Boston has several choices to make, with few players under contract. But with some cap space for returning players and the recent knowledge that Kevin Garnett is coming back, the C's can be expected to lock up the likes of Brandon Bass and Jeff Green, if Boston wants to keep them.
When it comes to one key player in free agency, though, the situation changes. That's because, with Ray Allen, it's not the usual questions of money and space. Allen will likely have a home in Boston as long as he wants it. The question is whether he wants to stay.
Many teams have been mentioned as interested in Allen, but the leader of the group by far is the Heat. Miami would love to have a 3-point sharpshooter, savvy veteran presence and even some of Allen's old playmaking and defense, if Allen bounces back from surgery to remove bone spurs in his ankle.
Allen, in turn, could forgo the personal advancement and raw cash he could get from other teams with more cap space and join the Heat for another title chase. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh look to have finally found their mojo, and Allen joining the club could be just what the core needs to attract more veterans who will take less money for a chance at greater glory.
But it's really not that easy — the question of championship or not, money or not. If Allen were to sign with Miami, he would leave behind all he's done in Boston. And as the Celtics' Big Three has learned over the past few seasons, having the right pieces does not always guarantee success. Wherever Allen goes would be a gamble.
That's why Allen should keep his stock in the Celtics.
The Heat may have an incredible team, and they may be the odds-on favorite to rule the Eastern Conference for years to come, but they still lack a few of the factors the Celtics have going for them. Allen staying with Boston, however, would be a boon for his legacy and his hopes to win again.
First of all, with Garnett sticking around, the Celtics are in excellent shape to make another title run. They not only won in 2008 behind Garnett, Allen and Paul Pierce, but they were also dominant, and the only thing that kept Boston from finding similar success the next few years was injuries to key players. The Celtics showed this postseason that they were just one Allen ankle or Avery Bradley shoulder away from holding off the Heat, and they're going to be in even better shape in coming years. Bass will develop if he returns, and Green — also pending a return — has yet to show his potential in Celtics green. Fab Melo, Jared Sullinger, JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore are all solid young players waiting to happen. And Pierce and Rajon Rondo? Just a future Hall of Famer still playing hard, and possibly the best point guard in the game continuing to amaze.
Without an injury-shortened season looming over them, and with Doc Rivers and the veterans locked into at least a three-year outlook with Garnett's new deal, this Celtics team can ride its plan of rest and dominance to the postseason again, where passion will take over and make every Eastern Conference game a contest.
While the Celtics offer many reasons to stay, though, there are also drawbacks. Part why Allen may want to leave is that the locker room may be getting too small for him, Rondo and everyone else. If Allen were to return, even for more money than Miami could give, he would see his role seriously diminished, with Bradley earning starter minutes thanks to a body that can do more at this point.
But that's exactly why Allen should stick around. Even Celtics supporters may admit that this team could do just fine without Allen. The C's would miss his 3-point shooting, sure, but having him gone would free up space for others to work. Yet the Celtics want him back, and for good reason — Allen is a team player, and a great presence. He's taken lesser roles for the team before, and he always shows up in key moments and lifts the team with his play or his demeanor, which expects winning. The C's could easily shed his salary and stretch their other pieces, but they're not thinking that way, because they believe as much in the legend and legacy of Allen as they do in his stat sheet.
For that reason, Allen should more than consider staying. He'll never be loved in another city like he will in Boston. In Miami, he'll be an important piece, but he'll be just a piece — and who's to say that he'll make a difference that a Mike Miller couldn't? Allen isn't interested in becoming part of a mill that rolls out championships. He's always been someone who was part of something bigger, and Boston and its banners are hung in a distinctively different way than Miami's.
Competitively, both teams have an excellent chance next year. It's really a matter of preference for Allen. But if he wants to take the high road — as he has been known to do his entire career, from his perfectly picked suits and ties all of the way to his classy on-court play — he'll stick with the team that gave him his first shot at glory.
If he does that, he'll also be staying with a coach and teammates who have been looking out for him all of these years. The locker room may have rifts, but Rivers won't let them tear this group apart. He will look out for Allen personally, with the same intense care he showed at the trade deadline, in a way that a new team never would.
Sentiment doesn't win championships, but true teams do. And as Garnett returns and the Celtics make a good case for contention on paper, Miami no longer looks like the best option for a veteran shooter who wants to go out on top. The key pieces are all still in Boston, and they're bound by a resilience that only comes through adversity and genuine care, from a group that took disparate parts and made it a true unit.
Garnett is attached to this frosty city, and now Allen has a chance to make it synonymous with his name, too. Come free agency, it's in his best interest to remember that, indeed, there's no place like home.