Wednesday, July 11, 2012
Turn the other cheek, Celtics fans
By Chris Forsberg ESPNBoston.com
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Can we all move on now?
Sure, we've known for the better part of a week that Ray Allen was a goner. But there's a finality after he turned up in South Beach on Wednesday morning, inked a three-year contract with Boston's chief Eastern Conference rival, then mugged for a previously unfathomable photo op while standing between Pat Riley and Erik Spoelstra and holding up a No. 34 Heat jersey.
Until that very moment, some were still holding out hope that Allen might have a change of heart. That he'd reconsider ending the Big Three era and realize he couldn't switch sides in this rivalry. That maybe he'd get up to the podium and have a Bill Belichick moment and resign as the backup SG of the H-E-A-T.
Allen gushed about the next chapter in his basketball career and how Spoelstra's vision for his role as part of the reigning champs excited him. Riley talked about a desire to send Allen's number to the rafters at AmericanAirlines Arena -- which, if we're being honest, isn't particularly far-fetched when you consider that Michael Jordan and Dan Marino are already up there.
Listen, divorce is never easy. The Celtics are Mom, Allen is Dad, and fans are the confused kids stuck in the middle of it all. We're angry that Dad could just up and leave like that. Now he's dating some (admittedly attractive) floozy who's half his age and there are pictures of them all over Facebook canoodling in South Florida.
But relationships are hard and most don't last forever, particularly not in sports. Allen and the Celtics had run their course. The sparks weren't there anymore like they were when the two sides first fell in love in the summer of 2007.
Five years later, they would have stayed together only because it was convenient. Allen made a bold decision, but both sides will be happier in the long run, even if that's hard for some to see at the moment.
Make no mistake: The Celtics wanted Allen back. That's why they were willing to pay double what the Heat could offer and more than any other contender. But they weren't going to break the bank -- or sacrifice the long-term vision of the franchise -- for a soon-to-be 37-year-old bench player coming off ankle surgery.
Allen would have been a nice luxury for the 2012-13 Celtics, but he wasn't a necessity. Hamstrung by the salary cap, Boston could have used its Bird rights to overpay Allen in the hopes that he would find his pre-injury form and aid the team's nonexistent bench offense.
Ray Allen didn't look or sound bitter Wednesday, so let's let bygones be bygones.
But the Celtics made a statement of their own when they never moved off their two-year, $12 million offer. The insinuation there was that they were already offering twice as much as Miami and they were not going to add a third year just to prevent Allen from running away.
Allen said he didn't feel like a priority for Boston this summer as the team moved fast to ink Kevin Garnett to a -- ahem -- three-year deal, then landed Jason Terry on a -- cough, cough -- three-year deal, and brought back Brandon Bass on a -- do you see a pattern here, yet? -- three-year pact.
Allen, banished to a bench role last season despite playing through bone spurs in his right ankle and often overshadowed by the exploits of Garnett, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo, already felt like a spare tire (though he's terribly misguided about the attention paid to Garnett, who truly is the central nervous system of the Celtics and the only one they could negotiate with prior to July 1).
Boston's lack of knock-down-the-door interest, juxtaposed against one of Pat Riley's patented can't-say-no sales pitches, made a tough decision easy for Allen. In a way, maybe we should be surprised that he ever debated his decision as hard as he said he did.
Oh, that Rondo issue? By now you've undoubtedly heard about the friction between the two. Allen did little to downplay it. When asked point-blank Wednesday if it was a contributing factor, he danced around the question by noting that he didn't text Garnett and Pierce until he began to settle on Miami as his destination. Allen said he hasn't spoken to Rondo since the end of the season.
That answers your question without answering the question.
There's no denying that the two players were not exactly on the same page on or off the court. It rarely affected them on game nights; although they could play a mean game of keep-away at times, they never did when it mattered most.
Allen did a less-than-convincing job in stressing Wednesday that his decision wasn't about one player. But it's true. Allen's departure was a confluence of events, all of which left the league's all-time 3-point king and a surefire future Hall of Famer in need of a hug.
The Heat put down the Larry O'Brien trophy and welcomed him with open arms.
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For the Celtics, there's little sense lamenting the loss. Allen made his decision on July 6, but Boston was preparing for his potential exit long before then, even if the Celtics hoped he'd return to beef up the roster. They got a bit of insurance when they signed Terry, who will gleefully accept a reserve role that Allen never really wanted.
As Allen was being introduced in Miami, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge sat punching away at his iPhone at the end of Boston's summer league bench -- undoubtedly exploring outside options to further fill Allen's void and examining whether any of the team's younger, in-house options could contribute next season.
Ainge appears to have moved on, even if he has bitten his tongue about the situation since Allen's decision became official. It can't be easy, but what good would it do the Celtics for him to be angry at this point?
Later this week, the Celtics will introduce Terry and Boston fans will rally around their new bench scorer. There's a good chance that, in the next couple weeks, Ainge could land another noteworthy player (can he figure out a way to land Courtney Lee?) and fans will exclaim how fortuitous it was for Boston to have done so (then later realize it wouldn't have happened if it wasn't for Allen's departure).
Emotions will come rushing back the first time the Celtics and Heat meet next season (Christmas Day? Opening night in Miami for the ring ceremony?). It's going to take some time for the sight of Allen in a Miami jersey to not look so jarring.
But, for the moment, there's only one thing to do: Move on. The Celtics and Allen have.