After a year marred by injury, trade rumors, demotions and disappointment, Ray Allen abandoned the Boston Celtics’ stalled — if not sinking — ship, and on Friday, the legendary sharpshooter washed up in one of the last places you’d have ever expected.
Less than two months after watching his 16th NBA season end the same way his 15th did — in defeat at AmericanAirlines Arena — the future Hall of Famer Allen made a decision that was heretofore considered unthinkable. He joined the Miami Heat, agreeing to a three-year deal to play a key reserve role for his old team’s most bitter rival.
On South Beach, the move is being met with approval across the board. Fans are all too eager to take back all the mean things they used to say about Allen, and many are now arguing that the addition of the game’s most prolific 3-point shooter all but guarantees a second straight championship for the Heat next season.
But in Boston, Allen is being cast as some sort of Benedict Arnold — a defector who deserted a loyal franchise in favor of an easier path to a title.
Celtics fans, to their credit, are half-right. Allen most certainly picked Miami and turned down a significantly larger payday to stay in Boston because the Heat are more likely to add another championship to his resume in the twilight of his career.
Over the last two seasons, Allen has watched first-hand as Miami’s Big Three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh supplanted Boston’s aging trio of Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett as the most likely core to win a championship, despite the emergence of Rajon Rondo as an All-Star point guard for the Celtics.
And as the Heat bounced the Celtics from the playoffs for the second straight year this June, the sense that Boston was running in place while Miami was breaking away from the pack was too overwhelming to ignore.
For an aging player, there’s not a safer bet in the league for a first — or, in Allen’s case, another — title than Miami right now, and when you’ve earned upwards of $175 million in your playing career, as Allen has, the difference between a two-year, $12 million deal and a three-year, $9.7 million deal is negligible.
Where Allen’s critics are wrong, however, is in their assertion that Allen somehow owed it to the Celtics to re-sign with Boston — or, at the very least, to not sign with the Heat — and that he’s a sellout for not doing so.
Boston practically asked for Allen to leave over the course of this past season, and in the end, Allen was only as loyal to the Celtics as they were to him. Any Celtics fans who would argue otherwise is applying some awfully selective memory to the situation.
After all, it wasn’t long ago that Boston did everything it could to get rid of Allen. Long before the Celtics went on an improbable playoff run that got them within one game of the NBA Finals, the jig seemed to be up, and the C’s were ready to retool, even if it meant losing their legendary shooting guard.
As the March trade deadline approached, the 36-year-old Allen had become more valuable as a trade chip than he had as a player for Boston. Celtics GM Danny Ainge dangled Allen’s expiring contract in front of a number of teams, including the Memphis Grizzlies, who at one point had reportedly agreed to a deal that would have sent O.J. Mayo to Boston.
Ainge ended up calling off the deal, but he couldn’t hit the undo button on the whole process, which reportedly included Celtics coach Doc Rivers informing Allen that he had been traded.
As if that wasn’t enough, Boston also demoted Allen to the bench following a late-season ankle injury, forcing the 10-time All-Star to play behind second-year guard Avery Bradley when he returned.
Whether benching Allen was the right basketball move to make isn’t the question, and as you watched Allen hobble around the floor in April and May, you couldn’t help but feel like it was probably the best choice. Rather, the demotion was an issue of pride for a once-key commodity who suddenly felt devalued — a feeling the Celtics further validated last week when they agreed to a three-year deal with another shooting guard in former Mavs sixth man of the year Jason Terry.
Even at his most upset, though, Allen never gave up on the Celtics, and even as those bone spurs limited him to just a shell of his healthy self, there was no doubt that he was giving Boston all he had, even if it left the team wanting more.
Through all his frustration — with his own inability to perform and with his team’s belittling of his value — Allen remained focused and committed. One of the league’s great human beings, Allen was a loyal Celtic until he no longer had to be, and now he’s moving on to a better opportunity.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s certainly an argument to be made against veterans on their last legs trying to take the easy road to a championship, but that’s a different story.
Players doing what Allen did and signing for less money to bolster a championship-caliber roster can seem cheap and selfish, and the argument could be made that it’s bad for the competitive balance of the league as a whole.
So criticize Allen all you want for that.
But taking the easy road doesn’t make Allen a traitor. It makes him a man with his own best interests at heart. Allen did what many of us would have done in his situation, and it wasn’t his responsibility to make sure the Celtics were OK with where he ended up.