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Allen’s first option to stay in Boston

By Gary Washburn
Globe Staff / January 26, 2010

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For the second time in five years, Ray Allen is pondering his NBA future. He is a free agent at season’s end and the first of the Big Three whose future will come up for review by the Celtics organization.

Allen is in the final year of a five-year, $85 million deal he signed with Seattle, a career-defining contract consummated during his prime. Allen, 34, is past his prime but remains a productive player who takes immaculate care of his body and could play into his late 30s.

The Celtics will have to determine whether Allen should return and because they would own his Larry Bird rights - if he is not dealt by the Feb. 18 trade deadline - are not financially restricted by the salary cap.

It’s highly unlikely Allen would earn the $19 million he’s making in the final year of his current deal, but he does have market value. He would enter this summer’s free agent bonanza as a second-tier choice behind LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh.

He could be pursued by teams seeking a shooter and a durable player. The Celtics are Allen’s first choice but he realizes the feeling may not be mutual, especially since he will turn 35 during the free agency period in July.

“I would love to be here,’’ Allen said Saturday. “In my mind right now, for me there’s no other place to be. It’s a great tradition. This is really NBA basketball to me, being a part of a team and the tradition of winning, a great fan base. But the situations have to be addressed. There is a business connected to it. The team is going to do what they think is necessary. We’ll have to make a decision based on how they come to me business-wise.’’

It would be bad business for Allen to say he would accept less than the $19 million he earns, but he might have to, and perhaps half that amount. Steve Nash, an All-Star starter this season, took $22 million over two years to remain in Phoenix.

Allen has an affinity for Nash because they came from the same draft class, and their situations could be similar. Nash, 35, was an aging free agent who told the Globe in November he signed because he wanted no part of the so-called 2010 free agent bonanza. Somebody is going to lose, he said. There is going to be an aging player forced to accept a below-market deal because he slipped through the cracks of the spending spree.

Allen doesn’t want to be in that situation, which is why he said he’s ready to agree to an extension now if the Celtics are interested.

“I am a loyalty person. If the opportunity presented itself to get a deal at the current moment as we speak, I would be all over it,’’ said Allen, who is averaging 15.9 points per game. “So moving forward, I don’t have to worry about how the summer is going to go and long term we at least between myself, Kevin [Garnett] and Paul [Pierce], we know we are going to be here, Rasheed [Wallace] and [Rajon] Rondo. You know what the core is going to be.’’

The question the Celtics must address is how long they want to ride the Big Three. Pierce has a $21-million player option for next season, then he could become a free agent. Garnett is signed through 2012. If president Danny Ainge wants to go with the Big Three for two more seasons, he could sign Allen to a two-year, $20 million deal that probably would satisfy both sides.

If Garnett and Allen come off the cap in 2012 - which potentially could free up $31 million - Ainge can formulate a rebuilding plan around Rondo. Allen will be almost 37 after the 2011-12 season and probably would consider a one-year deal or even retirement.

Career security at this point is more important than financial security for Allen. He easily could become a free agent and jump at the highest bidder this summer. But he enjoys Boston, enjoys the intensity of playoff basketball and playing for an organization that expects to win, something that was not always the case in Milwaukee or Seattle, his previous stops.

Allen won’t go as far as saying he will accept a hometown discount, but he doesn’t have a number in mind yet.

“I haven’t thought about it. I have and I haven’t,’’ he said. “It’s really hard to say what the state of this team is going to be by the time July comes and the state of other teams as well. It’s hard to say what it is that I am looking for or what I am potentially capable of getting.

“I’ve made great money in the league. You talk about a market value that’s going to present itself based on what other teams are willing to pay and obviously what situation this team is going to be [and] for me, what they are going to need from me. It doesn’t reveal itself until that time comes, I believe.’’

So now we wait. The Celtics have plenty of time to make a decision and they appear resigned on taking it. Allen is not going to strut into Ainge’s office and demand an extension. He is also capable of waiting. Hopefully the waiting game doesn’t run into July.

“I think we might see how it goes,’’ Allen said. “As much as we’d obviously like to get something done, it is up to the team to feel as though they want to get something taken care of.’’

Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn@globe.com.

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