Looking at this Celtics team prior to the free-agency rush, it was pretty clear that, once back from injury, Avery Bradley would be the starting shooting guard of the present and future. What Boston needed behind he and Rajon Rondo was versatility.
You hate to think of a first ballot Hall-of-Famer as a one-trick pony, but at this point in his career, Ray Allen is no more versatile than Steve Novak. The 37-year-old shooting guard actually shot the best three-point clip of his career, 45 percent, this past season. However, it never fully seemed like the real Allen was in full games for Boston.
The injuries, of course, didn’t help. Allen missed 20 regular season games, four more than he had missed in his prior four seasons in Boston combined. He was also absent for two playoff games and never fully got healthy. At 37, he can’t be expected to remain completely healthy anymore. For a player that utilizes speed and precision cutting around picks, his health is crucial to his effectiveness.
The flexibility required to play with a point guard of Rondo’s nature is pivotal to success with the Boston Celtics. As they moved into a Rondo team and away from a big three team, Allen became the odd-man out. His body could not sustain what is required from the Celtics SG position.
What Danny Ainge and the Celtics did was immediately get a little younger with the signing of 34-year-old Jason Terry. While only roughly two years younger than Allen, Terry has played in 167 less NBA games, around two seasons of effectiveness. He has also missed more than four games in a season just twice in a 13-year career.
Terry alone would have been a suitable replacement for Allen, but not an improvement. He would be able to take his minutes and maybe hit a few big threes, but it wouldn’t be worth letting Allen walk.
Enter 26-year-old Courtney Lee. Boston was able to acquire the 6’5” shooting guard from Houston in exchange for a package featuring little-used project JaJuan Johnson and second-year third-stringer E’Twaun Moore.
Lee gives the Celtics that one thing they so desperately need behind Rondo and Bradley, versatility. He, Terry and Bradley combine to constitute one of the most flexible SG packages in the NBA.
Apart from the youthfulness that this changeover means for the Celtics, there are other benefits.
Lee’s defensive prowess and size on the perimeter gives the second unit a different look. He can slide into a small forward role if the situation calls for he and Bradley or Terry to be on the court with Rondo. This is something that may occur in the early going with Bradley out.
A large benefit provided by this change is these two players can create their own shots better than Allen could. We all witnessed a sapped Allen racing around three or four screens just trying to get a clean look at a jumper. Gone are the days where Ray was actually a cutting swingman whose triple-threat stance allowed him to do more than shoot.
That is all they will add to the team, but what about what they will need to replace? The Celtics will be missing some things when one leg of the championship-winning tripod heads to South Beach.
Ray Allen, more than anything, gave the Celtics big-game cache and big-time three-point shooting. There is no player in the NBA who scares you more when they are falling sideways into the camera pit and jacking up an off-balance three.
That ball has a 50 percent chance of going in the basket, there is no doubt in your mind. If time is expiring or it is a big game, up it to 75 percent. That is what Boston will need most when they show up for the season and the No. 20 jersey is still boxed up.
Combined, Terry and Lee connected on 38-percent of their three pointers last year. This is a passable enough number to make up for the deep threat void vacated by Allen’s departure.
The two newcomers have a combined three NBA finals appearances. Terry with two in Dallas, including one win and Lee with the Magic in 2009. These two players aren’t going to shirk the pressure because they have seen it before.
While just a rookie in Orlando, Lee started 16 games during the Magic’s postseason. He scored eight points while playing 26 minutes per game.
Celtics fans will enjoy this upgrade and slowly learn to think about those Ray Allen threes like they think about Bill Russell blocks and John Havlicek steals. Soon it will be; Boston and Ronnie, have you seen them yet? Courtney and the Jet.