Ray Allen’s recent comments expressing his willingness to come off the bench—on the heels of Danny Ainge remarking that Paul Pierce might come off the bench next year in favor of Jeff Green—caught my attention. As we know, Allen is smart, gracious, humble and selfless, so it should come as no surprise that he would be willing to sublimate his own interests for those of his team.
But let’s focus on that smart part. Allen knows that based on the current roster there is no player who would merit starting in his place at shooting guard. Sure, Paul Pierce could conceivably move over to play the two-guard position to make way for a resigned Jeff Green at small forward, but at this point in his career the move does not seem ideal. Further, the shift would do little to address the issue of bench scoring, one of Boston’s key exposed weaknesses from last season.
While Ray Allen is a gifted offensive talent who can initiate a set offense as well as knock down open (and not-so-open) shots, he is no longer a player who can consistently create offense from a stagnant set—a common scenario with second units. Pierce, on the other hand, is a very capable one-on-one creator whose offensive versatility would greatly benefit a second unit, particularly when an offensive play breaks down. If the Celtics retain Jeff Green, moving Pierce to the bench makes a lot of sense if Ray Allen starts.
Getting back to Ray, it is safe to assume that he knows all this. So why would he offer to come off the bench? I can think of three possible reasons:
- To put pressure on Pierce to make the sacrifice himself. By publicly stating his own willingness to give up a starting spot, Allen is suggesting that it might be time for the Big Three to consider smaller roles for the sake of team success. The fact that a fellow future Hall-of-Famer made this offer allows Pierce to save face in the event that he makes the move to the bench. He can know that he is still a star in the league despite not being a starter.
- As part of a recruiting pitch intended to retain Green. Green, still only 24 after four years in the NBA, is at a very different career stage as Allen and Pierce. Green is still trying to assert himself and establish his reputation and value in the league. While playing on a big stage for a winner certainly helps this cause, players in Green’s position know that minutes are critical to future earnings and opportunities.With his willingness to move to the bench, Allen provides hope for Green to have the best of both worlds: a key role on a contender. While the Celtics retain the right to match any offer Green receives on the free agent market because of his status as a restricted free agent, it is in Boston’s best interest for Green to sign a long-term deal with the club for reasons I mention here ( http://bleacherreport.com/articles/647522-boston-celtics-dynasty-2013-and-beyond-starring-chris-paul-and-dwight-howard ) particularly at a time when his perceived value might be at a low. If Green finds the situation in Boston unappealing, his options include signing a one-year deal to become an unrestricted free agent after next season or to force a trade by protesting. Clearly, it is in Boston’s best interest to treat him as if he were an unrestricted free agent and woo him.
- As part of a recruiting pitch to appeal to an unrestricted free agent shooting guard who could supplant Allen in the starting lineup. Crazy, you say? Potentially, as many as four former All-Star shooting guards could be tempted to sign veteran minimum contracts this offseason. The following players have a few things in common. First, they have each been All-Stars (okay except J-Rich, but doesn’t it seem like he has been an All-Star?). Second, they have each made at least $81 million thus far in their respective careers so monetary compensation should not be the primary motivation. Third, none of these men have won a championship. In each case, their legacy and/or future career would be greatly enhanced with a championship added to their resume:
- Jason Richardson: somehow still only 30 years old, Richardson's game is similar to Allen's. He is an occasional slasher who depends on the three-point shot for many of his points. A 39.5-percent three-point shooter last year, Richardson relied on the three for nearly half of his points in the 2010-2011 season. He would fit seamlessly with Boston’s established starters because of his likeness to Allen. Additionally, Richardson is a plus defender and represents a noticeable upgrade from Allen on this side of the court. He will likely have many suitors this offseason.
- Michael Redd: this former All-Star has been hit hard recently by the injury bug, playing in only 61 games over the past three seasons. Hard as it is to remember, Redd was truly elite before these injuries. In the 2005-2006 season, Redd posted a P.E.R. (Hollinger) of 21.2 and a Win Shares (Bill James) of 10.8. To put these numbers into context for Celtics fans, Paul Pierce enjoyed his finest statistical season that same year and posted a PER of 23.6 and Win Shares of 11.5. Because of his injury history, it is doubtful that Redd signs a lucrative long-term contract this offseason. Therefore, a one-year minimum contract to play for a team like the Celtics might appeal to Allen’s close friend and former teammate. When healthy, Redd is a stud and is 31 years old. While most guards tend to regress at this age, there is precedent for Redd to have a late-career, post-injury renaissance by the name of…
- Grant Hill: Like Redd, Hill suffered career-threatening injuries from the age of 28 through 31, missing all but 47 games over four seasons before returning to prominence. At 38 years old, it is doubtful that Allen would make way for the immortal Hill. It's also unlikely that Hill would leave Arizona, where his career has flourished alongside Steve Nash and for a renowned training staff. Still, the Celtics were in pursuit of Hill the last time he faced free agency. He has been productive (14.7 PER last season) and durable as of late, playing in 80 games last year and averaging just over 30 minutes a game.
- Vince Carter: perhaps no player would benefit more from a spot on the Celtics. “Half Man Half Amazing” has carried a soft and selfish label nearly his entire career. If Carter were able to fit in, contribute to and earn the respect of hardened and proven Celtics teammates in the chase of a ring, he might dispel this reputation. A seven-time All-Star, Carter at 34 years old is clearly on the downside of his career and only occasionally flashes the awesome athleticism that earned his moniker. Nonetheless, he still adds value to a rotation and would serve as a great component to the Celtics' starting five.
These four players and other veterans in similar circumstances will be motivated by the opportunity to play a meaningful role on a championship contender. While winning a championship in any context is great, earning a ring by making big shots under the lights in the playoffs allows proud competitors to embrace a fulfilling legacy. By sharing his willingness to ride the pine, Allen allows these accomplished peers to fantasize about hitting a Game 7 game-winner in Celtic green, cementing their legacy as an all-time great. And in so doing, Allen again demonstrates why he will be remembered as an all-time great teammate and Celtic.
Although the Celtics have greater need at the power forward and center positions, it is likely they will find their greatest value signing a shooting guard.
Elsewhere in the NBA:
- Not a good offseason to be a Hornets fan. First, the team sells off its only selection in this year’s draft for a measly $750,000. David West follows this up by announcing his intent to give up a guaranteed $7.5 million coming off injury to test the free agent market. Can a Chris Paul trade be far behind? This reeling franchise has little hope of appealing to Paul once he becomes a free agent next offseason. As soon as the ownership situation is stabilized after the new collective bargaining agreement, look for new ownership to trade Paul shortly after failing to win him over.
- Similarly, Dwight Howard cannot be too impressed with the exploits of Orlando general manager Otis Smith. Although Smith gets credit for aggressively trading for Justin Harper on draft day, his lack of a first-round pick serves as a reminder of his poor decision-making and leadership.
For the pleasure of taking on Hedo Turkoglu’s contract albatross, along with enigma Earl Clark and free-agent-to-be Jason Richardson, Smith gave up his 2011 first-round pick, Mickael Pietrus, cash and promising young center Marcin Gortat who happens to be on a team-friendly contract with three years remaining. Not only did Smith give up the two most valuable assets in the trade in the pick and Gortat, he gave away his only Howard insurance in Gortat and took on a contract in Turkoglu that makes it nearly impossible to surround Howard with talent for the next few years.
But I’m sure that acquiring a second-round pick will make Howard forget all about this epic franchise-changing blunder.