Why We're Not Ready for Ray Allen to Walk Away from the NBA Forever

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Why We're Not Ready for Ray Allen to Walk Away from the NBA Forever
USA TODAY Sports

In basketball terms, NBA gunslinger Ray Allen has nothing left to prove.

He's been an All-American (twice), a lottery pick (fifth overall in 1996), an NBA All-Star (10 times), a world champion (twice) and an Olympic gold medalist (2000). He's the NBA's all-time leader in career three-point makes (2,973) with plenty of quality (career 40.0 three-point percentage) to show for that quantity.

Allen, or "Jesus Shuttlesworth" to this generation of hoop heads, has seen it all and done it all on the game's biggest stage. Maybe this is being selfish or perhaps a bit greedy, but I hope he's not finished seeing and doing just yet.

The 38-year-old just wrapped his 18th season in the NBA, a career defined more by consistency than simple longevity. While Father Time has forced him to take on a specialist's role56.9 percent of his field-goal attempts were triples this season, the most of his career—it has yet to rob him of his effectiveness.

Allen's 9.3 points-per-game postseason scoring average was fourth-highest on the Miami Heat, an astonishing figure considering his current odometer readings: 1,300 regular-season games, 171 playoff contests. He's something of a modern marvel, so forgive me for hoping we're not done marveling at his magnificent skills just yet.

Now an unrestricted free agent, Allen sounds unsure of what his next step will be.

"I've had a great career, I'm content with what I've done," he told reporters following Miami's season-ending 104-87 Game 5 defeat. "It's hard to think past this moment. In the next couple of days I'll think about it and see where my true heart lies."

For Allen, as with athletes across the realm of professional sports, his sincerest desire is to write the final chapter of his legendary story. He wants to make the call, not have it made for him:

Whether he'll have the opportunity do so remains unclear.

The need for the Heat to retool after their failed NBA Finals run is obvious. The team needs more pieces, and it's hard to say whether a spot for the veteran would still exist after a potential injection of new blood.

"Allen's decision might hinge on the Heat's decision," Dave Hyde of the Sun Sentinel explained. "Clearly they would want him back. But they also need to get younger at the wings and his playing time could be adjusted depending on how successful they are."

Maybe Allen has a future in Miami. Maybe he'll bolster another roster in need of veteran leadership and elite-level floor spacing.

As long as he lands somewhere, that's fine. The game isn't ready for his exit just yet.

Different basketball fans may remember Allen for different things.

Some might conjure up images of the perennial 20-point scorer who made the Milwaukee Bucks playoff regulars near the turn of the century. Others might remember him as one of the final faces of the Seattle Sonics, a dynamite scorer (24.6 points a night during his four full seasons there) and underrated setup artist (four assists per game over that stretch).

Still others may think of his role in shaping today's superteam movement. They might recall his five-year tenure with the Boston Celtics, or the 55 postseason triples he converted en route to the 2008 NBA championship.

Brian Babineau/Getty Images

For those who define individuals by moments—i.e. sports fans of the "highlight reel" generation—Allen is simply the "Miracle Man."

His dagger in the closing seconds of regulation in Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals impacted everyone across the basketball world.

He was South Beach's savior, a dream-killer in San AntonioTo those without a vested interest in the proceedings, Allen was just incredible.

The fact that Allen's lasting legacy could be tied to a game played so far past his prime is the reason it's hard to let go now. He's still capable of working magic.

His series-changing shot may have had luck wrapped all around it—that LeBron James' attempt would carom the direction it did, that Chris Bosh would outmuscle Manu Ginobili for the rebound, that Bosh would spot a backtracking Allen in the corner, that Tim Duncan would watch it all unfold from the sideline—but nothing was left to chance on Allen's end.

He had, somehow, prepared for that exact scenario.

Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated explained:

As a young player in Milwaukee, Allen invented a drill in which he lies in the key, springs to his feet and backpedals to the corner. A coach throws him a pass. He has to catch and shoot without stepping on the three-point line or the sideline. In Allen's first training session with the Heat, just after Labor Day 2012, he performed the drill. 'It was the first time I ever saw anybody do that,' [Heat coach Erik] Spoelstra says. 'He told me he does it for offensive rebounding purposes. He said, 'You never know when you'll be in a situation where you have to find the three-point line without looking down.''

A miracle in the eyes of many, Allen's shot was nothing more than a reward reaped from years of dedication to his craft.

Always a diligent worker, his success has rarely resulted from an equal balance of preparation and execution. He's invested heavily on the former making the latter seem like second nature.

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"You see the ball go through the hoop enough so when you get in that rhythm, it's almost like, this is what I expect," Allen said, via Zak Keefer of the Indianapolis Star. "If it doesn't go in, you're surprised."

As his gaudy three-point totals suggest, he's rarely surprised.

Surprises don't exist in Allen's world. Not if he can help it.

In 2008, Jackie MacMullan of The Boston Globe detailed Allen's meticulous game-day routine:

His pregame ritual does not waver: a nap from 11:30 a.m. until 1 p.m., a meal of chicken and white rice at 2:30, an arrival time at the gym at precisely 3:45 to stretch. Allen will shave his head, then walk out to the court at exactly 4:30. He will methodically take shots from both baselines, both elbows, and the top of the key.

Allen has put a similar focus on maintaining his physical form, and the results are glaringly apparent.

"You look at him right now, shirt off," Spoelstra said in October, via the Sun Sentinel's Ira Winderman, "he has the physique of a player in his early 20s."

As a sharpshooter, Allen has the game built to withstand the tests of time. While he cannot turn back the clock, he's battled furiously to keep the physical effects of aging to a minimum.

The results of that hard work are what we have today: a 38-years-young sniper with a legendary past, an inspirational present and, hopefully, a productive season or two still in his future.

Allen can still positively impact an NBA franchise, both on and off the floor. With that knowledge in hand, it's hard to sign off on the thought of him signing out.

He may have nothing left to prove, but there's still so much that he can give.

 

Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.

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