Ray Allen's decision to sign with the Miami Heat wound up being a win/win for all parties. (Issac Baldizon/Getty Images)
By Ben Golliver
Not every divorce needs to be someone's fault. Splits can be amicable and mutually beneficial, and assigning blame isn't a mandatory part of every dissolution.
That should be the lesson that we take from the split between the Celtics and guard Ray Allen, who helped push Boston to the 2008 title before signing with the archrival Heat as a free agent this summer. Unfortunately, that's not the lesson anyone is pushing.
The Celtics haven't gone easy on Allen over the last few months. Kevin Garnett told reporters at Media Day that he no longer had Allen's number and that he was "not trying to communicate" with his former teammate. Paul Pierce called Allen's decision "very surprising" and noted that Allen could have chosen to play anywhere. Rajon Rondo has referred to Allen as "that guy" in an interview. Coach Doc Rivers has expressed disappointment in how Allen's departure "went down." At least one Boston-area media member is actively encouraging Celtics fans to boo Allen. With rumors of tension last season between Rondo, the franchise's face, and Allen, the new outcast, it's totally natural for Celtics fans to take sides against their former two guard, especially when he's catching flak from seemingly all directions. But should they?
Allen, a fearless competitor, wasn't about to lay down in the face of all of that noise. Indeed, SportsRadioInterviews.com has a transcript of Allen putting forth a strong response to upset Celtics fans on a recent interview with Miami's WMEN.
“Well it was just really a shame because on one hand you could say so many great things about me as a player and my impact on the floor, and not only on the floor but off the floor, like we did so many great things in the community — not only as a team, but as individuals — and that was my community and I support it as much as I could. We had some foundation initiatives that we still continue to do, so that doesn’t change me. It was a business decision and the team put me in the position where we had to move. We had to go. Miami was a better choice for us based on what the team was doing, so it wasn’t, don’t boo me, boo the team in a sense. Now it’s out of my control.
"When this contract situation came down, everybody in my circle — mom, family, brother, sister, friends from college, people who watched me since I was in high school and since I was in college — nobody wanted me to resign in that situation because they thought, ‘There [is] so much left in you and this team isn’t taking care of you or treating you right.’ That’s the way I felt and it was like, if you are going to come and not put out a good contract on the table then, hey, we gotta think about going somewhere else.”
There's no downplaying the tension between the Celtics and the Heat, not after Miami edged past Boston in an epic 2012 Eastern Conference finals, booting Rivers' boys from the postseason for the second consecutive year. This is a tense, layered situation, but it doesn't need to get personal next season.
It must be stated: it's totally understandable that the Celtics would want to move away from Allen for basketball and health-related reasons. Trying to convince Rondo to bend in some way to Allen, if there was indeed friction, makes little sense from a long-term planning perspective. It's Rondo's show from here on out; everyone else needs to fit in around him and expecting different chemistry results from a core group that's been together as long as the Celtics' is illogical. Whatever was festering behind the scenes wasn't going to go away next year, not with Miami still remaining in Boston's path, not with Rondo's star rising, and not with Allen, now 37, continuing to age.
There was also the ankle injury that limited Allen's productivity and mobility last year and required immediate surgery this offseason. The Celtics had just weathered a season full of injuries; bringing back Allen carried a real risk that next season could end in a similar manner. Paying him big to return would have crimped their abilities to add quality depth to their backcourt as well.
From Allen's end, this can't be written off as a selfish money grab. After making $10 million last season, he left a significant chunk of change on the table to join the Heat, signing a 2-year deal worth $6.3 million after he reportedly passed on a 2-year deal worth $12 million from Boston. While more generous than Miami's offer, Boston's still represented a major pay cut for a productive veteran to take simply to maintain his status quo situation. In Miami, Allen could make up the difference with a better chance at a ring, a less demanding role minutes-wise, easier opportunities to get wide open jumpers (his specialty), and all the perks that go with living and playing in Florida. For a player who already has $178 million in NBA salary to his name, the decision makes all the sense in the world from his side. If things weren't truly perfect in Boston, what was holding him back?
Just as there's no legitimate complaint to be found in his thought process, there's no faulting Allen for the execution of his move, even if it initially came off as shocking. Shortly after signing a two-year, mini-mid level contract with the Heat in July, he made a point of taking out an ad in the Boston Globe thanking Celtics fans. While not the most unique gesture in the world, it was a typically classy move and a clear olive branch to a fan base known for its knowledge and passion. Allen, who had sought a new deal from the Celtics well before last summer's free agency period, clearly did his part, both in trying to make this thing work and in pursuing a proper exit.
So far, we can see both sides. Boston's plans didn't center around Allen as they once did and they couldn't afford to let negotiations with him get extremely expensive, not given his questionable health situation and not with Garnett, Pierce, and Rondo drawing eight-figure salaries, plus Jeff Green waiting on what would become a big payday. Allen's plans also didn't center around Boston as they once did, not with the reported locker room and with Miami's total package looming as a very appealing alternative. Once he did decide to go a different direction, Allen wasn't a jerk about it. In fact, quite the opposite.
There's still one additional layer to add to this: the Celtics erased any reason for bitterness by moving quickly and smartly to replace Allen. In fact, not only didn't the Celtics get left high and dry, it's fair to say they actually upgraded at his position. Yes, it came at a cost: $15.7 million over three years for Jason Terry and $21.4 million over four years for Courtney Lee. But that pair makes so much sense on this roster. Terry fills in Allen's experience and leadership skills while adding shot-creating abilities. Lee brings some younger legs and a physical, defensive element that Boston's backcourt lacked last year. He can shoot it a bit, too. Once Avery Bradley returns from a shoulder injury, the Celtics will have one of the league's best four-man guard rotations. What a great way to set up a future supporting cast for Rondo and what a great way to bury any lingering resentment towards Allen.
Other than the visceral emotions that will come with seeing Allen in a Heat uniform for the first time, the Celtics and their fans now have every reason to move forward. Allen doesn't deserve to be booed, not when you consider the situation facing him and Boston's sharp response to his departure. Allen's suggestion that the fans should boo the team doesn't hold much water either: Boston's management did just fine. All parties seem to have benefited by this summer's series of events, everyone should go home happy, and no one deserves to be booed here. OK, scratch that slightly. The Heat, as the defending champions and two-time Celtics vanquishers, still deserve the full wrath of the TD Garden crowd. But singling out Allen for his membership is just unnecessarily vindictive. Let the man live, Boston, and get back to focusing on how to dethrone his team in the seemingly inevitable 2013 East finals showdown.