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Departing thoughts on Ray Allen

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  July 11, 2012 07:00 AM

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Sources say Ray Allen might have stayed in Boston had the enthusiastic dude in the Rondo jersey been wearing No. 20 instead.

OK, that's fiction. But given some of the rumors and reports regarding Allen's checklist of reasons for ditching Boston to join the Celtics' postseason conqueror and biggest rival of the moment, I'm about willing to give credence to any slight, real or perceived, that may have contributed to his departure for Miami. I imagine insights will be scarce when he's formally introduced as a member of the Heat and officially becomes a Celtics adversary Wednesday.

It's not that his abrupt farewell is a surprise. More of an inevitability that overwhelmed a Celtics fan's wish that he liked the idea of remaining here as much as Garden denizens liked having him here.

Allen's lingering on the court after Game 7 to congratulate the Heat seemed to be a gracious, typically classy gesture. It probably was. But it also felt a little then like it feels right now: that he was a willing participant in an impromptu postgame recruiting push by LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. Man, great series, great series. Respect. Say, by the way, if you can't beat us, join us ... hey, and did we mention the beautiful golf courses down here? And you can yell at Chalmers all you want! You really need to talk to Riley. He'll show you his bag of rings!

Maybe it's not easy to admit for someone who appreciated the five-year Big Three Sequel era and this particular team so much, but his decision to join the Heat is at least a logical choice. Playing with LeBron will ease his burden defensively and get him a sharpshooter's daydream's worth of wide-open corner 3s. And as much as it may pain a Celtic fan to admit, he does have a better shot there of winning another championship ring, or two, or three or ... well, damn, you know. It would be hypocritical to blame a player for taking less money elsewhere for a chance to win, though any suggestion that the Celtics didn't respect him should be negated by their two-year, $12 million offer. That's pretty respectful for a 37-year-old shooting guard coming off ankle surgery.

There is an unbecoming aspect of this, particularly for a player and person of Allen's reputation and intelligence. His frustration with losing his starting job to Avery Bradley falls somewhere between pettiness and prideful; the team did thrive after it happened, and it was the right thing to do. I doubt he'll ever admit it, but it must bother him that it was his backcourt partner who apparently suggested the switch to Doc Rivers.

Allen's issues with Rajon Rondo were no secret even to someone like me, whose actual in-person coverage of the team is periodic, so you can only imagine the details many beat writers and media confidantes know about the relationship. I always suspected Allen's fingerprints could be found on stories about Rondo's odd (remaining in his car as long as possible before games) and sometimes petulant behavior, though I never imagined that his frustration with the brilliant, brash point guard would be a factor in driving him away. Those glorious days when Rondo appeared on Mrs. Allen's vanity-project cooking show feel like so long ago.

Allen and Rondo had more in common than they probably cared to admit -- you can start with extraordinary talent, note their immense personal pride and go from there -- and it would be a shame if those character traits prevented them from recognizing how mutually beneficial their backcourt partnership usually was. For whatever it's worth, Allen expertly masked whatever aggravation he carried regarding with Rondo publicly.

After Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals, a Heat overtime victory that pivoted on a brutal no-call when Dwyane Wade raked Rondo across the face, both players were on the postgame podium. When Rondo, clearly trying not to say the wrong thing but surely tempted to do so, hedged while answering a question about the conspicuously swallowed whistle, Allen interrupted and came to his defense: "We all thought he got hit," he said. "He did.'' Rondo gave him a sideways glance that could have been interpreted as gratitude or surprise, depending on what you were looking for.

It was a solid veteran move, and that, rather than the egotistical score-keeping on such matters as the Celtics reaching out to franchise fulcrum Kevin Garnett before contacting him this offseason, is one way I'll choose to remember him. While from what I've heard the anti-Allen venom from callers on sports radio has been a little much even by that medium's standards, most Celtics fans I've talked to are genuinely conflicted, ticked that he jilted Boston for a rival (and at a bargain rate, no less, though that lack of state income tax in Florida closes the margin a bit) but appreciative of what he did here.

Even if you're among those trying to justify his departure -- Jason Terry is a better fit, Allen can't defend anymore, etc. -- you must admit there was so much to appreciate. Humiliating Sasha Vujacic in the 2008 Finals, the epic 51-point Game 6 in the first round against the Bulls a season later, setting the 3-point record in February 2011. It was nothing less than a privilege to watch that gorgeous shot, perfectly crafted and honed with hour after hour of flicking 25-footers in quiet gyms, no wasted motion to be found. My wife always rolled her eyes when, after Allen inevitably buried back-to-back threes to turn a six-point deficit into a tie in a game's final moments, I'd tell her he's the best shooter ever to play. But I believe that. He's the all-time leader in 3-pointers made, has hit 40 percent of his long-range attempts in his career, and is an 89 percent free-throw shooter. You can have, I don't know, Dale Ellis, Steve Kerr, Reggie Miller, Mark Price, whoever. Larry Bird always gets the last shot on my team. But the best shot? That belongs to Shuttlesworth.

710raysonsicfinn.jpgSometimes you wished the Celtics emphasized it more, and if Allen feels like he's the one among the Big Three who sacrificed the most in Boston, well, he's right. This is a player who was every bit the offensive force with the Bucks and Sonics that Paul Pierce was for the Celtics. In 2006-07, the year before coming to Boston, he averaged 26.4 points per game for Seattle in a season abbreviated to 55 games by ankle troubles. He averaged 21 field goal attempts per game that year. His high with the Celtics was 13.5 in 2007-08, and that fell to 10.7 last year. Pierce's shot attempts also dipped when the Big Three was united, but not to the extent they did for Allen. It must have been frustrating to run through that labyrinth of screens only to have a play end with Pierce choosing to go one-on-one at the top of the key or Rondo throwing up a jumper in a race against the shot clock. At times, they seemed to overlook him until they needed him to bail them out of a deficit.

Among the Big Three, he was sometimes perceived to be the third wheel, and for a player of his elite accomplishments, it must have gnawed at him. Still, while the concept of Ubuntu ended with the Kendrick Perkins trade, the end of the Big Three is officially on Allen, and I'm curious whether he comprehends what that means to his legacy here.

When the Heat and Celtics inevitably play on Christmas Day, presumably in Boston, I suspect he's going to get booed, though the ideal reception would be a raucous standing ovation during player introductions, then boos beyond that. The Johnny Damon comparisons are understandable, though it may elude some that Allen was actually a Celtic a year longer than Damon was with the Red Sox. Both also played for two teams before coming to Boston. They're not traitors so much as they're mercenaries. Here, both were immensely likable, charismatic and productive and integral to championship-winning teams. Both also apparently underestimated how their departure to a rival would be received. The UConn connection to New England really only matters to those who spent four years or so in Storrs.

Allen's place in our provincial sports lore would have grown had he remained here. Leaving irreparably dents it, and any chance of seeing his No. 20 in the Garden rafters is gone like a gust of the South Beach breeze. Next time he returns to his basketball home of five seasons, we know he'll be cheered by the forgiving, jeered by the jilted, and he'll look damn weird in that Heat jersey playing with them.

And you're looking for the perfect epilogue to this week's ending, give this one a shot: When the showdown comes around, perhaps he'll be repeatedly reminded by Rondo, who surely will be motivated to steal the moment, that it really was the Big Four anyway.


About Touching All The Bases

Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.

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