I don't know if you've heard this, but the Cleveland Cavaliers would like Ray Allen to play basketball for them next season. The question for a little more than a month now is whether Ray Allen would like to play basketball for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The answer: I have no idea! Neither does anyone else apparently, including Allen himself. Despite numerous reports to the contrary, Allen has not informed the Cavaliers—or any other potential suitors—about his plans for the months of October through June (?).
"As Ray has previously stated, he is taking this time to make a decision whether or not he will play next season," Allen's agent, Jim Tanner, said in a statement last week, via USA Today. "Any reports otherwise are false."
Tangible information on public record obviously stopped the Allen rumor mill from churning, right? Of course not. It's August. There is literally nothing better to do than speculate on the playing status of a 39-year-old role player. Hence we get little nuggets like this from Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports:
The Cavs are also optimistic about their chances of signing free agent guard Ray Allen prior to the start of training camp, a source said.— Marc J. Spears (@SpearsNBAYahoo) August 17, 2014
These are refrains similar to what we've been hearing from the moment LeBron James returned to Cleveland. If Allen plays—and the Cavaliers think he will—it'll be in Cleveland to follow James and try to earn a third ring.
While that typically wouldn't be worth more than a cursory glance and nod, the Allen news came on the heels of Shawn Marion taking his talents to Northeast Ohio. The veteran forward will sign a one-year deal for the veteran's minimum of $1.4 million, Cavs head coach David Blatt confirmed to David Pick of Eurobasket.
The deal won't be officially announced until after the Kevin Love trade can go through because of roster size restrictions. But once Love and Marion are delivered, Allen's decision suddenly becomes the last piece in what should finalize the revamped Cleveland rotation next season.
As it stands, shooting guard is the second-weakest position, though it is light-years better than the canyon-sized hole in the middle of the defense.
Dion Waiters will start, and behind him are a host of unproven talents or guys playing out of position. Matthew Dellavedova occasionally played the 2 last season and might be Cleveland's best perimeter defender other than James. Second-round pick Joe Harris projects as a rotation player long-term, and veteran Mike Miller can drop down to the other wing spot without much problem.
Adding Allen should instantly eliminate any questions of depth.
Despite his advanced age, Allen remains an above-average offensive threat. He shot a solid (albeit unspectacular for him) 37.5 percent from beyond the arc and can still occasionally create his own shot off the dribble. Allen's 39.5 percent rate on pull-up jumpers last season essentially mirrored that of Chris Bosh, who was among Miami's best players in that situation.
But Allen isn't going to be tasked with dribbling the ball much in Cleveland. James, Waiters and Kyrie Irving are all dribble-heavy players who will all but eliminate the necessity for him to put ball to floor anytime he's on the court.
Allen's role will frankly be pretty simple: shoot the ball in the basket and provide a comfort blanket for LeBron. Only Anderson Varejao, Mike Miller and James Jones have played with him more—and it's close with the latter two. Miller's constant injuries and Jones' fluctuation in and out of Erik Spoelstra's rotation created rhythm problems at times.
Allen has been attached to James' hip for two straight runs to the NBA Finals. The Heat blitzed opponents to the tune of 112.7 points per 100 possessions when James and Allen scored the floor last season, the best rate of any James-featuring pair with at least 300 minutes played. Miami had an effective field-goal percentage of 56.7 in the 1,200-plus minutes in which the duo shared the court.
All shooters play better with James. He commands so much defensive attention that sometimes defenders will abandon Ray Allen in the corner, forgetting he's the best shooter in NBA history.
What goes under-reported is just how much James appreciates playing with guys like Allen who can match if not surpass his basketball IQ. James' basketball intelligence is never in question. He's the smartest player of this generation, an automaton who spits out information from years in the past like a human search engine. He loves playing with guys who think the way he does.
"If it happens, I'm very excited," James told Fox Sports Ohio's Zac Jackson of Love's possible arrival. "I don't really care about the 26 (points) and 12 (rebounds Love averaged last season). I care about the basketball IQ."
The same—at least with some alterations to the counting stats—can be applied to Allen. On this possession, Allen doesn't appear to do much. At the beginning of the possession, he is standing in the weak-side corner in case his defender helps on the James drive:
Allen holds in that spot as James' initial penetration attempt is thwarted. He executes a quick pass up to the top of the key and then receives possession for an isolation, with Allen having not moved a step since the beginning of the initial set:
Once James clears the area for his iso, Allen makes a subtle shift. He takes a few steps to his right, giving his defender a choice between a difficult close out and a hard help on James. He chooses the latter, and Allen buries an easy triple:
The basketball mechanics here are ridiculously simple. Allen takes a few steps to the right for better spacing and a higher likelihood of an open shot on the kick-out. NBA players should act accordingly. The difference between Allen and others is he'll make that same read or more difficult ones every damn time.
Having Allen, Love and James on the floor at the same time is a dream come true for David Blatt, whose entire system falls apart without high-IQ players and shooters. Blatt's system finds its base in the Princeton offense, which requires an intricate wave of motion and elite passing.
"That’s the part of the Princeton offense you can see in my teams—the reading and the multi-option possibilities off of any play," Blatt told Grantland's Zach Lowe last month. "The Princeton offense is something that takes a long time to develop. It requires a particular kind of player, and more than anything else, it requires the giving up on the part of all the players of almost everything they know."
Basketball Breakdown did an excellent job of highlighting how James, Irving and Love will function together in Blatt's offense. It does not take a decade of coaching experience to see where Allen can slide in seamlessly:
The Cavaliers are, barring a major injury, going to have the best offense in basketball next season. James, Love and Irving are brilliant offensive players, Varejao's screening and passing abilities fit well within the system and Waiters was quietly an excellent catch-and-shoot player last season. Having Allen, Miller, Jones and Tristan Thompson coming off the bench only adds to the spoils.
What Allen does not fit, unfortunately, is a need. He is neither a bulky 7-footer with a presence near the rim nor a bulldog perimeter defender who can lessen the burden on James. Allen actually exacerbates the defensive problems on the roster. He's not quick enough at this point to adequately defend above-average perimeter talent. And even if he suddenly had a Barry Bondsian late-30s return to his athletic prime, no 39-year-old's body can withstand an 82-game pounding of that magnitude.
With Irving, Waiters, Allen, Miller, et al., the Cavs are among the league's worst defensive guard rotations. Marion will help a bit, but he looked cooked last season in extended time with the Mavs. Expecting him to play more than 15-20 minutes per game is dicey. Dellavedova will be clawing for minutes in a suddenly crowded rotation.
Something will have to give over the long term for Blatt to build even a league-average defense.
These are considerations Allen must make as well. Come playoff time, it's possible that he's relegated to a minimal role—if not excised from the rotation entirely. Allen watched as Shane Battier went through a similar experience last season.
For someone with two rings, a first-ballot Hall of Fame resume and no shortage of media opportunities awaiting when he retires, he has to consider how he wants his last NBA memory to play out.
Don't expect a formal decision anytime soon.
All stats courtesy of NBA.com unless otherwise noted.
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