Is Ray Allen sold on Celtics?
Uncertainty about role, playing time could push him to South Beach
The Boston Celtics have blasted through their offseason shopping list as if auditioning for a spot on the old game show "Supermarket Sweep". Danny Ainge is plowing through the aisles, tossing big-name talent into his basket as if July 11 is the last day you can officially sign players, not the first.
Five days into this so-called moratorium, these Five-Hour-Energy Celtics have already hammered out a three-year contract extension with Kevin Garnett, and on Thursday they locked up the other half of last season's starting frontcourt when they agreed to a three-year deal with free agent Brandon Bass.
Not only is last season's starting five in place (Garnett and Bass joining Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce and Avery Bradley), the Celtics also got a verbal commitment Wednesday from former Sixth Man of the Year Jason Terry on a three-year deal and there appears to be a handshake agreement in place for Jeff Green to return on a long-term deal as well.
And yet there, near the top of the shopping list, solemnly sits one name without a green checkmark next to it: Ray Allen.
Earlier this week, Ainge dubbed Allen and Bass the team's top remaining priorities. On the same day the Celtics got a commitment from Bass, Allen was in Miami listening to the sales pitch of the world champion Heat, who may be Boston's only threat to completing that shopping list.
On paper, it's an easy decision for Allen. The Celtics, having diligently remained below the luxury tax threshold despite their shopping spree, are positioned to offer Allen a two-year, $12 million contract, utilizing their Bird rights to offer more than any other contender can afford.
Miami, which will be over the tax threshold, can offer only the mini mid-level exception of $3 million. And even by adding a third year for the soon-to-be 37-year-old sharpshooter, the Heat are still well short of the total value on Boston's offer.
But for a player that has earned $178 million in contracts over 16 NBA seasons, including $73.1 million over the last five seasons with the Celtics, money may not be an overwhelming factor in Allen's decision.
So what does a player entering the twilight of his career want most? A starting role? A chance at another title? A desire to simply be wanted?
The Associated Press reported Thursday that Allen stayed overnight in Miami after the Heat made their pitch (though we shouldn't read too deeply into that; after all, his visit with the Los Angeles Clippers scheduled for Friday was scrapped earlier in the day, so Allen had to reroute his travel plans). The question is whether Allen desires an extended stay in South Beach.
It would be understandable if he does. There may be some hurt feelings with the Celtics after Allen was relegated to a backup role during the season, with Bradley taking his starting job while Allen battled bone spurs in his ankle that hindered his performance throughout the postseason.
Allen has long been the third wheel of the Big Three, Garnett and Pierce earning the majority of the credit for Boston's overall success. And by now you've undoubtedly heard about Allen's sometimes contentious relationship with Rondo, though it rarely manifested itself on the court, and never during the biggest moments of the season.
In taking away his starting role last season, the Celtics asked Allen to step outside of his comfort zone for the benefit of the team. Now the Heat are asking him to do the same.
It seems this decision might come down to who truly wants Allen more. Yet the sides are making their pitches in very different ways, and it might be easier for Miami to suggest they are the more eager suitor.
After all, the Heat don't have to explain their past (and can note how they've ended the Celtics' season each of the past two years). Allen has to be somewhat leery of his standing in Boston given that his name came up in trade rumors each of the past two deadlines and that his overall role has been diminished.
What's more, the addition of Terry can be viewed as biting further into Allen's role next season, even if the Celtics swear there's room for everybody and that Terry only improves the team's title chances.
Meanwhile, Heat stars Dwyane Wade and LeBron James have openly campaigned to bring Allen to Miami. They've put down that shiny Larry O'Brien trophy just long enough to peck away 140-character Twitter love letters and it's hard to imagine they didn't play some part in the Heat's sales pitch on Thursday (though Pat Riley needs no help in that department -- just ask LeBron).
Honestly, who wouldn't want a chance to play next to the likes of James and Wade?
Miami, already sexy enough as a destination, is the supermodel asking Allen to run away with her. Boston is the old ball-and-chain.
Oh sure, the Celtics have lost some weight, gotten a haircut and are promising to get their figure back to where it used to be. But you get the feeling the Celtics are fighting a bit of an uphill battle, even if they shouldn't be. They put themselves in this position, their actions last season perhaps making Allen uncomfortable enough to wonder if the grass is greener somewhere else.
Boston is doing all it can to ease Allen's fears. The Boston Herald reported this week that the Celtics would consider offering a no-trade clause (only two others exist in the league) or a trade kicker (giving Allen a salary boost if they trade him away). You can't help but wonder if the Celtics will resort to adding a third year or more money to further prove their desire, though they are starting to dance dangerously close to the tax threshold and it's hard to imagine them paying too much more when their offer already is double that of their presumed chief competitor.
At some point, Boston has to ask itself a question: Is it worth fighting for someone who just might not want to be here any more? Are the Celtics willing to spend $6 million on Allen next season just because they can and because there's no easy way to replace his value? Would Boston be this interested in retaining his services if it wasn't their main Eastern Conference rival trying to woo him away?
One way or another, the Celtics soon will eliminate Allen from their shopping list. Will it be with a green check or a thick red line through his name? Either way, Boston has done an impressive job. Adding Allen would cap the initial spree, but it shouldn't temper the binge if the Celtics don't land him.
Like on the old game show, only one team can win the Big Sweep. We won't know who that is until next June, no matter whose cart seems to be the fullest at the end of the month.
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