Ray Allen-Paul Pierce Reunion Is Exactly What Eastern Conference Needs

Stephen Babb@@StephenBabbFeatured ColumnistSeptember 8, 2014

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The Washington Wizards may have something to say about the Cleveland Cavaliers and Chicago Bulls being anointed the Eastern Conference's presumptive front-runners.

After pushing the Indiana Pacers six games in last season's conference semifinals, the up-and-coming franchise has enlisted the help of veteran Paul Pierce to replace the departed Trevor Ariza—and general manager Ernie Grunfeld may not be finished just yet.

In fact, his dream scenario appears to include Pierce's former teammate Ray Allen.

CSNWashington.com's J. Michael reports that, "The team contacted the 39-year-old shooting guard early in the free agent process to gauge his interest in signing, CSNwashington.com has confirmed with two people with knowledge of the situation."

Michael adds that, "Allen can be a valuable role player on the right team and it makes sense for the Wizards to at least put their name in the conversation."

The likelihood Washington can actually land Allen is a separate question altogether.

Among the organization's several hurdles is the fairly significant matter of whether the iconic shooter decides to retire.

"I'm not in any rush [to make a decision]," Allen explained in August, per the Hartford Courant's Dom Amore. "I've played 18 years, and the way I look at my career, I'm content with everything that I've done. I just want to take this summer and see how it goes."

SAN ANTONIO, TX - JUNE 15:  Ray Allen #34 of the Miami Heat drives to the basket against the San Antonio Spurs during Game Five of the 2014 NBA Finals at the AT&T Center on June 15, 2014 in San Antonio, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and
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Amidst belief the 10-time All-Star would follow close friend LeBron James to the Cavaliers, Allen and his camp quickly set the record straight.

"There’s so much speculation about me going to Cleveland," Allen told the Boston Herald's Mark Murphy in August. "I haven’t even decided where I will play. Obviously LeBron and I are great friends, and James Jones and I are really close. But at no point have those two tried to push me in that direction. I haven’t had that conversation."

Those close to Allen reaffirmed that position.

"As Ray has previously stated, he is taking this time to make a decision whether or not he will play next season," agent Jim Tanner said in an August statement, per USA Today Sports. "Any reports otherwise are false."

Assuming the two-time champion puts off retirement for at least another season, Washington then has to somehow prove its Allen's best shot at a third championship. That may be a tall task—especially given the competition.

As one might expect, Allen's suitors are a who's who of the NBA elite.

ESPN.com's Marc Stein reported in August that, "Sources told ESPN.com...that the Spurs and Clippers have emerged as two more rivals for the Cavaliers to worry about as Cleveland continues to try to lure Allen away from the Miami Heat."

SAN ANTONIO, TX - JUNE 15: Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs and Ray Allen #34 of the Miami Heat embrace after the San Antonio Spurs' victory in Game Five and winning the 2014 NBA Finals between the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs at AT&T Center on
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

Stein added that, "The Dallas Mavericks, sources say, are yet another top Western Conference team to register interest in Allen this summer and there are believed to be more teams chasing him that have yet to be identified."

Each of those clubs has plenty to offer Allen, namely the opportunity to join top-shelf talent poised to make a title run. Far as the Wizards have come after five consecutive seasons of missing the playoffs, they've yet to establish themselves as a premier destination for ring chasers.

Could Pierce's presence alter that equation?

That's hard to say. As recently as 2013, Allen indicated that Pierce and former Celtic Kevin Garnett weren't speaking to him.

"As Allen hints at, this is all a bit silly," Yahoo! Sports' Kelly Dwyer wrote at the time. "For Garnett and Pierce to act like Allen terribly wronged them by jumping to the Heat is ridiculous."

Indeed, Allen had been the subject of trade rumors before he left Boston on his own accord. He was simply the first of Boston's stars to see the writing on the wall—to realize the organization was staring down the barrel of an imminent rebuilding process.

It's doubtful Pierce harbors any long-term resentment toward his old friend.

Though he initially admitted back in 2012 that he was "a little bitter" about the exit, according to ESPNBoston.com's Chris Forsberg, Pierce also noted that, "Ray will always be a brother for me. If it wasn't for him, I probably wouldn't be wearing a championship ring. So the things he was able to do for this organization will never be forgotten."

That doesn't sound like the opening salvo of a lifelong grudge.

BOSTON, MA - JANUARY 27:  Paul Pierce #34 of the Boston Celtics and Ray Allen #34 of the Miami Heat look on during the game on January 27, 2013 at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downl
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The opportunity for Pierce and Allen to patch things up as teammates would be a story in its own right. It might not rival LeBron's return home, but it would add some intrigue to an often overlooked franchise.

But there are basketball reasons to like this reunion, too.

The Wizards could use a mentor for 21-year-old shooting guard Bradley Beal, who's sometimes drawn comparisons to Allen. They could also use a scoring spark off an otherwise uninspiring second unit.

Allen averaged a career-low 9.6 points per game last season but converted on 37.5 percent of his three-point attempts. He remained lethal in the postseason and hit a number of timely buckets for a Miami Heat team that advanced to its fourth consecutive NBA Finals appearance.

And as The Washington Post's Jorge Castillo notes, "Adding to the Wizards' need is the fact that backup shooting guard Martell Webster could miss some time after offseason back surgery."

For what Allen could do for the Wizards, the move to Washington would do even more for the Eastern Conference—a conference in desperate need of another legitimate contender and some competitive parity. 

At the moment, the East seems as though it's Cleveland's to lose. The Bulls might post a threat if former MVP Derrick Rose remains healthy and returns to All-Star form. The Heat could even turn some heads if Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh rise to post-LBJ occasion.

Emergent young teams like the Toronto Raptors and Charlotte Hornets are hoping to enter the fray and build upon breakout 2013-14 seasons.

Unfortunately, there's no clear-cut rival to the Cavs' domination in the East. 

OAKLAND, CA - JANUARY 28: Bradley Beal #3 chats with teammate John Wall #2 of the Washington Wizards while facing the Golden State Warriors on January 28, 2014 at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees th
Rocky Widner/Getty Images

Washington could become just that if everything falls in the right place. It will need continued growth from Beal and backcourt partner John Wall. It will need sustained health from big man Nene Hilario and another strong season from center Marcin Gortat. And it will certainly need Pierce—who turns 37 in October—to be as crafty as ever.

Allen's addition might not transform the Wizards into contenders overnight, but it would go a long way toward positioning the franchise to seriously compete with the likes of Cleveland and Chicago.

Improbable as it may be, signing the 18-year veteran would give Washington the kind of depth and winning pedigree that separates great teams from aspiring ones.

The Connecticut product has already cemented his stardom in Milwaukee and Seattle. He's built a championship legacy in Boston and Miami.

Perhaps now's the time to forge a different kind of legacy—leading a young team to do things it's never done before and doing it with an old friend in the process.

Allen's already had his storybook ending. But it's never too late to throw in a little twist.

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