The Big Three is officially done. The legacy that Allen built in Boston will not only have a footnote — that he left for another team — but will likely be rewritten now, as no one is talking about him being the consummate team player and sacrificing self for the greater good. Allen may still be a good teammate, but he’s going to do it in Miami, giving up on the Boston effort where he’d played second, third and fourth fiddle to the likes of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Rajon Rondo and even Avery Bradley.
Allen’s signing with the Heat for what was seen as better championship chances was greeted with disdain by Boston fans. Ray became a Benedict Arnold overnight — a Benedict Allen, to reuse a moniker that looks less cute by the second. In one move, he entered the territory of Johnny Damon lore, where one day’s Jesus becomes another night’s Evil Empire.
The move doesn’t just hurt because of where Allen went, or why he went. The thing that sticks is that the Celtics had as much to offer Allen as the Heat did in terms of title chances, and they had even more money waiting. But Allen clearly preferred the Heat and their perks over what the Celtics had become. Whether it be friction with teammates or a city that had gone stale, Allen’s leaving isn’t going to be seen as just a player doing what he had to do. This is a snub against the Celtics way, a serious pickup for the Heat, and added motivation for Boston to make the most of a player who has basically said the C’s don’t have what they need for another Larry O’Brien trophy.
But, as much as Allen leaving hurts, Celtics fan shouldn’t be devastated. In fact, they should be relieved, as the Celtics may be in the best shape they’ve been in for several seasons.
When the Big Three showed up and won it all in 2008, the talk was of a three-year window. Pierce, Garnett and Allen needed to do it then, because any longer would be asking too much from the veterans’ bodies, and it would hurt the team to invest in those players as it tried to rebuild for the future.
But the graybeards have shown great resilience, and they had an excellent year in 2012. The Celtics came so close to the Finals this time that it seemed like lunacy to just put Garnett, Pierce and Allen out to pasture and try to retool for the future. So, Danny Ainge and his front office friends have prepared for an attack that will rely on veterans again — without giving up on developing the team of tomorrow.
The underlying current in Allen leaving for Miami was that his role on the team had shrunk, especially as he battled ankle injuries and saw a more spry Bradley steal minutes thanks to his defensive prowess. Essentially, the Celtics were already rebuilding last year, by default. Allen couldn’t perform up to his usual level, and Bradley — a backcourt player of the future — got enough serious time that people can now envision him starting.
He’s not the only player who’s moved up from the nebulous No. 5 through No. 12 spots on the roster to being a dependable player. Brandon Bass has gone from a question mark to a catalyst. Even with his deficiencies as a big, he’s providing potent offense with killer jump shots and a game that keeps growing. Jeff Green, who was once the Celtics’ future in the draft and has now circled back to Boston, is going to provide quality minutes without too much tutelage.
Perhaps no one is a bigger example of the Celtics being prepared for the future than Rondo, though. It’s crazy to talk about Rondo as a young player anymore, as he’s become the team’s MVP in every way. But when this Big Three run began, he was a facilitator. He’s now the linchpin, and he’s giving some of his best performances in these pivotal years when the Celtics have both players who run the game themselves (Garnett, Pierce), as those who need Rondo to create for them (the rest of the Celtics’ lineup, and its young core from the last two years’ draft classes).
With a normal-length regular season this year, the Celtics are going to be able to provide playing time and practical experience for JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore, the players from last year’s draft, as well as Jared Sullinger, Fab Melo and Kris Joseph, picked this year. That’s a bevy of young talent that can be mixed in with the huge depth of experience Boston has, with some Garnett inspiration notwithstanding to speed up young players’ progress.
So, rather than having the Big Three era end and a rebuilding begin — a huge dropoff that many teams have to deal with when their stars finally go — the Celtics may actually have the best transition plan in the league. And it’s a transition that’s happening when some of their best players still have a little juice left, which is why a championship is still on the front of everyone’s mind.
In a way, that’s what makes Allen leaving so interesting. The Celtics wanted him back, Doc Rivers wanted him back, some teammates wanted him back, the fans wanted him back — but the Celtics may be better off without him. No, no one can drop 3-pointers like Allen, and he’s got the veteran ability and leadership that’s hard to replicate. But he’d also grown tired of the Celtics’ locker room. Was it too much to think he would come back and continue to just be the good teammate and put up with things he didn’t like? Who’s to say that Allen’s “veteran leadership” wouldn’t have deteriorated?
More importantly, though, Allen’s contribution to the team has diminished now that the Celtics have better options. Boston will always need Pierce’s isolation game and Garnett’s defense and fire, but they’ve found other guys that can spread the floor like Allen. On defense, Bradley is a huge upgrade. And as minutes became more scarce, the Celtics would have had to put Allen in a lesser role. Not only would this have made him unhappy, but it would have been tough for the Celtics, especially if they paid him a lot to stay.
Sentimentally, the C’s wanted him around, but schematically, the offense and the team dynamic works better without him.
Fans may want to point their fingers and run Allen out of town now that he’s sided with the top-dog Heat. His move was best for him, yes — but it may have also been better for the Celtics. And while he’ll be an upgrade for Miami, he won’t leave enough of a hole in the Celtics that they can do any blame-gaming when it comes down to fighting for a championship. They are better set up to win it all now, without him, than they were if he had decided to stick around.
So, begone, Benedict Allen. But know that the only reason Miami is a better fit is because you made it that way, because of what you wanted.
The Celtics know what they want, and they should wish Allen well, then turn their attention to chasing the real prize.
Photo via Twitter/@abake6