The river of bad blood flows from Causeway Street to Biscayne Boulevard, a current strengthened by startling animosity between the Celtics and Ray Allen that swells by the day. Allen helped Boston win a championship, helped them advance to two NBA Finals, helped restore credibility to a franchise that in the years since Larry Bird retired had devolved into an NBA laughingstock (a brief, Antoine Walker-Paul Pierce fueled run in 2002 notwithstanding). Yet, as the Celtics prepare to open the season in Miami on Tuesday night, the relationship between Allen and his former team is completely broken.
Boston has disavowed Allen, branded him a traitor and sworn to move on. In interviews, Rajon Rondo has referred to Allen as "that guy" and "No. 20" while Kevin Garnett has deadpanned that he no longer has Allen's phone number. On Friday, Celtics coach Doc Rivers intimated in a radio interview that Allen didn't put the team first last season. When asked why Allen defected to Miami, Rivers said, "I think it was ego more than anything else."
No matter how Boston spins it, a big reason Allen left a two-year, $12 million offer from the Celtics on the table to sign a three-year, $9 million deal with the Heat is a fractured relationship with Rondo. Allen traces the break back to 2009, when Boston considered trading Allen and Rondo to Phoenix, in part, according to Allen, because of Rondo's poor relationship with Rivers and Celtics president Danny Ainge.
"So, I called him and I told him, 'Hey, they're supposedly trading us to Phoenix because you and Danny and Doc don't get along,' " Allen told the Miami Herald. "So, for some reason, I guess he thought that I had something against him, or there were some issues. And I had no issues with him. I won with him."
From there the relationship soured -- quickly. When Allen arrived in Boston in 2007, Rondo was a wide-eyed, second-year player eager to learn. He followed Allen around and studied his meticulous pregame routine. Yet as the years went by and Rondo's role with the team increased, the two drifted apart and the animosity grew. Sources say Rondo's rapid ascension irked Allen, and that as the relationship deteriorated, Allen felt the fallout was spilling onto the court. According to sources, at least once last season the two had to be separated in the locker room because Allen believed Rondo was intentionally looking him off.
Certainly there were other reasons for Allen's departure. Rivers stripped Allen of his starting spot last April and gave it to Avery Bradley, a defensive-minded guard who had developed strong chemistry with Rondo. And Boston nearly trading him to Memphis at the deadline last March didn't sit well with Allen. But throughout the organization it was understood the relationship between Allen and Rondo was beyond repair.
"It's pretty simple," said a source close to the team. "They hated each other. And there was no way Ray was coming back as long as he [Rondo] was there."
The Celtics care less about losing Allen than they do about where he went. Boston signed Jason Terry and Courtney Lee in the offseason, two players who will have little problem coming off the bench behind Bradley when Bradley recovers from shoulder surgery. If Allen had fled to Dallas, Portland or the Clippers, many in the Celtics' organization would have wished him a fond farewell. It's that he moved to Miami, Boston's archrival, the team standing in the way of a championship, that stings.
Allen will help Miami, and everyone in Boston knows it. The Heat made Allen their No. 1 priority this offseason for a reason. No, Allen won't start, won't run around as many screens as he used to, won't have as many plays called for him. But his presence -- he shot a career-best 45.3 percent from three-point range last season -- will open up driving lanes for LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, will give Chris Bosh another shooter to pass to out of the post and will give Miami a trailer on the fast break who can make a transition three.
Plainly put, even at 37, Allen still brings a lot to the table.
"It's amazing to see Ray Allen," Wade said. "He's still athletic in a sense. He can still get up and dunk the ball. He can still do a lot of things around the basket."
Soon, the stories about Allen and Rondo will pass, and the focus will return to basketball. Allen prefers it that way. He will return to Boston with the Heat in January, where he should receive a video montage and a hero's welcome from the fans of a team he helped resuscitate. From there, it will be just two teams chasing the same prize. Allen is gone, but the competition with Rondo is just getting started.