Commentary

Ray plays down the rift

Despite departure and a recent war of words, he says he'll always be a Celtic

Updated: October 26, 2012, 10:24 AM ET
By Jackie MacMullan | ESPNBoston.com

RALEIGH, N.C. -- LeBron James tugs at Ray Allen's black and red practice jersey. Their shootaround before a preseason game against the Charlotte Bobcats in Raleigh, N.C., is nearly over, but "The King" won't grant his new subject his leave until he ponys up some benjamins over a competition of shots from the corner.

"Right here," James instructs Allen, as if the most prolific 3-point shooter in NBA history needs any introduction to his sweet spot. "A hundred bucks each."

Dwyane Wade gravitates toward them, Chris Bosh, too, as Allen drains a 3. Then another. And another. "'Bron better watch it," one of Allen's new teammates cracks. "He'll go broke playing this game with Ray."

[+] EnlargeLeBron James and Ray Allen
AP Photo/Alan DiazWhen told of how his exodus to Miami looks in Boston -- that he chose the Celtics' most hated rival just to get back at them -- Allen said: "No, no, it wasn't like that. I didn't want to go anywhere. It hurt my family to leave."

Heat team president Pat Riley, sprouting some preseason scruff, spots a Boston reporter talking to his newly minted sniper.

"No more Ray stories," he scolds Allen.

Sorry, Pat. Just one more.

Allen stunned Boston by bolting to Miami during free agency for half the money. The inevitable fallout has risen to a crescendo in recent weeks, with Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo adopting a don's stance toward their former comrade ("he's dead to me"), Doc Rivers candidly reciting Allen's deficiencies, and Keyon Dooling, while referring to Allen as a friend, observing that last season he "spent more time talking to the media than to us."

Allen, stung by the criticism, responded by summoning three Miami-area papers to deliver his counterpunch. His haymakers included, in an interview with Joseph Goodman of The Miami Herald, characterizations that he had been reduced to "standing in the corner the majority of the time" as a decoy. He also surmised that the breakdown of his relationship with Rondo began in 2009, after Celtics boss Danny Ainge considered swapping Allen and Rondo to Phoenix for Amare Stoudemire, Leandro Barbosa and a draft pick. Allen told Goodman that he phoned Rondo in hopes of scuttling the deal.

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"I called him and told him, 'They're supposedly trading us to Phoenix because you and Danny and Doc don't get along. So, whatever you can do,'" the story quoted Allen as saying.

Ainge told ESPNBoston.com on Thursday that he was aware of Allen's frustration at constantly being mentioned in potential swaps, and in addition to offering Allen twice as much money as Miami to stay in Boston, he added a no-trade clause to the contract.

"I knew the [trade rumors] had been weighing on him," Ainge said.

The no-trade clause wasn't enough, nor was the $6 million a year, which would have left him as the fifth-highest-paid Celtic behind KG, Rondo, Paul Pierce and Jeff Green. That, too, was a problem. Minutes were an issue, and so was his lack of touches. Allen had lost faith in Rivers, his old golfing partner, who minimized his role in the offense.

When Allen decided to accept the Heat's offer, he called Ainge, texted KG and left town.

"Two years ago when I was a free agent, the whole organization sent me a text asking me to come back," Allen said. "This time it was a little more subdued."

This time, while Pierce and KG texted their support, and Ainge initiated dialogue at the stroke of midnight, Rivers stayed out of the negotiations. Their relationship, once strong, faltered in Allen's final months wearing Celtic green.

[+] EnlargeDoc Rivers
Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty ImagesThe friction between Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo was apparent, but Allen downplayed it. "I never question a guy that wants to win, especially on my own team," he said.

"Doc never called and said, 'We want you to come back,'" Allen said. "I can't say I expected him to do that. It's hard to say what the protocol is in those situations."

He is advised how this exodus looks, that he made an emotional decision -- to take significantly less money to play for a team that already has three superstars and precious few touches to go around -- because he was hurt, his ego bruised, and his reaction was to sign with the Celtics' most hated rival.

"No, no, it wasn't like that," Allen said. "I didn't want to go anywhere. It hurt my family to leave. But once they loaded the roster, got Jason Terry, signed everyone but me, you could tell it was, 'We can bring Ray back, but if he doesn't come back, we're all set.'

"I was like, 'OK, this is business.'"

Allen said his strongest suitors were Memphis, Minnesota, the Clippers and Miami.

"I never looked at it as Miami against Boston," Allen insisted. "It was just a team that was a great fit.

"You can't look at it and say, 'Well, I can't do this. This is the team we've been trying to get past.' You have to think about yourself as a player, and where you can continue to play and contend for a championship."

The Heat, seizing on an opportunity to strip Boston of its most lethal perimeter weapon and strengthen their own lineup at the same time, pledged "starters minutes" to Allen and a chance to add another ring to his résumé.

The sudden switch of allegiances was both stunning and awkward for everyone.

"It's weird," Allen admitted. "I'm walking around, and there's the [Larry O'Brien] trophy in the middle of the locker room."

So here is where Ray Allen finds himself now. He knows this recent war of words has damaged him. His plan moving forward (with some encouragement from an ever-vigilant Heat front office) is to accent the positives of his time in Boston. He wants the rancor that has dominated his departure to dissipate.

"The years in Boston were the best of my career, and they mean more to me than anything," he said. "Winning on that stage was incomparable to anything else.

"That's the way I choose to look at it. It's just that you come to a point where the writing is on the wall, and it's time for you to go. You have to move on."

Allen When you ask me about Rondo, the only thing I'm going to think of is the guy who came to the house asking for my mom's lobster pasta. Those are the memories I have.

-- Ray Allen

His friction with Rondo was apparent, but he appears prepared to move on from that as well.

"When you ask me about Rondo, the only thing I'm going to think of is the guy who came to the house asking for my mom's lobster pasta," Allen said. "Those are the memories I have."

Teammates remember tense exchanges, both on and off the court, between two proud, stubborn competitors. They recall Allen pointedly claiming that Rondo looked him off during games.

"It's hard for me to say that was the case," Allen said. "I never question a guy that wants to win, especially on my own team. I never bought into it.

"I know people talked about it. I think there was just a lot of situations where people wanted me to have the ball in my hands, for me to shoot it, and people could tell there weren't as many chances for me to do that anymore."

Allen acknowledged it was disconcerting to have his role reduced and to lose his starting job to an unproven yet electric young player in Avery Bradley.

"I don't know why they [stopped using me] as much," he said. "It's hard to say. I look in '08, we had such an amazing run. You look at guys like James Posey and P.J. Brown and Sammy [Cassell] and Leon [Powe]; we had so many players that understood their roles, and everyone just came in and did their part. It was 'Don't do too much; just do what you need to do to help the team win.'

"And, as the years went by, there was less and less for me. Why? That's a question you'd have to ask Doc."

The question was posed to the Celtics' coach shortly after Allen departed. Rivers bluntly explained he wanted the ball in Rondo's hands more, that he wasn't as confident with Allen's ability to run the pick-and-roll, that he felt the team was more effective with Bradley as a starter. Left unsaid was a feeling among the coaches that Allen's defensive deficiencies were becoming more difficult to camouflage.

"I sensed [Rivers] didn't want to use me in the pick-and-roll," Allen said. "I was so good at pick-and-roll in Seattle. It always struck me as odd that they didn't want me to do that.

"I would ask [Rivers] about it, and he'd just say, 'I think this is better for the team.' But I always felt I could do it. I could shoot out of them or get to the hole if I needed to, given the chance.

"I'm doing that here [in Miami]. We're doing a lot of different things here from different angles. It's been fun for me. Sort of a rebirth. I'm at the phase now where I'm reprogramming my mind on both ends of the floor.

[+] EnlargeRay Allen and LeBron James
Issac Baldizon/NBAE/Getty ImagesLeBron James, who was widely bashed after leaving Cleveland for Miami, can identify with some of Ray Allen's angst as he tries to move forward.

"When I first got here, there were times when I was in a situation, I'd hesitate. But they'd say, 'No, go ahead, we want you to do that, you've got the pocket pass or the advance pass.' Every time I come off a pindown, that is, in essence, a pick-and-roll."

Miami envisioned Allen as an ideal antidote to the double- and triple-teams that swarm D-Wade and LeBron. The Heat needed a player to operate off the ball, an upgrade over shooters Mike Miller and James Jones. Yet it's difficult to imagine that role in Miami will generate more minutes or more shots than Allen would have garnered in Boston.

There was no one reason that led to Allen's change of heart about Boston, rather the cumulative result of what he viewed as an erosion of his value to the team. The constant uncertainty regarding trade talks, he said, began within months of his arrival in Boston. According to Allen, during that 2007-08 season, which resulted in a championship for the Celtics, Boston discussed a swap of Allen for Tracy McGrady.

"I got word of it through back channels," Allen said.

Two years later, he said, he got word that both he and Eddie House were on the block. House was the one to go, to New York for Nate Robinson. There was the aforementioned dalliance with Phoenix in 2009, and then last season Allen was nearly traded to Memphis for O.J. Mayo.

The team was in San Francisco on its West Coast swing when Allen got a call from Ainge at around 12:15 the afternoon of the trade deadline.

"Danny told me he had a deal on the table for me to go to Memphis for O.J. Mayo, and he asked me what I thought," Allen recalled. "I told him I didn't like it. I told him I didn't want to leave Boston. He said, 'I hope you understand my position.' I said, 'I know you have to build this team for the future, but I'm not happy about it.'"

Allen called his family and instructed them to pack their things. Instead, 45 minutes later, Ainge called back to say the deal was off.

"I went to Paul's room, and he said, 'Damn, I almost got traded to New Jersey,' and I told him, 'I thought I did get traded to Memphis,'" Allen said. "What could we do? We just laughed about it."

Ainge acknowledged Allen's version of events regarding talks with Memphis but said Pierce "was never going to New Jersey."

"The Nets had a No. 3 pick, and they talked to us for about 30 seconds about Paul," Ainge said. "It was never close."

Ainge I love Ray. I'm so grateful for what he did for us, and for what Ray and [wife] Shannon did for us off the court -- it was huge. I wish Ray luck -- except when they play us.

-- Danny Ainge

Ainge lamented the back-and-forth that has arisen from Allen's departure, which continued following Celtics practice Wednesday when Rondo referred to Allen as only "No. 20" and Rivers quipped, "We'll just let Ray keep talking. It's easier."

"I love Ray," Ainge said. "I'm so grateful for what he did for us, and for what Ray and [wife] Shannon did for us off the court -- it was huge.

"I wish Ray luck -- except when they play us."

LeBron James identifies with Allen's angst. His defection from Cleveland was on a far grander scale, with far deeper and more volatile ramifications. He expected backlash from the community but was surprised when some of his former teammates took aim at him as well.

"Yeah, that hurt," James said. "I'm not going to name names, but a couple of teammates surprised me. I was a little taken aback they felt that way about me, because while we were together, we were really close."

It was Dooling's comments regarding Ray's relationship with the media that struck a chord with Allen. He was one of the most accommodating athletes in town, often when Garnett and Rondo shirked those same duties, and found it ironic his cooperation has boomeranged into criticism.

"It struck me as odd," Allen said. "Keyon sat behind me on the plane. I talked to him all the time, exchanged movies back and forth. I probably talked to him more than anyone."

Allen has been slow in acclimating himself to his new teammates, respecting the bond between Wade and James, offering to share a pregame cab with Miller and Jones to get extra shots up.

The Heat players are just beginning to identify Allen's compulsive routine and his unusual superstitions, including requiring teammates to return to the precise seat on the team bus following a win.

"That's OK," LeBron said. "I'm a little like that myself."

LeBron has expressed an interest in some of Allen's drills, including one in which Ray starts from the left side of the 3-point line and hits five of 10, then moves around the arc hitting six out of 10, seven out of 10 and so on. Allen can't continue until he's hit the required number of shots, culminating with 10 straight corner 3s from the other side of the key.

"So I'm doing the drill with LeBron and I get to eight of 10," Allen said. "I hit mine, but LeBron misses. He misses, then he gets stuck. He pulls off his jersey and keeps missing and missing, and now he's angry.

"He misses some more, and now he's shouting at the top of his lungs.

"Most guys, when they get to that point, just say, 'OK, that's it.' Not him. He's too competitive.

"He wouldn't leave until he finished. It probably took him 20 minutes to finish that eight out of 10.

"Now he's fatigued, he's tired, and he's saying, 'Man, my shoulders are sore.' And I say to him, 'Well, this is fourth-quarter shooting.'"

It will take time for Allen to master this new landscape, both on the floor and in the community. He enrolled his children, heartbroken to leave Boston, in their new school, and there it was again -- the championship trophy.

"Everyone has their camera out, and someone said to me, 'You want a picture?'" Allen said. "I told them, 'No, I really don't have anything to do with this.'"

[+] EnlargeRay Allen and Kevin Garnett
Brian Babineau/NBAE/Getty ImagesAllen says he doesn't take KG's recent snub seriously. "Kevin and I have a long history, more than people know. The beautiful thing about it is when we retire we'll share stories of the championship we won," he said.

His trophy is in Boston, the glorified result of '08, which cemented the legacy of the former Big Three. Now KG says he's lost Allen's number, which smacks more of hyperbole than true, broken trust.

"It's nothing I took seriously," Allen said. "Kevin and I have a long history, more than people know. The beautiful thing about it is when we retire we'll share stories of the championship we won.

"No matter what happens from here on in, that will always be true. No one can change that. Nothing anybody says is going to change that."

He will suit up against KG and Paul and Rondo and Doc in five days. It will be the season opener for both teams, and the Heat will be awarded their championship rings in a special ceremony. Allen will stand empty-handed, as will his former teammates.

And what will he say to the Celtics on that night, when his two worlds collide in South Beach?

"I'm going to walk over and say, 'What's up?'" he said. "Those guys are my brothers."

Ray has exchanged a few preseason texts with Pierce, and although he's heard nothing from KG, that means nothing, he said.

"I'm always going to be a Celtic no matter what," Allen said. "It's always going to be in my veins. Once you live there and play for that team and win a championship, it doesn't matter where you go. You're always going to be a Boston Celtic."

Except on Oct. 30. Except when Ray Allen is wearing black and red, and LeBron James is tugging at his jersey, pointing to that sweet spot in the corner and expecting him to be money.

For the Heat.

Not the Celtics.

Jackie MacMullan

ESPNBoston.com columnist

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