for-2 would work, because Boston has left a roster spot open since Lester Hudson was claimed off waivers by Memphis)? Or for Hinrich and Brad Miller?
Either of those deals would clear $9 million off the Bulls' cap for next summer, when they'll be going after a max free agent, and would allow Chicago to remain a viable playoff contender with a shooter who can provide what Hinrich and John Salmons haven't. The Celtics would get another guard who can't quite shoot as well (Hinrich is making only 38 percent of his shots while Allen is at 45 percent) but would gain a far more capable ballhandler and defender.
Moreover, if the Celtics could get a shot-blocker and rebounder like Thomas, it could go a long way toward getting them out of the NBA cellar in offensive boards (where they rank 30th) and restore some of their customary defensive prowess.
"We haven't had timely stops -- that's what bothers me most. Today, and against Atlanta and Orlando, they scored every time they needed to," Boston coach Doc Rivers said.
Sunday's game illustrated what Celtics fans have been seeing over the course of the past month: This Boston team is nowhere near as good as the '07-08 title team, and nowhere near as feared as the '08-09 Celtics team was before Garnett went down for the season with a knee injury.
If the time has come for a shakeup to boost Boston back into the NBA's upper echelon, the Celtics' most moveable player is the very same player who missed the last shot Sunday against the Lakers.
And if they happen to move him a few days before trade deadline day, Feb. 18, they can begin a new push to the finish line with fresher faces and younger legs beginning that night against these very same Lakers at the Staples Center.