Free Agent Stock Watch: Ray Allen

Ray Allen‘s offseason stands as a reminder that probable outcomes don’t always come true. A report in June indicated that he was leaning toward returning for another season and that he wanted to continue playing alongside LeBron James. That pointed to a return to the Heat, who kept the NBA’s all-time leading three-point maker in their plans. Once James bolted to the Cavs, it sent the league for a spin, and perhaps no player felt the dizzying effects as much as Allen did.

The Cavaliers reportedly began their pursuit of the 18-year veteran even before James made his choice to return to Cleveland. Mike Miller started recruiting Allen to come north as the Heat renounced their rights to Allen and used their cap space on others, leaving Miami only the minimum salary to offer. Multiple reports indicated that Allen had begun to lean toward the Cavs, but he put the brakes on that idea, dismissing not only the idea that he preferred Cleveland but raising doubt about whether he’d play at all this coming season.

That sort of back-and-forth suggests that Allen is torn about his next course of action. As he told Don Amore of the Hartford Courant this weekend, he has nothing left to prove after breaking the all-time record for three-pointers made and winning two NBA championships. He’s headed for the Hall-of-Fame sooner or later. He nonetheless remained a productive player this past season even as he stared down his 39th birthday, which took place last month. Returning for another season would allow Allen to put his three-point record further out of reach and chase one more ring, alluring draws for any competitor.

Allen’s 37.5% three-point accuracy fell below his career mark of 40% for the first time in four years this past season, but he shot just 36.3% from long range in 2009/10 and bounced back with new career highs in three-point percentage in each of the next two seasons. A more disconcerting stat from last season is his 12.8 PER, the sort of number that’s usually the domain of below-average NBA players. It was the worst PER that Allen had ever recorded, and teams considering him for more than the minimum salary might worry that his efficiency will suffer another decline.

The Jim Tanner client seemingly rebuffed the idea that he’s only worth the minimum at this point in his career during a conversation a few days ago with Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald. The Cavs and Heat can offer only the minimum, and Cleveland, with rookie head coach David Blatt, doesn’t appear to fit Allen’s preference for a veteran coach, unless he’s willing to count Blatt’s experience overseas.

A dozen NBA teams can give Allen no more than the minimum, as the Lakers have since joined those ranks since I compiled this list last month. The only teams that employ a coach with more than a season of NBA head coaching experience and have more than the minimum salary to spend are the Pistons, Rockets, Pelicans, Magic, Spurs, Raptors, Thunder and Timberwolves. Minnesota can offer just about $100K more than the minimum with the partial amount of its mid-level left over from its deal with Mo Williams, and the Thunder would be unlikely to spend more than the minimum on Allen since they’re bumping up against the luxury tax. The Raptors are flirting with the tax line, too, so they might be similarly hesitant.

That leaves just five teams capable of meeting Allen’s preferences, and only Houston and San Antonio among them are within hailing distance of a title. The Spurs could throw their entire $5.305MM mid-level exception at him if they see fit, while the Rockets could come within about $500K of matching that. Both teams have made three-point shooting a premium over the years, so Allen would fit that bill.

The Rockets would seemingly make more sense, stung as they are from an offseason that didn’t go as hoped and without a logical backup to James Harden. The Spurs have plenty of depth, but they’re closer to the title, a factor that Allen surely wouldn’t dismiss. The team-oriented culture of San Antonio might hold appeal as well, but Houston appears to be in a position of greater need and perhaps greater willingness to make a more lucrative offer, though that’s just my speculation.

Allen said to Murphy that it would take a “perfect storm scenario” for him to play this season, and while the conditions in Texas seem ripe for clouding his thoughts of retirement, the most likely outcome at the moment suggests that Allen has played his final game. But, as we’ve learned from following him this summer, there’s no safe bet.

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