In Boston the last five years there has been the old guard — Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen — complimented by a rotating cast of new faces. Whether it’s been guys who have come in and out of the roster, such as Jeff Green or Big Baby Davis or Kendrick Perkins, or players whose roles have ebbed and flowed, such as Rajon Rondo‘s, it was never a question whose team it was. In the middle of this was coach Doc Rivers, mediating the crossover point between the two sides in Boston’s basketball Venn diagram. What happens when the new overtakes the old? Turnover. The likes of which Rivers saw coming.
Rivers gave Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski reams of quotes about Allen’s departure for Miami in free agency and why he saw it coming but was loathe to stop the undermining reasons why. Rivers’ simple answer is having Allen come off the bench after injuring his ankle made better sense for the team with Avery Bradley, the new guard in several senses, becoming a legitimate option for the Celtics. The two most-popular lineups used by Rivers last year included Rondo, Pierce, Bass and Garnett with Allen or Bradley taking the fifth spot. When Allen played, the record was 12-14. With Bradley starting, it was 11-3, helped by much better shooting and free-throw attempts. Coupled with what Wojnarowski called increasing personal “disdain” between Allen and Rondo and the fact that Rondo needs the ball in his hands more than the typical point guard all create a tricky chemistry that blew up in the C’s faces come July.
“And not starting [games] bothered Ray. I did examine it, and the conclusion I came back to was this: By doing the right things, we may have lost Ray. If I hadn’t done that, I would’ve been a hypocrite. In the opening speech I make every year, I tell the team: ‘Every decision I make is going to be what’s good for the team, and it may not be what’s good for the individual.'”
You want a fresh start? Rivers gets that, he says. But “I was pissed at him” for the reasons Allen left, Rivers said, because those reasons made the Celtics better.
“I was pissed at him,” Rivers said. “I was pissed at him for his reasons for leaving. But what people don’t get: I wasn’t pissed at him for leaving for Miami. I could care less he went there. And that’s a fact. With the fans, I know it was: How could he go to Miami? But once he decided he didn’t want to stay with us, he has the right to wherever he wants.”
Rivers has come to realize that Allen’s leaving was inevitable and his return would’ve only exacerbated the issues and made for an untenable situation in Boston. Shooting guards Jason Terry and Courtney Lee were signed in free agency, and they’ll replace Allen.
“For a week or two, I was really disappointed, pissed, because I thought it was for all the wrong reasons,” Rivers said. “It was more about himself, his team. And then I realized: Well, it should be about himself. It was free agency. I wasn’t thinking right.
Boston may be the only place in the NBA where this would still be talked about three weeks later for a player of Allen’s importance last season. His defense suffered because of his ankle injury, and on offense he had a harder time losing defenders off screens. For a spot-up shooter, getting open is the alpha and omega to your game. At 37, having an ankle injury like that is like being a wounded animal on the safari. You’re going to get exposed and eaten alive (and he had career lows in PER, win shares, points and assists per game; however, his shooting percentages all beat his career averages).
It’s only natural a player that unhappy — Wojnarowski wrote Allen started to flake on returning Rivers’ texts and calls for the first time — to leave. Boston, whether because of Rivers’ style of coaching or the sense the Big Three were on One Last Run, became unusually tight-knit the last five seasons. Remember when Perkins was traded away? Jeff Green must have felt like he was traded to a team in the middle of a wake. The cold, “basketball-reasons” philosophy doesn’t really compute under GM Danny Ainge. The upside of that: Players can feel more attended to (a fine line between coddling and attending do a guy’s needs) and valued. The downside: It’s harder to cut ties when needed. This time Allen did the cutting, and even though we’re still talking about a 37-year-old’s signing longer than it probably should, Allen did the right thing. Just ask Rivers.