When the Hall of Fame announced its Mannie Jackson Human Spirit Award winners and presenters for this year’s class, the irony deserved acknowledgment.
Ray Allen, class of 2015, was named one of the winners. He also was named as a presenter for class of 2021 inductee Chris Bosh. Meanwhile, guess who Paul Pierce requested as his presenter … Kevin Garnett, class of 2020.
The Celtics’ Big Three will be in Springfield for this magical night on Sept. 11, in the same place at the same time. Their roles in Celtics lore have been documented over the past 13 years, but so have the issues that emanated from Allen leaving the Celtics to sign with the Heat after the 2011-12 season.
Allen was on the trading block the previous season, and the Celtics then passed on the opportunity to sign him to an extension. Feeling disregarded, especially after Boston signed 3-point specialist Jason Terry, Allen joined LeBron James, Bosh, and Dwyane Wade in Miami for half the money the Celtics eventually offered him. But Danny Ainge’s offer came much too late.
Garnett, Pierce, and Rajon Rondo to a lesser extent, were upset that Allen had defected to the rival Heat. Rondo and Allen were not close as teammates, and they aren’t now. Pierce has softened his stance and has spoken with Allen in recent years.
As for Garnett, he still hasn’t let Allen’s decision go. He took it personally. And he even cut Allen out of a recent Instagram photo of the quartet taken years ago at the ESPYs.
“I’ve been very vocal on my distaste for what Ray did, that was real for everybody that was involved,” Garnett told the Globe in April 2020. “That’s real life. We was in a real beef with Miami at the time and very similar to if someone was to go from the Lakers to the Celtics, and vice versa. No one will speak on the underlyings of it, but that was a real thing. Miami and Boston. That was a real thing.
“Ray made a decision; I wouldn’t expect Ray to be at anything of mine. And vice versa. If I see him, I’ll speak. I’ll say hello to his family like always. He knows that decision altered and made us all feel different.”
It’s time for all the madness to stop and for the Big Three to come together in Springfield.Garnett and Allen are likely to never be close friends, but the Big Three will all be Hall of Famers that night, immortal figures in basketball history. And they are associated together with resurrecting the Celtics.
Not just Garnett. Not just Pierce. Not just Garnett and Pierce. Allen deserves his respect and it’s time for Garnett to move on and appreciate what the trio accomplished. They are part of the same history.
It’s important to note that Allen didn’t feel appreciated by the Celtics at the end. He was being pushed to the bench by Avery Bradley. Rondo and Allen clashed on and off the floor. And then a South Beach dinner with Heat president Pat Riley and owner Micky Arison clinched the deal.
Allen responded by hitting the biggest shot in Heat history, earning another title before his retirement after the 2013-14 season. It’s been nine years since he left the Celtics abruptly, and he hasn’t been back to Boston since his retirement.
He’s taken enough heat (pun intended) for his decision, especially considering the Celtics were unlikely to overcome the challenge from the Heat, even with Allen. Pierce and Garnett played one more season in Boston before Ainge made the huge deal with the Nets to amass draft picks, helping them acquire Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum in the coming years.
Allen, Garnett, and Pierce are all in the mid-40s. They are NBA legends. They were all drafted a generation ago. And while we appreciate the fierce rivalries and the competition of the 1980s, ‘90s, and 2000s, a distant memory in comparison to today’s jersey-swap generation, it’s time to end the resentment and pettiness.
For three seasons, the Big Three led the most dominant team in the NBA. It can be argued that if not for Garnett’s knee injury in 2009 and Kendrick Perkins’s torn ACL in Game 6 of the 2010 Finals, the Celtics could have three-peated.
It’s time to appreciate those years, talk over the good ol’ days, leave the painful memories in the past, and cherish being in Springfield together as Hall of Famers, immortals, all-time great Celtics.
Walker excited to be in New York
Kemba Walker was polite and respectful this past week, choosing to discuss his future with his hometown team. Sounding rejuvenated and relieved, Walker joined the Knicks this month after the Celtics traded him to the Thunder in June.
Walker was never going to play a game with the Thunder. They took on his contract because the Celtics sweetened the deal with a first-round pick, which Oklahoma City eventually traded. Walker agreed to a buyout of the final two years and $74 million due on his contract, and then agreed to a two-year, $18 million deal with the Knicks.
Walker is a Bronx native who starred at Rice High School. He has always been proud of his roots.
“It does feel different,” he said. “This feeling is like no other. I’ve been randomly getting goosebumps. It’s an unbelievable feeling coming home.”
Walker wants to revert to the form from his days with the Hornets, when he was one of the top point guards in the league. In Boston, Walker enjoyed a good first half of his first season, making the All-Star Game. But he experienced knee issues during that time and was never the same player. To gain salary-cap flexibility, the Celtics shipped his contract to the Thunder for Al Horford.
Walker said he’s healthy. The Celtics were extra cautious about his knee, refusing to play him in back-to-back games last season, a move that many believed affected the team’s fragile chemistry.
“My knee feels great,” he said. “I haven’t had this much time off in a few years. It feels good to get this right and take this time to get this knee right. It’s driving everything because I know what kind of player I am and the kind of level I want to be at. That’s definitely added motivation. I just had no idea, but now yeah, it’s the most unreal feeling. I can’t really explain it, I can’t really put into words the feeling of coming home.”
The only parting shot Walker took at the Celtics was pointing out they didn’t believe him in because they traded him. Now he is leading a team with high expectations after a surprising playoff appearance with a young roster. The Knicks also added Celtics swingman Evan Fournier in a sign-and-trade that netted Boston an $17.1 million trade exception.
“I think we’re going to be really good, my ability to get into the lane, dish to shooters,” Walker said. “I know this guy [Fournier] is going to shoot the crap out the ball. Everything is perfect, perfect timing. I’m really motivated. I needed somebody to believe in me and these guys do. My home team, the Knicks, believed in me, so everything in the process is irrelevant right now.”
Raptors stick with Ujiri during rebuild
While the 2018-19 NBA champion Raptors are in the midst of a retooling of the roster, making trades at the deadline last season to clear salary-cap space and then earlier this month executing a sign-and-trade deal with the Heat to send franchise favorite Kyle Lowry to South Florida, they will go forward with the man who built the franchise into a champion: team president Masai Ujiri.
The well-respected executive agreed to a contract extension despite overtures from other clubs and rumors that he was ready to depart his beloved franchise.
Ujiri has made some difficult decisions in recent months, such as trading popular guard Norman Powell and then allowing Lowry to depart after coming short of trading him at the deadline.
“It’s been really tough for us to see an incredible player like that go,” Ujiri said of Lowry. “I had really extensive conversations with Kyle, and it was great to spend a lot of time with him in the last year in Tampa. We knew this was coming. The direction of our team was kind of going younger. Kyle still has his incredible goals. Kyle wanted to be here, too, if that was what we were trying to do. We saw our team as kind of being in the middle ground a little bit and wanted to go a little bit younger so we can start to grow, almost like when Kyle was here in the beginning.
“But what that guy has done for this organization, what he has done for this community, his participation in everything that we can ask for. I mean, Kyle, we had ups and downs here, but I’m telling you, even the measure of it when you look at it, the downs were, like, this much. It was great to grow with him here.”
While the Blue Jays have moved back to Toronto, there has been no official word about the Raptors playing in Scotiabank Arena this upcoming season. The Raptors endured a trying 2020-21 season, forced to play in Tampa because of COVID-19 restrictions. They missed the playoffs for the first time in eight years and Ujiri began dissecting the roster.
There is hope the Raptors can go home, but nothing has been announced.
“We continue to have a lot of discussions about this,” Ujiri said. “Our hope is that we’re playing at home. We have not looked elsewhere. We are not going to look elsewhere. We’re trying to play at home. That’s the goal for us. I told [ownership] and even Prime Minister [Justin] Trudeau that playing away set us back a couple years. We know that. We are ready for that challenge. Playing another year somewhere else will set us back five years. We are not trying to do that. We understand all the public health concerns, issues. We are taking measures. As you saw, we came up with our policy with [Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment] on how we intend to even fill out our arenas as we go forward here as we try to play at home.”
The other 29 teams are expected to open the season with fans in arenas, likely tickets sold to capacity, although individual teams are expected to implement certain vaccination restrictions. But for the Raptors there remains uncertainty, although the Blue Jays returning to nearby Rogers Centre was a positive sign.
“We have talked to the league; We’ve talked to public health officials,” Ujiri said. “We’ve talked within, obviously, with ownership. We are all together on this, on how we want to get back to at least being safe and trying to get back to a little bit of, I think, being normal.”
There is hope for the Raptors. They acquired veteran guard Goran Dragic and young forward Precious Achiuwa in the Lowry deal, re-signed Gary Trent Jr. to a three-year extension, and selected Florida State forward Scottie Barnes fourth overall in the draft.
“For now, our opportunities are building around the young players that we have and letting them grow,” Ujiri said. “We have very young veterans. They are almost at the same age at when we had Kyle and DeMar [DeRozan]. That’s Fred [VanVleet], that’s OG [Anunoby], that’s Pascal [Siakam]. We want to build around these guys and the [Chris] Bouchers and Khem Birches. All these players, I think, they have a level that they need to get to. And then there’s the young crop. I think you guys saw coming that we just drafted Scottie Barnes and Dalano [Banton]. We just got Precious in a trade. All these guys we want to really develop in some kind of way.”
Ujiri has maintained that Siakam, who had an All-Star season in 2019-20, is not going to be traded. Siakam needs to be a factor for the Raptors to compete for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Ujiri said the move to Tampa affected Siakam more adversely than anyone else on the roster.
“The games get shut down here. Pascal has visa issues, I think, and so he is stuck here in his apartment,” Ujiri said. “He doesn’t want to go out and contract this disease. And so, Pascal is doing nothing between then and the bubble. The bubble comes and he’s not in the best shape that he can possibly be. It’s shortened break and then he comes into this season.
“Honestly, Pascal realizes this when he actually contracts COVID. He sheds. He starts to find himself. And we had the unfortunate [argument] with [coach] Nick Nurse. I know him and Nick have got into a much better place and people can think better. I think everybody is in a better place, to be honest. And even if we are coming back, we are learning as you go. We are learning from all these experiences, and I know he is.”
Ujiri promised Siakam will return to form, which would turn the Raptors into a competitor in the East.
“I know the fan base, people have been hard on him, but trust me, Pascal is a prideful man,” Ujiri said. “Pascal is an unbelievable basketball player. Maybe because he wasn’t playing well, people come up with all this stuff. Pascal is here. Pascal is a Raptor and he’s going to be play with us.”
The Hornets showed how much they value former Celtic Terry Rozier by signing him to a four-year, $96.3 million extension to man their backcourt. The Hornets cleared space for Rozier to flourish by sending Devonte’ Graham to the Pelicans in a sign-and-trade deal. Rozier will now team with LaMelo Ball and play more shooting guard. Rozier thought he should have had a more prominent role with the Celtics, but Boston instead traded him to Charlotte in the deal that returned Kemba Walker. There will always be doubts as to whether the Celtics made the right decision in jettisoning Rozier and replacing him with the more-accomplished Walker, who was dealt this summer and is now with the Knicks … Malden native Nerlens Noel made headlines a few years ago when he rejected a $70 million contract extension from the Mavericks and instead settled for a one-year, $4.1 million deal for 2017-18. Noel then signed a series of league-minimum deals before cashing in this past summer on a three-year, $30 million deal with the Knicks. He is now suing former agent Rich Paul for $58 million, claiming Paul encouraged him to leave agent Happy Walters and promised him a richer deal than the Mavericks offered. In the lawsuit, Noel claims Paul neglected him in favor of his more prominent clients such as LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Noel signed two one-year contracts with the Thunder before procuring a one-year, $5 million deal with the Knicks in 2020. Noel, a defensive stopper and improving offensive player, had been considered one of the more underpaid players in the league. After being the sixth overall pick by the Hornets and traded to the 76ers on draft night in 2013, Noel never met expectations and became a journeyman center. He seemed to have found a home in Dallas, but that ended when he rejected the contract. Paul has added a series of high-profile clients over the past few years and has scored major contracts for many of them, making him one of the more popular agents in the NBA. Noel is now represented by George Langberg.