Two summers ago, when Ray Allen watched his two-year, $20 million contract with the Celtics expire and began to think about exploring free agency, he knew he'd have a big decision to make. Either he could stay in Boston, accepting a reduced role and less money but getting to play for an organization that valued his loyalty, or he could go to Miami. The money there was even less, and the role was fairly uncertain, but he had a chance with the Heat to pursue another championship ring or two before he eventually walked away.
Looking back, another two years later, it's doubtful that Allen regrets the decision he made. Big picture, it appears to have paid off - sure, he's $6 million poorer and he still gets booed at the TD Garden once or twice a year, but he won his second championship in 2013 and made one of the most iconic shots in the league's history in the process. While he didn't win again in 2014, no year that ends in a Finals berth can be considered a failure.
Big picture? Allen won.
But let's talk even bigger picture. Let's zoom out a little more.
Allen is now, according to reports from ESPN's Brian Windhorst and others, considering retirement after 18 years in the NBA. He put about 5,000 minutes on his body in his two Miami seasons and he's about to turn 39, and with his contract up and the future of the Heat looking uncertain for reasons beyond him, now might be the time to walk away. Get out of that situation before it gets too messy.
This should be a fairly huge story. Allen is a two-time champion, a sure Hall of Famer and arguably the greatest shooter in the game's history. When he walks away, it should make big news. But because the veteran guard is mulling his decision in Miami, he's overshadowed by three high-profile co-workers who have bigger and better things on their mind. LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade are in pursuit of money, fame and championship glory; Ray's deciding between a slow career decline and a quick exit to the golf course.
It's understandable that Allen's dilemma goes overlooked in South Beach, where the sports headlines are occupied by everything from Pat Riley's press conference rantings to Carmelo Anthony's championship pipe dream. They've got a lot going on. But it's sad to realize that Allen's career is being similarly under-appreciated in every other city he played - the Celtics still resent him, the Seattle SuperSonics no longer exist and the Milwaukee Bucks, for whom Allen was "kicking it hard in the '90s," have long forgotten Allen and are now looking ahead to the potential Andrew Wiggins era.
In a way, Ray Allen subsists now as a man without a country. He's played 18 years in the league, but he split them so evenly across four different franchises - seven years, four, five and two respectively - that he's got no one place to call home. (He quite literally has no home in Boston anymore, as he made headlines in February 2013 when he sold his old Wellesley house for $4.6 million.)
It's odd that we're saying this about Ray Allen, who's one of the great creatures of habit in NBA history. He probably would have liked nothing better than to find one city and set up shop there for two decades. Fate didn't allow that - he was traded by the Bucks in 2003, swapped again by the Sonics in '07 and say what you will about the Celtics situation, but the team kinda forced him out the door in 2012 by recruiting Jason Terry to take his job. (Side note: Hey, remember Jason Terry?)
Where are we at now with Ray? It's an odd question. Imagine that he does retire, be it next week or next month or whenever. Who hosts his press conference? Who retires his number? To borrow a baseball metaphor, what hat does he wear on the Hall of Fame plaque?
It's easy to boo Allen in Boston because he left to join a hated rival, but his decision was an understandable one. He wanted to stay relevant and to play for a franchise that respected him. He got that opportunity in Miami. Two years after the fact, I think we can forgive him in the Hub for making a choice that, if we're being unbiased here, makes complete sense.
Allen's exit from Boston in 2012 has been followed by a revolving door of reserve shooting guards, from Terry to later models like Jordan Crawford, Courtney Lee and Jerryd Bayless. All decent enough players, but none of them will have the impact or leave behind the memories that Allen did. Maybe now, with some time for healing and reflection and all that, we can appreciate it all.
If this is the end for Ray Allen, I hope we all take a moment to remember six great years in Celtic green. If not, here's hoping he keeps on kicking it hard, wherever life takes him next.