ORLANDO – In one of his final acts of professionalism as a Celtic, Ray Allen remained silent during all the chatter as the team struggled to a losing record at the All-Star break.
If you recall, Allen began the Celtics’ abbreviated 2011-12 campaign as their best player, shooting 48.5 percent from the 3-point line during the first half and clamoring for more contract security. All his remarkable shooting earned him was a return trip to the trading block in March, a sign of disrespect to Allen and an indication it was time to leave Boston. He ended up signing with the Heat on Friday.
According to those close to him, Allen was ready to depart at the trade deadline this time, privately anticipating a new start and the chance to become an unrestricted free agent in the summer. And when he was told he was headed to the Memphis Grizzlies in exchange for O.J. Mayo, he was prepared for the adjustment.
When president of basketball operations Danny Ainge told Allen the trade collapsed and he would remain a Celtic, Allen was never the same, bitter about being dangled in trades, hardly flattered by being the most marketable and attractive piece of the Big Three.
Management believes it treated Allen well over the past five years and it did, mostly, but the increasingly disturbing miscommunication among Allen, coach Doc Rivers, and Ainge turned Allen’s final season into a nightmare.
Allen was bothered by recurring bone spurs in his right ankle, and while people close to him said he respected the contributions of second-year guard Avery Bradley, he was angered that a player of such little experience — despite his improvement — was being considered to replace him in the starting lineup. Unquestionably Allen believed Bradley deserved more minutes and was a defensive spark, but to unseat a 10-time All-Star after a few weeks of success? That disappointed Allen.
Allen felt obligated to approach Rivers about coming off the bench. While Rivers shaped it as Allen being all about the team and making a personal sacrifice to better the team’s defensive attack, Allen viewed it as ending the uncomfortable silence and the emerging murmurs about Bradley being the team’s best shooting guard.
Allen never believed that, the people close to him said, but he hated the perception he was holding Bradley and the team back, especially on an ankle that desperately needed surgery. Yet when Bradley was felled by dislocations in his left shoulder and was declared out toward the end of the Eastern Conference semifinals, suddenly the Celtics needed Allen to start again.
While he valiantly tried to produce on his degenerating ankle, he couldn’t and the Celtics suffered. Allen shot 26.5 percent from the 3-point line against Philadelphia and 35 percent in the Eastern Conference finals loss against the Heat.
Allen felt as if he was constantly giving to the Celtics but getting little in return, and his relationship with Rajon Rondo was not solid. Those close to Rondo say the point guard was stunned to hear that his sometimes prickly relationship with Allen may have been one of the factors in Allen’s departure.
There isn’t one player in the locker room Rondo hasn’t irritated at one time or another during the season because of his emergence as the team’s leader — he has no hesitation about offering his opinion or criticism. Rivers has anointed him the leader and pleaded with him to take more control of the offense, and there is no player more dependent on pinpoint passes and timing than Allen. When Rondo freelanced — and that was often — Allen was the victim.
Basketball-wise it was an uneven marriage. Personality-wise the two weren’t compatible, but they didn’t need to be. Rondo was able to bond with veteran Keyon Dooling, who offered strong suggestions on how Rondo should approach his job at point guard and leader, and Rondo respected that straight approach.
Before then, Rondo’s closest friend on the team was Kendrick Perkins, and they would bicker constantly. Rondo shares a series of love-hate relationships with his teammates, and Allen was no different. Some around the team have speculated that Allen was offended by the thought that Rondo had elite basketball intelligence. Allen thought of himself as having the highest basketball IQ on the roster.
Allen’s defection was painful for the Celtics, who truly believed that twice the money, the possibility of another title run, and the “ubuntu” belief in team above individual would keep him home. But that wasn’t enough. Allen felt slighted, the least respected of the Big Three who felt he sacrificed the most after being a perennial All-Star and high scorer in Seattle.
Perhaps Allen has delusions of grandeur, thinking he remains an elite player who wanted to join other elite players in Miami. Yet what has kept Allen going at such as advanced age is the belief that he is, indeed, a Hall of Famer, and talk of slippage is ignored.
When the Celtics made a last-minute push to retain him, Allen reacted as if he had been scorned too many times to trust their pleas. Mentally, he already had checked out. He did that in March, when he truly believed he was going to be traded, and when he wasn’t, he spent months preparing for what would be an unceremonious departure.
Five years of wonderful memories, 798 made 3-pointers, and a lot of goodwill seemingly were wiped out after a rather compelling dinner with the Heat’s Pat Riley, Erik Spoelstra, and Alonzo Mourning. But it was more than the convincing words of Riley; it was Allen having perceived broken promises, slights, and ignorance all the while he felt he remained a good soldier.
Allen slipped away quietly but with a piercing message to the Celtics.
Both sides are responsible for this divorce, however.
Allen allowed small issues to develop into big ones, allowing his pride to get in the way. And the Celtics misinterpreted Allen’s silence and professionalism for contentment.
Allen wanted the Celtics to financially compensate him for what he believed were years of personal sacrifice, and the Celtics thought the reloading of the roster would convince him to stay put.
Both were wrong, and perhaps their split will be better for both sides — eventually.Gary Washburn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow him on Twitter at @gwashNBAGlobe