When Ray Allen, then a free agent, left the Celtics to sign with the defending champion Heat in 2012, he was roasted by self-righteous fans and tweaked by his former Boston teammates. Just a year later, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce -- two of the most demonstrative Celtics in the judgment of Allen's exodus -- left the team by their own accord, defaulting on the very standard they had set for Allen and themselves.
All of which led LeBron James -- per a report from Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com on Thursday -- to make a valid objection to the tact with which those former Celtics handled Allen's choice to leave the team:
“I think the first thing I thought was, ‘Wow, Ray got killed for leaving Boston, and now these guys are leaving Boston,’” James said. “I think it’s OK; I didn’t mind it. But there were a couple guys who basically [expletive] on Ray for leaving, and now they’re leaving.
“That’s the nature of our business, man. I don’t know what Boston was going through at the end of the day. I know Ray had to make the best decision for him and his family and his career. Doc, KG and Paul did that as well. You can’t criticize someone who does something that’s best for their family.”
According to Ken Berger of CBS Sports, Garnett's response when prompted by reporters on Thursday was simple and direct: "Tell LeBron to worry about Miami. He has nothing to do with Celtic business."
Per Mike Mazzeo of ESPN New York, Pierce played coy on the matter:
"I left Boston?" Pierce said when asked of James' comments, clearly noting he had been dealt by the Celtics and didn't leave as a free agent.
Pierce can certainly play that card, though his deflection isn't a particularly accurate representation of reality. According to first-hand quotes from his own introductory press conference (via Tim Bontemps of the New York Post), it was Pierce that had to push Garnett on the prospect of joining Brooklyn in the first place.
“Being able to build something,” [Pierce] said after yesterday’s press conference introducing the three newest Nets. “The bones of this, to be able to play with Deron Williams and Brook Lopez, Joe Johnson. … I feel like this was one of the better opportunities I’ve had since I’ve been in the league.”
...“I talked to Jason Kidd, and he was warming me to the [possibility] of coming to Brooklyn,” Pierce said. “Then he started warming me to the fact that they were trying to get Kevin, too. That’s when I called Kevin and asked what he thought about coming to Brooklyn.
“Kevin immediately started asking about, ‘What pieces are they going to give up? What’s going to be left? Will it be possible to win a championship?’ He was excited when I talked to him, just for the opportunity to win a championship and play next to a young prospect like Brook Lopez, who he could take to the next level.”
Pierce took ownership of that fact when he was introduced as a Net, though now implies that the choice to leave Boston wasn't his. That walk-back might be enough to smooth things over with some of the Boston faithful, but Pierce is working against his own quoted word. Garnett's case is even more egregious, as he was one of the few players in the league with a no-trade clause built into his contract. If he had so chosen, Garnett could have blocked any trade that would have shipped him from Boston, making him a functional partner in the trade's negotiations. Yet after some convincing from Pierce, Garnett waived the right to veto this deal -- and to actually follow through on his February declaration that he wanted to “retire a Celtic.”
In principle, there's nothing wrong with any of this; Pierce and Garnett both chose to leave a good team for a far better one, just as Allen did last summer. This is all well within the rules, and well understood considering that professional athletes have limited opportunity to chase a championship. But James is right to point out the hypocrisy there, if only because Allen's former Celtics teammates had responded so bitterly upon his decision to sign with the Heat.
At Boston’s 2012 Media Day, Garnett told reporters that he lost Ray Allen’s phone number and that he “[wasn't] trying to communicate” with his former teammate. When the Celtics and Heat played in November, Allen famously attempted to high-five Garnett, only to receive a cold shoulder and be completely ignored.
Pierce, meanwhile, said that he was “very surprised” that Allen left and that the decision “definitely hurts,” saying in April that he still wasn’t ready to talk to Allen about it. Finally, former Celtics head coach Doc Rivers opined that Allen “absolutely” made the wrong choice, that Allen had wanted a bigger role on offense and that Allen was “bothered” by the fact that he didn’t start for Boston in his final season there. One year later, Rivers -- who still had three years left under contract with the Celtics -- engineered his own exit from Boston after admitting that he didn’t have the stomach for a rebuild.