He could have shaken Danny Ainge’s hand last spring, thanked him for four good years in green and moved on to another city and another challenge. The Celtics were coming off a truncated season, a lockout was looming, and exit visas seemed possible for several players. But Ray Allen has been around the league long enough — 15 seasons with another starting on Sunday — to know when he’s comfortably situated.
‘‘We’ve all been on bad teams,’’ said the 36-year-old Allen, who endured half a dozen losing seasons in Milwaukee and Seattle before he arrived here. ‘‘When you understand what it’s like to be on a good team you don’t want to throw that away.’’
So less than a month after the season ended in Miami, Allen exercised his option to play on Causeway Street for another year at $10 million before anyone began wondering whether he’d return. ‘‘I didn’t even know he had an option to come back,’’ said captain Paul Pierce. ‘‘But I wasn’t surprised that he’s here.’’
Allen knew there was no guarantee that he wouldn’t be sent elsewhere amid a roster shuffle. Rajon Rondo was on the block once the lockout ended. And Glen Davis, who’d come to Boston at the same time as Allen, was dealt to Orlando.
‘‘I signed my contract, I expect to be here,’’ Allen said. ‘‘If anything happens, if I get traded, I still have an opportunity to play basketball. So when I chose to exercise my option to come back it basically gave me certainty for the time being, knowing I’m going to be here. But as business starts anything can happen.’’
Allen learned that on the day he was drafted out of UConn as the fifth overall pick in 1996, when Minnesota immediately sent him and Andrew Lang to Milwaukee for the rights to Stephon Marbury. Then, after more than a half dozen productive years with the Bucks, Allen was moved to Seattle as part of a five-player package.
‘‘I told myself that was the last time I would allow myself to feel comfortable because anything can happen,’’ he said. ‘‘You think you’re not tradeable but every player in this league is tradeable. So when I got here I wasn’t comfortable thinking that I’m here for the rest of my career. Every year you’ve got to come in here with a chip on your shoulder knowing that you’ve got to continue to be in the best shape and always work on your game. At any moment anything can change.’’
So Allen, who always has been religious about his offseason training, amped it up during the summer and fall, lifting weights and running, and came to camp ready to hit the gas on opening day. Having lived through the 1999 lockout, when some players returned from the layoff looking like Jabba the Hutt, Allen was determined to stay in game shape. ‘‘I didn’t want to be that guy who comes back and people look at you and say, man, I saw so-and-so and he’s looking bad,’’ he said.
Last week, after a four-hour practice session, Allen still was out beyond the arc, swishing 3-pointers. ‘‘He’s definitely been my inspiration, just the way he’s been consistently great even at his age of 42,’’ Pierce said, winking. ‘‘It’s amazing. He’s just a genetic wonder.’’
Since he had his ankles renovated before being dealt to Boston in 2007 Allen has missed only 16 regular-season games. In his last two seasons he played a team-high 160 of 164, averaging more than 35 minutes.
‘‘When I first came into the league I didn’t know what it was that I would do with this game so I said I want to be a guy that you can count on every day,’’ Allen said. ‘‘I looked at Cal Ripken because he had the record. I said, ‘OK, I can do that. I can be somebody who comes to work every day and is ready to play.’ ’’
Since he came into the league Allen, who last season set the NBA record for career 3-pointers, has started all but four of the 1,102 regular-season games in which he played plus all 110 in the playoffs and is coming off a career year in both field-goal (.491) and three-point (.444) percentages. So Doc Rivers isn’t expecting anything different this time.
‘‘This year? The ball continues to go in,’’ the coach said early in camp. ‘‘We just need to have him keep shooting like Ray and we have to keep using him in that way. Defensively we have to load up and help him more. That’s a small change. But other than that, Ray’s the best shooter in this league.’’
Given the cram-jammed season, with 20 back-to-back games and an eight-games-in-13 days road stretch in mid-March, Rivers likely will have to be judicious about minutes with four starters who are 33 or older. That won’t bother Allen. ‘‘I don’t necessarily worry about the minutes,’’ he said. ‘‘The minutes will determine themselves based on who you’re playing. Ultimately, I want to be available. I think that’s the No. 1 key.’’
What Allen knows is that he’ll still be in the game alongside Pierce and Rondo and Kevin Garnett when the game is on the line. ‘‘One thing I’ve learned is, the other players know who they hate to see on the floor,’’ he said. ‘‘It doesn’t matter who starts the game or who comes in off the bench. The fourth quarter is the biggest compliment.’’
Allen has had his number called during crunch time ever since he arrived here. He could have tested the market and possibly received a fatter contract, but it made sense to him to stay put.
‘‘I don’t need somebody to pat me on the back and say what a great job I did,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s a team sport and I appreciate being able to help the team win. When it came down to contract negotiations I didn’t need to be courted. I didn’t need anybody to tell me how great I am or how much they could use me because I know what my worth is. I know what I can do and I believe at this stage of the game there’s nobody like me.’’
The Celtics believe that as well, which is why you didn’t hear about Allen being shopped around after the lockout ended. Without the Big Three there’s no chance of their winning an 18th title this season and with the roster’s advanced aggregate age, this likely is the last chance. ‘‘Our window is closing, no doubt about that,’’ acknowledged Rivers. ‘‘We have to win this year.’’
Whether or not he earns a second ring, Allen’s résumé and long-range sharpshooting likely will guarantee him a job somewhere next year if he wants one. ‘‘I think Ray achieved his goal of winning a title,’’ says CSN New England analyst and former coach Tom Heinsohn, who retired at 30 with eight rings. ‘‘He’s got an enviable personal record. What more is there to accomplish? I’m sure he doesn’t want to go to the Clippers or someplace like that. I’m sure he doesn’t want to go through the whole growing process with a new team. So I think a lot would depend on how the Celtics deal with him and where he thinks his legs are at.’’
What Allen wants to be is ‘impactful’. ‘‘I don’t want to be sitting on somebody’s bench just hanging on, collecting a paycheck,’’ he said. If it’s up to him, he’ll go out a Celtic. ‘‘Obviously I want to end my career here,’’ he said. ‘‘It seems only fitting.’’
However it ends, Allen’s career already has been several years longer than he’d hoped for, with an Olympic gold medal for an ornament. ‘‘When you retire you look back at it and say, wow, what a blessing it was to do what I’ve done for the amount of years that I did it, to get paid the amount of money that I did, to be able to take care of a lot of people in my life and to travel around the world,’’ he said.
‘‘I don’t see why guys would have any animosity once they finish. We’re all playing a game. That’s the beautiful part about it. We get to enjoy playing this game.’’John Powers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.