By TIM REYNOLDS AP Basketball Writer
MIAMI (AP) _ Ray Allen was wearing a pair of ski goggles to protect his eyes from the spray of champagne in the Miami Heat locker room last week, and assessed what it was like to be part of another NBA championship celebration.
“It feels right,” Allen said. “This feels right.”
He’s hoping things stay that way next season.
Quickly tying up a loose end for the Heat, Allen exercised his $3.2 million player option Friday to remain with the club next season, when Miami will aim for a third straight NBA title.
He wound up playing a huge role for Miami in this year’s title run, especially by hitting what he described as the biggest shot of his career _ a 3-pointer with 5.2 seconds left in regulation of Game 6 of the NBA Finals against San Antonio, forcing overtime and saving the season.
Teammates, coaches and the Heat front office all made it very clear to Allen that he was wanted back for next season, with Udonis Haslem even stressing that to him as the team showered following the celebration that followed Game 7.
Allen left Miami following the end-of-season team meeting on Tuesday without giving the organization an answer, though didn’t keep people waiting much longer. He could have elected to become a free agent and wound up getting more years and more money in a new deal, and decided to stay with the Heat anyway.
And after this playoff run, he’s already part of team lore.
The Heat were down by three in the final moments of Game 6, and the Spurs were moments away from celebrating a title. Chris Bosh got an offensive rebound and passed the ball to Allen, who was simultaneously stepping back to the 3-point line near the right corner of the floor.
With no time to waste, Allen _ the most prolific 3-point shooter in NBA history _ let the shot fly, and it went through with a perfect swish. The Heat wound up winning in overtime.
“There were so many moments down the stretch that allowed that shot to happen, and just incredible,” Allen said at the team’s parade this week. “So after Game 7, I have to say that is the biggest shot I’ve ever hit in my career.”
Allen turns 38 next month, yet still played in 102 games during the regular season and playoffs for Miami. That was the most appearances by any player in the league this past season.
Allen averaged 10.9 points in the regular season, and 10.2 points in the playoffs.
With the team exercising its option on starting point guard Mario Chalmers, and with Rashard Lewis and James Jones exercising their rights to stay for next season, the next major course of business for the Heat figures to be trying to woo Chris Andersen to stay when he becomes a free agent next week. Teammates believe Andersen, who has remained in Miami since the championship and is working out, wants to return to the Heat next season.
The Heat will also have a large luxury-tax bill next season, though team president Pat Riley said earlier this week that he has not been given a mandate to pare a player like Mike Miller or Joel Anthony to relieve some of that burden. Riley’s hope is to bring the roster back as intact as possible.
Miller also made a memorable 3-pointer for Miami during Game 6 of the finals, connecting early in the fourth quarter moments after losing his left sneaker. Allen said he’ll look back at that shot as one of the best of this year’s run to the title, even though his shot will surely be more remembered.
“That was amazing,” Allen said. “For him to hit that shot, it was incredible.”
Allen signed with the Heat last summer, turning down more years and more money to remain with the Boston Celtics. Allen said earlier this week that he particularly enjoyed the camaraderie in the Heat locker room, especially the “Harlem Shake” video that became a global YouTube sensation midway through the season.
“When I got here, within the first two weeks, I felt like I had been here for two, three years because the guys welcomed me in so warmly,” Allen said. “They’ve been awesome to me.”
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