MIAMI — Things have worked out the way Ray Allen envisioned when he decided to leave the Celtics for a bench role and half the money to play for the Miami Heat.
He played a prominent part on a team expected to compete for a championship and the Heat have managed to slice through the Eastern Conference and reach the NBA Finals for the third consecutive time.
Allen is not the player who stepped onto the TD Garden floor in 2007 when he teamed with Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to help the Celtics win their first title in 22 years, but he felt he had more left to contribute than the Celtics believed. And his decision last summer to leave Boston for a chance to play with LeBron James and back up Dwyane Wade was viewed by some as a slight to the Celtics and the Big Three Era.
Eleven months later, Allen is preparing for Game 1 of the NBA Finals Thursday against the San Antonio Spurs, and the Celtics may be preparing for the rebuilding of their franchise core after falling in the first round of the playoffs to the Knicks. Allen doesn’t appear to have taken any pleasure in the Celtics’ downfall or the struggles of Jason Terry, his replacement as the team’s primary 3-point shooter.
Allen said he is focused on the next two weeks, on trying to procure a second championship ring, and then will concern himself with the player option on his contract, which allows him to become a free agent again if he chooses.
“I won’t say ‘vindicated,’ ” he said after practice Wednesday at AmericanAirlines Arena. “Every player going into free agency wants to win, and as you get older, you try to see everything. You try to look at the situation a little bit closer.
“You step out on the limb every summer and a guy says, ‘Am I going to go to this team or that team?’ For me, I guess there is a little bit of vindication because being here is where my whole hope was last summer.”
In his first season as a reserve, Allen averaged 10.9 points in 79 games, shooting 41.9 percent from the 3-point line, his lowest clip in three seasons. But any concerns that Allen might have had about competing with Mike Miller or James Jones for playing time were eradicated when their roles were reduced to make room for him.
Allen’s production did not drop off, as he finished with approximately the same player efficiency rating as he did in his final season in Boston. But his shots were easier because of the presence of James and Wade.
Because those two All-Stars penetrate with such vigor, the floor was spread more for Allen. And because his 3-pointers as a Celtic had led to countless timeouts from Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, he was immediately given a spot in the Miami circle of trust.
Said Wade, “The greatest thing I can say is after Game 7 [of the Eastern Conference finals], we were all sitting in the middle of the ropes, and Ray was just smiling so big and he said, ‘Last year I was on the outside of these ropes. And this year I’m on the inside. And this is what I came here for.’
“We’re glad that he can sacrifice the way he did and take a lot of criticism as well to come and be a part of an organization, of a team, that he felt was special and that can really use his talents and his ability. And it worked. It worked out for him. He now has another opportunity to play in another Finals.”
Similar to his role in Boston, Allen has become the team mentor in Miami, offering strong suggestions for career longevity to his younger teammates. In Seattle, he would warn teammate Rashard Lewis about the perils of chicken fingers and fries before games.
The two, together again on the Heat, go back 10 years to their days with the SuperSonics, and Lewis said Allen’s imprint on his teammates is the same.
“We shared a lot together that we did in Seattle,” Lewis said. “Coming here, we both had to sacrifice. He had to come off the bench and play and not play a lot of minutes that he’s used to playing, as well as myself.
“We’re doing what’s best for the team. It’s a good, veteran team. Everybody gets along well off the court, and that’s what really helped us this season.”
One of the primary reasons Allen doesn’t miss Boston is what Paul Pierce is experiencing now — having to wait until the team makes a decision on his contract. The Celtics have until June 30 to waive or pick up the 2013-14 option, leaving Pierce in limbo.
Often over the past few years, Allen was discussed in trades, which made him visibly uncomfortable, and he also was annoyed that the Celtics waited until free agency last July to make him a serious contract offer.
Allen is enjoying the power of being able to hit free agency again.
“Going back to my situation last summer, I had control,” he said. “I had the ultimate choice to decide where my future was going to be, and I didn’t have to worry about what a team was going to decide to do with me.
“What team out there possibly was going to give me the option to be able to play and also at the same time, being able to win? I guess [Pierce] is at the mercy of what the team wants to do.”
Allen’s main motivation in leaving the Celtics for an archrival was winning another title, and he has that chance, despite all the criticism from some of the Celtics faithful.
“Just pure joy getting back here,” he said. “This is my third time, and this feeling never gets old. You always forget the magnitude of the situation.
“Yesterday I thought about it and compared it to the Super Bowl when I watch those guys and they do Media Day. We’ve done something that people in the world will pay attention to and we’ve got to enjoy these moments.”Gary Washburn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @gwashNBAGlobe.