Anyone who believed this was not Ray Allen's final year with the Boston Celtics had to feel a little queasy watching the shooting guard's emotional postgame news conference Saturday. Allen's post mortem to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals had the feel of a farewell, with the future Hall of Famer appearing to come close to breaking down more than once at the podium.
Unless Allen and the Celtics truly are intent on parting ways, though, it is not a sure thing that he will be playing elsewhere next season. At this juncture of his career, the 36-year-old free agent presumably would value winning as much as money and playing time, so it stands to reason that Allen would favor landing with a contender or at least a playoff team.
The payroll complications run deep in New York and Miami, two of Allen's preferred destinations, according to a report. In leaving the comfort of Boston, Allen would also need to agree to a huge pay cut from his $10 million salary this season.
That is happening anyway, of course. Allen and Kevin Garnett, who earned a reported $21 million this season, will each need to play at a significant discount for an NBA team to give them even a one-year deal. But the limitations with the Knicks and Heat are more significant than most. The Knicks are guaranteed to be well over the salary cap next season and will have to massage a mathematical near-miracle just to keep breakout star Jeremy Lin. New York's limit reportedly would be the $1.4 million minimum for veterans with Allen's service time. The Heat are believed to be able to offer more, but they have their own payroll restrictions with close to $80 million tied up for next year.
This is where a team such as the Clippers, who are still unsure of what they want to do about free agent Chauncey Billups, may come in. Los Angeles figures to be right around luxury tax territory again once they re-sign or replace free agents Randy Foye, Nick Young, Reggie Evans, Kenyon Martin, Bobby Simmons and Billups, but their payroll concerns should not be as constrictive as New York's. Allen could be bound for Hollywood if he agrees to a figure around the $2 million Billups received from the Clippers after the Knicks amnestied him prior to the season.
At such a substantial decrease in pay, though, it is reasonable to wonder what Allen would gain by leaving Boston. The Celtics have money to spend, although they will use it up quickly by filling their 10 empty roster spots. Allen may not demand the respect, or the shots, elsewhere that he would receive with the Celtics, even in a reined-in role behind Avery Bradley.
In such a case, the decision could lie with the team. In Bradley, E'Twaun Moore and possibly free agent Mickael Pietrus, the Celtics could be three-deep at shooting guard before Allen is even prepared to begin formal negotiations. That could signal that the team is prepared to move on from the new Big Three era.
Until free agents can begin signing contracts July 11, speculation will continue surrounding Allen. The most accomplished 3-point shooter in NBA history should have suitors, provided he is willing to take less money and intends to lace up the sneakers for at least another year.