Since the Miami Heat's signing (technically, verbal agreement for you eternal optimists out there) of Ray Allen, clubhouse and fanatical parallels between the Boston Celtics and Boston Red Sox have never been clearer, at least not in recent memory.
From the clubhouse, whispers of Ray Allen's shortly chronicled but thought to be lengthily existent riff with Rajon Rondo have penetrated rumor mills and blogospheres around Boston. Finger pointing at Doc Rivers and Danny Ainge have many of us wondering how closely-knit was this 2011-2012 Celtics team? A team that inspired many of us greatly, perhaps the most entertaining team purely from a basketball aspect ever since the arrival of Ray Allen, is now in the white-hot spotlight of psychoanalysis ironically after its memorable playoff run.
Many of us wonder how much distance was between now Miami Heat assassin Ray Allen (still painful to say it) and the rest of his former Boston teammates. Whether you are on Ray's side or not at this point, the question of how one could naturally remain "Ubuntu" so to speak with his teammates and just a month later join the team that decimated their hopes of achieving the ultimate basketball dream still arises. Report after report churns out to leak of Ray's next complaint, whether it be of his distrust of Ainge and his trigger happy ways (at least in the mind of Ray Allen, that is) or of his disappointment in Doc Rivers' negligence to what Ray felt was a career that earned him a right to retain his starting job.From the fans, screams of Judas Shuttlesworth and Benedict Allen ring through the streets -- or rather the blogosphere -- a mere day after Ray Allen decided to betray his teammates, his coach and the (no longer his) fans of Boston in going to the Miami Heat.
But while some of the apparent smear-campaign of Ray Allen may be overblown -- Johnny Damon's decision cannot ultimately compare to Ray's and the 2011-12 Celtics' clubhouse was much better than that of the 2011 Red Sox -- I can't help but feel there is some truth to it. For a man who served us five great years and was continually touted as a classic professional, I just find it hard to believe that the immediate backbite fest that we're seeing doesn't hold some truth behind it.
I'll go through my major disagreements, both with sentiments from Ray and fans defending Ray, piece by piece.
1) Is Rajon Rondo tough to deal with? Certainly. We've seen KG, Pierce, Doc, hell even Brandon Bass have their disagreements with the young point guard. But the difference is, they've all hashed it out, come back together, and play excellent ball. I'm not saying Ray didn't give us all he had... I'm just saying it's suspicious for him to join the Heat just a month after losing to them (in harsh fashion) without being able to point out that maybe he was more reluctant to make up with Rondo than other players. I was once confident in saying that Ray Allen was all about Ubuntu and sacrifice. Now, I'm not so sure.
Does that make him Allen Iverson? No. The guy's not a headcase. He's not typically a whiner (though lately I have to say these reports naturally make him out to be), or a locker room cancer. Some guys just have a breaking point, and if he reached his, that's fine. At least he was patient enough in giving us five great seasons to get there.
But now that Allen has fled to the Heat, I can't put him in the same class as Doc Rivers, Paul Pierce, and Kevin Garnett when it comes to stripping everything about you, from you, to put it into the greater welfare of the team. People can and will say that Ray Allen made the greatest sacrifice of any of those four in coming to the Boston Celtics and becoming contenders for five straight years, but I don't know that I quite buy that. It's not just about statistical evidence regarding shot attempts or usage percentages. Of the big three, I don't think anybody was of greater importance to their former team than Kevin Garnett. Offensively and defensively everything was rightly catered around him in Minnesota. When he came to the Celtics, he still took a high volume of shots and was most certainly the defensive anchor. But there was never 15 seconds chewed off the shot clock to find an open three point look when Kevin Garnett was on the floor in Minny. There were few isolation, slow it down, grind it out dribble penetration/pullups unless it resulted in Kevin Garnett chalking up another basket in Minny.
In the locker room as well, Garnett was king just because of his level of play in Minnesota. And while at times I'm sure he welcomed the wisdom and compatible experience of Ray Allen and Paul Pierce as well as the raspy growl of Doc Rivers, I'm sure there were other times after a tough loss or a rough trip where he wanted to tell everyone to shut the you know what up. Both on and off the court, Ray Allen had Rashard Lewis for a number of years and Paul had Antoine Walker. Coming into Boston, I think that was a huge challenge for Kevin, one most definitely understated at least in comparison to recent tributes to Ray's shot sacrifices and such.
2) Can Danny Ainge make you sweat sometimes, both as a player and as a fan? Absolutely. And I can completely understand Ray's distrust of Danny after being shopped around deadline after deadline these past few years. But a professional like Ray Allen should know that it's the GM's job to make the team better, to put the franchise not just in better position in the present but also in the future. That's business. That is what makes basketball a business. But by taking it personally and as a sign of disrespect, Ray Allen made business become personal. Sure, Danny had to offer the no trade clause or trade kicker because Ray was legitimately concerned about the home of his family in a few years. But he also had to offer it because Ray Allen was sending Danny Ainge a personal message. And by taking a trade to Memphis that would have made a team that was below. 500 at the All-Star break better personal, Ray Allen contaminated the entire relationship between himself, Doc and Danny and in turn made every decision from there on out personal. That was not a good thing.
3) Does it stink that Ray Allen lost his starting job? For Ray certainly yes, but also for many of his fans. Many have brought up the point that a conventional player-coach relationship such as the one that Ray and Doc maintained would allow for the equally conventional rule that a starting player, if injured, should have the opportunity to return and retain his starting job. That is a point that is 99.9% valid. Only in the .1%, when the team just flat out hasn't been good with you and seemed to do much, much better (as in contender-status better) without you is that rule faulty. The only reason Ray was being dangled in the first place was because the team seemed to be going nowhere and it wasn't likely he was going to stay in the offseason if they weren't contending. Would Ray rather Doc have kept him in the starting lineup, so a) the team would stink and he would be miserable and then have departed lamely in free agency or b) Danny would continue to make him sweat by shopping him because the team wasn't very good? For a franchise that is prouder than ever of their sixth men (see what could have been Ray's fellow rafter mate, Kevin McHale), I think it would have been easier than ever for Ray to embrace the role of sixth man. The team was better with him coming off the bench, that's a plus. He also was a much greater focal point of the offense, something that clearly was and still is important to him. Maybe Ray wasn't as much into Ubuntu as we thought. You can talk loyalty and all that all you want, but in a situation such as this, it is ultimately Ubuntu that is supposed to ease transitions like this. I am what I am because of who we all are. If that meant that Ray couldn't give Avery Bradley his well deserved time, then I'm sorry to say but good riddance Ray Allen.
A few other things:
- I'm disappointed in the report that Ray asked for a whopping $27 million over three years. I would think both him and his agent would know that's extremely handcuffing in terms of Boston's other free agent pursuits (Ubuntu!) and basically says to me that Ray knew from the start he wasn't coming back. That's conniving and extremely selfish, characteristics that I would have never in a million years dreamed about Ray.
- Some will gripe that although we were happy to give Brandon Bass 20 million over three years, we wouldn't give that to Ray. And while there may be some legitimacy to rumblings about that, I don't think it would have fit with the Celtics' future plans (Ubuntu!). Pierce's contract expires in two years and I think Danny would like to have some wiggle room heading into that summer's free agent market to convince Rondo to sign an extension the following summer. Some will also gripe that it's disappointing that we gave a third year to Garnett and not Ray, but Garnett took a much heavier paycut than Ray (both in terms of plain financial numbers and in terms of what they're both worth on the court) and we rewarded him for doing such.
- Another quick thing about Bass: I know we're all bitter about Ray but why am I seeing backlash about the signing of Bass? The kid is young, proven, still has potential and was a pleasant surprise for us last year. He deserves the extra year not offered to Ray (although reportedly dangled if it would have sealed the deal) as well as the extra cash. You can make any player sound useless if you use simple descriptions. Brandon Bass isn't a good rebounder. Great, thank you, we know that. None of our schemes revolve around rebounding anyway. Is it a coincidence that Kevin Garnett's rebounding averages dropped an entire 3.6 boards his first year in Boston from his last year in Minny? You can really do it with any player, if you disregard the schemes and flow of the team as well as all their strengths and intangibles, both on and off the court. Here, I'll do it with the beloved Kendrick Perkins: He's an atrocious offensive player. Absolutely atrocious. For all he's hyped up as a defensive player he seemed almost like a liability in the Finals because he isn't a tremendous shot blocker and has horrible athleticism. He has disgustingly bad hands and he picks up technical fouls like no other. Nice work shipping that one off before we had to overpay him, eh Danny? Don't forget, we got an extra pick out of it this year and let's hope Jeff Green can show us why he was worth the almighty Kendrick Perkins.
- Apparently Doc suggests that even Ray himself was upset that Garnett was viewed as the Celtics' priority by their front office heading into this summer. All I have to say to that is sorry that Kevin Garnett is better than you and was willing to bend further in negotiations for the better of the team than you, Ray Allen.
- Finally: everyone was close to being traded at some point since last summer, of the Big Four that is. Rondo for Chris Paul. Pierce to the Nets (a deal that was nearly as done as the one that sent Ray to Memphis for a minute or two). Garnett to the Hawks for Josh Smith last summer. I know Ray was concerned about his family but again, multiple sources confirm that we pampered him in the contract in offering the no trade clause/kicker and it seems he refused to rescind his personal vendettas with Danny and Doc. I know it must have stunk to hear that call from Doc telling you you've just been traded for Mayo, but you're telling me you can't handle it better than a 26-year old kid who hears ESPN talking about him every day like he'll have a new home tomorrow? Normally I'd say come on Ray, you're better than that... now I'm unsure if he is or ever was.
Thanks for all the memories Ray. The championship, the Finals records, the three-point records, the unbelievably clutch shots and the stealthy smirk followed by the flash of three fingers following every dagger. That said, I'm just as disappointed with how you handled this as many are with how the Celtics brass handled this and past affairs with you.
Oh, and I hope you get booed hard when you come up from your South Beach home. It still hurts me to say the last part of that sentence.