NBA

Where's the Best Free-Agent Destination for Ray Allen to Finish His NBA Career?

Zach BuckleyNational NBA Featured ColumnistSeptember 1, 2014

Where's the Best Free-Agent Destination for Ray Allen to Finish His NBA Career?

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    Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

    NBA careers, even those that reached legendary heights, don't always offer soft landings.

    Well-decorated sharpshooter Ray Allen could be one of the fortunate few to have control over his conclusion.

    The 39-year-old hasn't officially announced his intention for what would be his 19th season in the league. Earlier this summer, he sounded ready to walk away for good.

    "I've played 18 years, and the way I look at my career, I'm content with everything that I've done," Allen said, via Dom Amore of the Hartford Courant. "... To continue playing, really, the only argument is I can because I'm in great shape. But just because you can doesn't mean you have to."

    Then again, just wanting to might be reason enough to sign off on another round of fabled preparations and more crunch-time miracles.

    A source told ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard that Allen has informed those close to him of his plans to play in 2014-15. While the sniper himself has kept quiet on his plans, the closer this campaign comes to tipping off, the harder it may be for him to hang them up.

    Especially with nearly every championship contender saving him a spot. Each has something a little different to offer, but the best landing spots can sell him on opportunity, familiarity, usage and, of course, realistic title hopes.

    With his decision potentially made on playing another season, these five teams should be in the strongest position to bring him on board.

5. Dallas Mavericks

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    As long as Mark Cuban is running the show, the Dallas Mavericks may be on a perpetual big-game hunt.

    But give this franchise credit. It continues to show a strong appreciation for the value of a "Plan B."

    So the Mavs don't have Deron Williams, Dwight Howard or Carmelo Anthony. They do, however, have an intriguing amount of depth and loads of talent following the solid-contact acquisitions of Monta Ellis, Chandler Parsons, Tyson Chandler and Jameer Nelson over the past two summers.

    With Dirk Nowitzki showing no obvious signs of aging (21.7 points on .497/.398/.899 shooting in 2013-14), the Mavs have positioned themselves either inside of or very close to the championship race. According to ESPN.com's Marc Stein, Dallas has been on Allen's trail all offseason.

    The Mavs deserve a long look. They won 49 games without him, Parsons, Chandler or Nelson last season. They have one of the sharpest coaching minds in the business in Rick Carlisle, an owner who has proved he'll spend for a winner in Cuban and a major market that neither collects state income tax nor typically sees much snowfall.

    It would be a great home base for Allen's retirement tour, but it falls just short of other potential suitors in terms of actual contention. The Mavs could make a significant stride this season and still fall outside the championship picture. The other four teams are either already on there or should be a lock to make it.

4. Oklahoma City Thunder

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    In some ways, Allen might seem like a step backward for the reigning Western Conference finalist Oklahoma City Thunder.

    Even with beleaguered center Kendrick Perkins still on the roster, the franchise appears ready for an overdue embrace of its youth movement. Veterans Caron Butler, Derek Fisher and Thabo Sefolosha have all been removed from the equation. Incumbent young guns Reggie Jackson, Steven Adams and Jeremy Lamb should all inherit expanded roles by default.

    A fading star like Allen doesn't seem to fit with the new, young Thunder. However, his acquisition could actually be a sign of this franchise progressing.

    After so many narrow misses in recent seasons, Oklahoma City's biggest gamble could be not gambling at all to add impact pieces around its superstar core of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka.

    "Just about every other team on Oklahoma City’s level is being aggressive, so it’s frustrating to watch it sit back," wrote Bleacher Report's D.J. Foster. " ... Durant and Westbrook should be in the mix every single year, but the supporting cast could stand to improve a bit."

    Seven OKC players attempted at least 100 triples last season, but only three of them hit better than 36 percent of those looks: Durant, Butler and Fisher. Allen hasn't finished below 36 percent from deep since 1998-99, and he shot better than 41 percent from distance in three of the last four seasons.

    Someone needs to help Durant and Westbrook handle the late-game scoring. Allen could be that player, but it's possible that personal connections and more diverse offensive systems pull him in a different direction.

3. Los Angeles Clippers

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    Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers blamed himself for Allen leaving the Boston Celtics in part because of his decision to move Allen to the second team.

    After suiting up as sixth man for the Miami Heat the past two seasons, Allen might be finally be reader for a reserve role under Rivers.

    According to ESPN's Arash Markazi, Rivers has been recruiting Allen this summer. The Clippers also made Stein's short list of Allen's relevant suitors.

    On the surface, Allen might seem a bit redundant for this roster. It's not as if L.A. is hurting for perimeter scorers with range.

    Dig a little deeper, though, and the reasoning behind the interest starts to surface.

    "Allen would provide extra shooting on the wing to complement Jamal Crawford and J.J. Redick," wrote CBS Sports' James Herbert. "He'd also give the Clippers championship experience, something only Jordan Farmar has."

    Allen could be called upon to do more than just complement Crawford and Redick. He might have to replace them in spots, as the perimeter pair missed a combined 60 games last season.

    But it's Allen's wisdom, experience and leadership likely keeping him on Rivers' radar. The Clippers need to quickly make good on their championship potential, and a player with Allen's level of commitment could help make the immediate impact needed.

    However, Allen could find a larger role and more complementary offenses elsewhere.

2. Cleveland Cavaliers

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    Lori Shepler/Associated Press

    The Cleveland Cavaliers don't have the built-in advantages of Allen's other suitors. Not the obvious ones, at least.

    This isn't a major market. The winters can be long, cold and covered with snow. The Cavaliers have never won an NBA title, and the entire city hasn't celebrated a major professional sports championship in 50 years.

    Yet the Cavs aren't simply in the running for Allen, they're actually "optimistic" about their odds of bringing him on board, a source told Yahoo Sports' Marc J. Spears.

    Why? Because the Cavs have the NBA's ultimate recruiting tool in LeBron James, who spent the past two seasons winning 120 games, seven playoff series and one world title alongside Allen with the Miami Heat. The pair even vacationed together this summer, along with former Heat sniper and current Cavalier James Jones.

    Once James picks up the phone, it's going to be hard for Allen to ignore. The flood of talent that hit Cleveland this summer—two-time All-NBA selection Kevin Love, four-time All-Star Shawn Marion, former Sixth Man of the Year Mike Miller—will make the Cavs even harder to resist.

    It's very possible that Allen follows James' lead to Northeast Ohio. That would keep him on the path of least resistance known as the Eastern Conference, plus potentially bury him on an opponents' defensive game plan behind the likes of Love, James and Kyrie Irving, all three of whom are willing passers.

    But if Allen wants to find an offense perfectly suited for his talents, he can do so with a championship-level franchise he's come to know quite well over the last few seasons.

1. San Antonio Spurs

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    Chris Covatta/Getty Images

    The San Antonio Spurs, adversaries of Allen's Heat in the past two NBA Finals, are part of the race to land his services, league sources told Stein.

    This makes sense on so many levels that even James' siren song may not be enough to keep Allen away from the Alamo City.

    For one, Allen obviously wants to find a contender. As Bleacher Report's Stephen Babb observed, the Spurs have a stronger argument there than any other team on this list:

    It may take Cleveland some time to develop title-caliber chemistry between its established superstars (James and Kevin Love) and their younger counterparts (Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson).

    Meanwhile, Los Angeles has been ousted from the conference semifinals in two of the last three seasons—and from the opening round in 2013.

    The Spurs have made two consecutive appearances in the NBA Finals and came within two conference-finals victories of doing so in 2012.

    The Spurs also have a history of maximizing the effectiveness of players like Anthony.

    Even amid an unprecedented streak of 50-win seasons, the Spurs have long been brushed aside as too old to compete at an elite level. But the Spurs machine keeps rolling thanks to Gregg Popovich emphasizing depth and minimizing individual exposure (no one averaged even 30 minutes a night last season).

    And the Spurs might be even better at spotting snipers than they are at eluding Father Time. San Antonio keeps constant pressure on a defense through the dribble penetrations of Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili and the interior scoring of Tim Duncan.

    If the Spurs find point-blank looks they'll take them, but they constantly search for clean three-point attempts for their shooters. There was a direct correlation between San Antonio's league-leading 39.7 three-point percentage and its lofty standing in assists percentage (62.1 percent, fifth overall).

    Allen is an expert at racing around screens and quickly firing three-point rockets. San Antonio's designs are as good as any in the business, and no team is more willing to swap good shots for great ones.

    Oh, the cap-savvy Spurs also have their full mid-level exception to offer if needed, which neither the Clippers nor Cavaliers could give Allen.

    It's possible to picture Allen joining a different team on this list, but it's almost impossible to find a reason he shouldn't be headed to San Antonio.

     

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

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