Shortly after the Boston Celtics lost in the Eastern Conference finals, Ray Allen underwent surgery in June to remove bone spurs from his right ankle. The purpose of the procedure was to relieve the pain that caused the shooting guard to miss 15 of the Celtics' final 20 regular-season games.
Four months later, the sharpshooting Allen is now a member of the Miami Heat, but the same ankle is still giving him problems. When asked by the Florida Sun-Sentinel if he could envision himself playing pain-free this season, Allen responded, "Who knows? That's a good question."
While we don't yet know the answer to that question, we do know that Allen's ankle injury will definitely have an effect on his play this season. In 2011-12, Allen missed a total of 22 games and averaged a mere 34.0 MPG, the first time since the 1998-99 season that he played less than 35 minutes per game. And while the 6'5" Allen rarely complained about any sort of pain, it was clear in the playoffs how much trouble his right ankle was giving him.
The 37-year-old Allen was merely a shell of himself against the Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Conference semifinals, averaging 8.8 points per game while shooting a paltry 38.3 percent from the field. He wasn't much better against the Miami Heat (11.9 PPG, 37.7 FG percent), as he continued to have difficulty creating space in the half-court set.
Allen's game revolves largely around curling off of screens, and without the ability to consistently break free from his man, he was little more than a decoy at times during the Celtics' deep playoff run last season. If Allen was at 100 percent, Boston could have ended the Heat's eventual title run dead in its tracks.
In an interesting twist, Allen was able to compensate for his lack of mobility with a renewed focus on the defensive end of the court. Allen finished with the lowest defensive rating of his career in 2011-12 (101), and according to Synergy Sports, he held opposing players to 0.75 points per possession, 48th best in the NBA.
Allen's primary role this season will be to relieve some of the burden on Dwyane Wade, who continues to recover from offseason knee surgery. Wade is no longer capable of playing 37 to 38 minutes per night, and with Allen serving as his primary backup, the Heat will have a potent threat on the floor at the shooting guard position at all times.
Forward Rashard Lewis will pair with Allen to strengthen the Heat's second unit, the team's Achilles heel for the past two seasons. And while Allen doesn't figure to start very many games this year, he's almost certain to be on the floor in crunch time.
"There are only a handful of players in this league who absolutely strike fear...in the fourth quarter of tight games," said Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra when Allen was introduced to the media. "There's a collective 'Oh no,' coming from the coaching staff, the bench and the players on the court when he breaks free for a three-pointer."
That said, the unrelenting pain in Allen's ankle will make it hard for him to break free as often as he did in the past. In September, Allen told the Sun-Sentinel that the ankle injury is something that he'll have to monitor and manage throughout the season.
The Heat coaching staff will be doing some monitoring of its own, making sure that Allen's minutes are kept in check. Allen knows that it's vitally important for him to be healthy in the postseason, and the 10-time All-Star is willing to take all of the necessary precautions in order to help Miami defend its crown.
"I'm not coming trying to come here and win on my terms," said Allen at his introductory press conference. "I'm trying to win on what coach Spoelstra and Pat Riley need for this team to help win another championship.”