Before we dive into the Ray Allen trade rumors, let’s start with a premise: The Celtics don’t want to trade him for two reasons.
First, they already know that their starting five can win a championship. Yes, things have changed since 2007-08, but there is comfort in that knowledge, and any move involving Allen — no matter how new and shiny the pieces appear to be — will take time for the whole thing to work.
Second, if the Celtics don’t trade Allen and if the Celtics begin to gel over the last 33 games of the season they can, at least in theory, work out an extension for Allen. That would, A) save them money in the long run, and B) keep their core intact through 2012, when they can reassess the team after Kevin Garnett and Rasheed Wallace’s contracts expire and a new collective bargaining agreement is in place.
Granted, that’s a whole lot of ifs — especially a new CBA, which could become an ugly fight — but there are reasons why Danny Ainge has publicly hedged on the prospect of trading Allen.
The best scenario, both in the short term and long term, is for Allen to rediscover his shooting stroke and for the Celtics to rediscover their old formula for success.
As with any trade deadline, the smoke and mirrors are beginning to get a little thick. But if you slice through the innuendo, Ainge has been quite clear about what it would take to move Allen. He has said time and again that he would only do it if the move makes the Celtics better now, and in the future.
Of the names that have been floated, there are two that would actually make sense under those parameters: Kevin Martin and Andre Iguodala.
Of the two, only Martin has been linked to the Celtics. CBS Sports' Ken Berger threw Martin’s name out there over the weekend, and while Iguodala has been more closely tied to rumors involving the Suns and Amar’e Stoudemire, he also is an intriguing player.
Let’s take them one at a time.
Martin is a 27-year-old shooting guard in his sixth season with the Kings. Despite possessing one of the most unorthodox shots in the game, he is a tremendous offensive player and a dangerous shooter from long range.
The Pros: In addition to his shooting ability, Martin has developed into a well-rounded and efficient scorer. He has posted True Shooting percentages (defined as a measure of shooting efficiency that takes into account field goals, 3-point field goals, and free throws) over .600 the last few seasons, and he gets to the line about 7.5 times per 36 minutes. In other words, he’s not just a long-range gunner.
The Cons: Martin’s defense has never been described as good. At 6-foot-7 and a listed weight of 185 pounds, he can be pushed around by bigger and stronger guards. However, it’s worth noting that Martin has never played in a defensive system like the Celtics'.
Allen’s defense, for example, has been better in Boston than anywhere else, while Paul Pierce, to cite another example, has adapted to Tom Thibodeau’s system and has been justifiably lauded for his work in that area.
Contrary to popular opinion, NBA players do play defense when it’s expected and when they are held accountable. As a practical matter, Martin’s length could be an asset in getting in the way of passing lanes.
There is one other issue with Martin — he’s only played in 80 games once in his six seasons. He has missed 84 games over the last three years, including 32 games this season with a wrist injury. Martin’s shooting percentages also have tailed off this season.
He told the Sacramento Bee, “I’m relaxed, but I think I left my shot on the surgeon’s table.” He was smiling when he said it, according to the Bee, but it is a concern.
By contrast, Allen has missed only 92 games in his entire 13-season career and just 12 over the last three seasons with the Celtics.
The Contract: Martin is signed through the 2013 season and will make over $36 million in the three seasons following this one. Any deal for Allen would have to include other players.
Deal Time: Utilizing ESPN’s Trade Machine, there are three Kings who could make the math work in a 2-for-1 deal: Beno Udrih, Andres Nocioni and Kenny Thomas.
Nocioni has been linked to the Celtics in the past, although Ainge quickly shot down a rumored deal involving the Sixers, Kings and Celtics earlier this season. Perhaps some form of that could be revived, although that’s getting ahead of things.
Nocioni is signed through 2012 with a team option for 2013, while Udrih also is signed through 2012 with a player option for 2013. Both make over $6 million annually, and that’s a lot of time and money for solid pieces but hardly core players. Thomas is the only one of the three with an expiring contract.
The word out of Sacramento is that the Kings are in no rush to break up the Martin-Tyreke Evans experiment. The backcourt duo hasn’t produced immediate dividends, but the Kings have time on their side to see if it will work, and Geoff Petrie, the Kings president of basketball operations, isn’t known as a rash decision-maker.
There has been talk that the only way the Kings would consider moving Martin is for a young big man. The Celtics simply don’t have that kind of player on their roster outside of Kendrick Perkins, and he’s presumably not going anywhere.
There would probably have to be a third team thrown into the mix to make this work … and that’s where things get complicated.
Just an idle thought, but would the Timberwolves be inclined to put Al Jefferson out there if they decide that he and Kevin Love can’t co-exist, making Jefferson the draft pick that keeps on giving?
The Verdict: There are a lot of moving pieces to this particular puzzle and it still remains to be seen if the Kings are even interested in moving Martin at all. While Martin would be an ideal fit for Allen’s position on offense, there are serious questions about his defense and durability.
It’s a longshot, but from a talent perspective, it’s in the ballpark.
The Sixers have a problem, and it’s not named Andre Iguodala.
Their problem is that they have too many other players signed to long-term contracts they haven’t earned. Their problem is that they are not a very good team and fan interest has reached the apathy level.
At the very least, this Sixers team should put to rest the lie that a player like Allen Iverson sells tickets. Winning sells tickets. Fading legends sell out the first game, but after that, it’s back to business as usual.
So, the Sixers are looking to bail on this sinking ship, and while they have other players they would love to move first — Sam Dalembert and Elton Brand primarily — Iguodala is the one that generates the interest.
The Pros: It’s not Iguodala’s fault that he is among the "very good but not quite great" class of player. It’s not his fault that the Sixers gave him a contract that they almost immediately regretted in the context of all their other bad deals. It’s not even his fault that he has a revisionist nickname: The other A.I.
For all his perceived faults, Iguodala is a well-rounded and indestructible player. He scores, rebounds, passes and defends as well as anyone at his position, just not better than anyone. He has also missed just six games in his career while averaging better than 38 minutes a night. There’s a lot to like about him.
The Cons: Iguodala is not a very good shooter. His 3-point percentage for his career is a pedestrian .323, which means that the Celtics would have to adjust their offensive philosophy to accommodate him.
Iguodala has also bounced around quite a bit between the 2 and 3 position and has been more effective as an undersized small forward in the past, although that seems less pronounced this season.
The Contract: Iguodala is signed through 2013 with a player option for 2014. He is scheduled to make about $56 million over the next for years.
Let’s Deal: As with Martin, there would have to be other pieces involved. The Sixers would undoubtedly like to package Dalembert, who has another year left on his deal that will pay him over $12 million in 2011, but he’s been available for years with no takers in sight.
Two other Sixers could make this work in a 2-for-1: Lou Williams and Jason Kapono. Williams is signed through 2013, but at a reasonable rate for a player who is just coming into his own. Kapono has another year after this left of his contract, and while he certainly would be an asset as a shooter, there might be blood on the walls in Waltham if he played his usual brand of no defense.
The Verdict: Iguodala has been primarily linked to Phoenix, who has its own unhappy player to deal with in Stoudemire. Assuming the Suns are willing to take on Iguodala’s contract, that makes too much sense for it not to work.
One would also have to wonder if the Sixers would be inclined to mover their best player to their long-standing rival, but there’s not a whole lot that makes sense with the Sixers right now.
The hard truth is that neither Iguodala nor Martin would be the ideal replacement for Allen. The ideal replacement would be Ray Allen, circa 2008-09, and that’s where Ainge has a decision to make.
Because of their injuries, the Celtics have not had a full evaluation period to assess this team properly. (Ironically, Allen is the only one of the Big Three who has not missed time.)
What Ainge has seen over the course of 49 games is a team that hasn’t been able to establish homecourt, hasn’t won against elite squads and hasn’t established any kind of consistency, or even an identity.
The problem is, the time for evaluation is just about over. The trading deadline is looming on Feb. 18 and the Celtics will play just two more games before that date.
It’s a gamble either way. If Ainge decides that Allen and the Celtics can rediscover their old formula, he doesn’t have a lot of proof to support that claim beyond past history.
If he decides to make a move, there will be the short-term ramifications in terms of playing style and long-term ramifications in terms of the team’s financial picture.
Your move, Danny. Or not.