While driving back from the Cape today I listened to WEEI’s Butch Stearns spend more than an hour chatting with callers about Ray Allen’s departure from the Celtics. What did it mean for the Celtics? Was it right of Ray to leave Boston? Was it okay for him to go to the Heat? Is it a “slap in the face” for a Boston athlete to leave millions of dollars on the table to go play for the NBA equivalent of the New York Yankees? Should he be booed when he returns to the TD Garden as a South Beach mercenary? Some of those questions are compelling in a “Why did Katie Holmes really leave Tom Cruise?” kind of way. But for the most part, all I care about is whether Allen’s new job is going to hurt the Celtics and/or help the Heat.
As others have pointed out, the Celtics went 17-5 without Ray Allen in the 2011-2012 season, largely because they were a more-dynamic, better team when Avery Bradley was the starting 2 guard. Bradley is able to do things on both ends of the floor that Ray Allen simply cannot do at this stage in his career, from making quick backdoor cuts for layups to blocking Dwyane Wade at the rim. All Celtics fans should be happy that they got to see Ray Allen get the all-time record for three pointers while he was still wearing green, and obviously he was a huge part of their success in the second “Big Three” era. But I can’t imagine anyone really lamenting his absence from Boston, especially with Jason Terry—a long-distance shooter with a big-game pedigree—coming aboard and filling the same role.
However, if Pat Riley truly is a visionary, and he has determined that Ray’s limited but Springfield-bound offensive game is the key to another Miami championship (or two or three), then obviously the problem isn’t so much Ray’s absence from Boston; it’s his presence on the defending champions. But how likely is it that? Will Mario Chalmers really zip the ball to the right spot as Ray cuts around a second screen, the way Rondo so often did? And whose minutes will Ray inherit, anyhow? D-Wade is the starting 2 guard. Is Wayne going to switch to small forward, with LeBron James moving to power forward? That could work fine on offense, but what about defense? Where does Shane Battier fit in? That guy looked pretty damn effective to me. And if that means Ray is on the bench, well, how did Riley spin that into such an “incredible” sales pitch?
In the end, maybe Riley just wanted Allen because a) the ever-gimpy Mike Miller is going to be shed via the amnesty clause, and b) the Heat learned to fear the Celtics this year, and they’d rather have Ray as a weapon on their bench instead of watching him be the same for a deeper, healthier Celtics squad. In other words, maybe this was more of a game of keep-away between Danny Ainge and Riley than a true “we’ve got to have this guy” tug-of-war.
As for the moral or psychological aspects of Allen’s decision, he was astute enough to recognize that the Celtics were not committed to him as a starter (Bradley took his spot) or as a permanent fixture of the franchise (they tried to move him for O.J. Mayo just a few months ago), so he owed them no loyalty. But that would only be relevant if the Celtics were the team that couldn’t ante up, and they were not that team; the Heat were. So the fact that Allen left millions of dollars on the table to go to the arch enemy meant that his loyalty to Ainge and Doc Rivers wasn’t merely dead; it had changed into something bitter, resentful, and petulant. Was this ultimately all about incompatibility with Rajon Rondo, as some have suggested? If so, I’m totally fine with the Celtics siding with their premier point guard, whose contract looks ridiculously inexpensive given what Deron Williams and a graying Steve Nash just got.
All things must pass. If one of the Big Three was going to go, I guess it was Ray. So be it.