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Tuesday, July 3, 2012
Celtics keeping all options open

By Chris Forsberg
ESPNBoston.com

The Boston Celtics filled a need and got an insurance policy in one fell swoop Tuesday afternoon as they neared an agreement with free-agent shooting guard Jason Terry.

Don't assume that means Ray Allen won't be back in green.

A summer of uncertainty is much clearer for Boston now. The Celtics want as much talent as Danny Ainge can get his hands on, as the team is adamant that it can restock and get back to the NBA Finals after coming up just short against the eventual champs, the Miami Heat, last month.

Having already secured handshake agreements to bring back Kevin Garnett and Jeff Green, the Celtics appear poised to add Terry, the league's former Sixth Man of the Year, on a three-year deal worth the full value of the mid-level exception.

Sources indicated Terry was giving the Dallas Mavericks a chance to match the deal, but was not optimistic they would do so.

Boston's anemic bench offense would get a major boost with the addition of Terry. Ainge would like to turbo-charge it by putting Allen next to Terry, which would give Boston a lethal 3-point attack as part of a revamped second unit.

About the only thing tempering the excitement as the team prepared to add Terry was a growing concern about whether the team will be able to retain Allen.

Ray Allen
Ray Allen has several teams bidding for his services, but he and Jason Terry would form a potent attack off the Celtics' bench.

On the surface, Terry's arrival seemingly bites into Allen's role. While Terry can handle the ball on the second unit, also providing much-needed relief for point guard Rajon Rondo, there's a line of thinking that suggests he and Allen would be competing for minutes and shots.

Ainge said Monday, however, that his goal is to limit the wear and tear on all his veterans -- a group that would include both Terry and Allen -- and Boston is hopeful the overall collection of talent -- along with the ability to offer more money than the rest of the league -- will be enough to attract Allen back for another couple of seasons.

But that situation won't be resolved as quickly as Boston would like and there are signs of uneasiness for the Celtics.

In the weeks leading up to Garnett's decision to return, coach Doc Rivers displayed an unwavering optimism that Garnett would be back with the team. Earlier this week, he utilized a similar tone while suggesting "it would be a stretch" to envision Allen dressing in anything but Celtics green next season.

Rivers' tone changed on Tuesday.

"[Allen] has a lot of options and that's the bad news for us," Rivers told the Dan Patrick radio show amid news that Allen will visit two of his top suitors later this week, meeting with the Heat on Thursday and Los Angeles Clippers on Friday.

"I wish I had a feel on it," Rivers said when asked what he believes Allen's final decision will be. "Usually I do. But I can tell you in this one I don't."

One can make the case that it's time for Allen and the Celtics to part ways. It was a fine five-year run that included an NBA title, but Allen, who turns 37 later this month, lost his starting job last season, his defense can be a liability and he battled another batch of ankle woes that required offseason surgery.

But here's the thing for Boston: Allen is a particularly valuable asset. Not just in the hopes that he can regain his pre-injury form next season, but because the Celtics own his Bird rights and can overspend to bring him back -- all without sacrificing the ability to further bolster their roster, as the Terry signing proved.

Is Allen worth a two-year, $12 million offer that sources suggest the Celtics have positioned for him? That's debatable. But we see general managers overspend for marginal talent every summer, so it's hard to sneeze at a modest contract for the league's all-time 3-point leader.

And it's not like the Celtics are worried about age.

One also has to consider the aspect of playing keep-away from a chief rival like the Heat (who have only the $3 million taxpayer mid-level exception to offer) or another playoff contender like the Clippers or Grizzlies (two teams under the luxury tax threshold that could offer the full $5 million value of the mid-level to attract Allen).

Losing Allen without having Terry in the fold would have been a double whammy for Boston as it would have forced the team to seek a replacement and taken away the flexibility of the mid-level chip. That would have been a dire situation had the Celtics struck out in their quest to add Terry (or another bench scorer of his ilk).

And having Terry will take some of the sting out if Allen elects to end his playing days elsewhere in quest for another championship ring.

But the Celtics need to be greedy. We saw last season how quickly a roster can be ravaged by injuries. The Celtics know that, despite all the adversity, they were eight minutes shy of making the NBA Finals and dispatching the team that went on to hoist the Larry O'Brien trophy.

They're stocking up like they're on a visit to Costco because they want another O'Brien trophy to add to their cupboards. That will cement the legacy of this core, and it only seems right to have Allen as part of the quest.