MIAMI — For his entire NBA career, green has been Ray Allen’s dominant color, either in Milwaukee, Seattle, or Boston. So it was strange Monday to watch Allen at the AmericanAirlines Arena practice facility, launching midrange bank shots in a white top and black shorts, fraternizing with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.
It was strange to see Allen acting as if the transition from one rival to another was natural, as if those Boston days in which he drained critical 3-pointers were just another stage of his career, as if there are no regrets about his departure even as the laundry list of reasons seemingly grew each time he broached the topic.
The Celtics, especially coach Doc Rivers, have become increasingly annoyed with Allen’s reasoning for signing with the Heat. In July, it was a decayed relationship with Rajon Rondo. In August, it was a reduced role and lack of respect. In September, it was the signing of Jason Terry. In October, it was not receiving recruiting calls from Rivers and Paul Pierce.
The Celtics moved on from Allen because they had to. Team president Danny Ainge sought to reshape the team’s personality and chemistry, and even before Allen decided to leave, Ainge gathered personalities who meshed better with Rondo, who contributed to the offense more than strictly coming off screens, who were dedicated to running the floor and playing a more up-tempo style.
Unquestionably the Celtics wanted Allen back, but they were going to adjust his role and stature. Allen wanted an increased role, which at age 37 wasn’t attractive to Rivers. There is something of note about playing for Rivers: Though he is considered a players’ coach and is popular throughout the league, he has no qualms about telling players when age or physical limits have affected their game.
Just as Gregg Popovich told him 16 years ago, Rivers wanted Allen to realize that his days as a frontline player were behind him, and Allen found that assessment unacceptable.
Allen is the most approachable, affable, and cooperative athlete that I have covered, but he carries a large ego; that also is what has helped transform him from a complementary player at UConn to a surefire Hall of Famer five years after he retires. It was impossible for Allen to accept Rivers’s assessment that Avery Bradley was a better fit in the starting lineup and that Allen would receive his share of shots with Terry now in the equation.
The Celtics wanted Allen back out of loyalty after they discussed trading him three times over the past four years. But in all honesty, it may have been a difficult fit. As much as Allen respects Terry for his accomplishments, there is still a fierce competition between the two because they have been compared so much as premium 3-point shooters. And the acquisition of Terry was a direct message to Allen that the Celtics planned to adjust their offensive approach to players who could create off the dribble.
Rivers lacked confidence in Allen’s ballhandling skills. Perhaps if Allen could have played some point guard in a pinch, he would have been more attractive to retain.
Allen wanted the Celtics to coddle him, as he felt they coddled Kevin Garnett. Ainge waited for Garnett to make a retirement decision, and when he decided to come back he was immediately Ainge’s first priority. Allen felt slighted, and Ainge went on a public relations campaign to smooth matters over.
Ainge called several Boston-area journalists on a Sunday morning to inform them that the club was highly interested in bringing Allen back. For someone who disregarded my column six weeks earlier about Allen’s increasing unhappiness, it was a curious gesture, one that Allen didn’t buy.
Still, the fact Allen accepted Miami’s offer for half the money the Celtics were willing to pay angered his former teammates, who did not deem it necessary to pitch to him to return. Garnett was the lone Celtic to communicate with Allen during the process, sent him a “Do what’s best for you, but know we want you to come back” text, and the two haven’t spoken since.
Will Garnett and Pierce give Allen a hug before tip-off tonight? It’s doubtful. The Celtics’ duo is still highly disappointed in Allen for voluntarily breaking up the Big Three, then taking shots at Rondo on the way out.
Although he said there are no regrets in signing with Miami, Allen understands that his relationships with Pierce and Garnett require repair.
“I think you guys think I have some type of animosity or bad blood against them; I don’t,” he said. “I’ve said it time and time again, we’ve shared, in my opinion, the most special thing you could do in sports, going all the way to the top. So that’s always going to be No. 1 closest to my heart, so when I see Paul, I’m not going to be like angry at him or anybody. I’m happy. I’m excited. I look forward to it, seeing all these guys.”
But there are damaged feelings. Ray broke up the band. When it came down to us or them, Ray chose them. He chose to fraternize with James and Wade, he chose to be lured by their pitch and embrace their culture. His migration to South Beach was taken personally.
“Once the game starts, I am going to look across the court and see LeBron first, Wade second, [Chris] Bosh third, then I’ll probably get to Ray,” Rivers said. “Other than that, it will be different. I’ve been in the league a long time. I’ve seen guys in a lot of different uniforms, teammates, guys I’ve coached . . . It’s part of NBA life.”
It was Rivers’s attempt to encourage all involved to move on, regardless of how awkward and avoidable this was.