It hurts, and that is understandable. Watching Ray Allen stand there holding his new Miami Heat jersey, wearing that same smile he wore five years ago when he and Kevin Garnett arrived in Boston, was not easy. He played for two other teams before joining the C's, but in many fans' minds Allen will always be a Celtic.
That is why it will be so hard to see him in a different uniform next season. It is why he will be booed on Jan. 27, the first time he returns to the TD Garden. It is why most fans will probably sooner don a Kobe Bryant jersey before they are ever caught dead in a No. 20 Celtics jersey again.
Paul Pierce's feelings are not so different. Like coach Doc Rivers, the only other non-front office member of the Celtics to make any substantial remarks on the subject since Allen departed, Pierce admitted in an interview with the Boston Celtics website that he respected Allen's right to make his own decision.
Of all the teams in all the places in all the world, though, it had to be the Heat.
"I'm a little bitter he went to Miami," Pierce acknowledged, "but he's still a brother of mine."
Yet Pierce took a mature viewpoint, one that a great many green-clad fans unfortunately will not make when they see Allen playing for a rival. Pierce is angry that Allen's tenure in Boston is over, but he is happy that the tenure happened.
"It's going to be a little weird, but Ray made the best decision for him," Pierce said. "That's pretty much how it is. You get into a situation, you get to free agency and you make a decision what's best for you and your family. Ray will always be a brother to me. If it wasn't for him, I probably wouldn't be wearing a championship ring, so the things he was able to do for this organization will never be forgotten."
The championship ring should be the key here. Pierce was correct, but he did not go far enough. There is no "probably" about it. The Celtics would not have beaten the Lakers in 2008 or made it to Game 7 of the NBA Finals in 2010 without Allen. If not for Allen, the Celtics would now trail the Lakers as the franchise with the most NBA championships, not in sole possession of the top spot as they have been since Bill Russell and the gang won their fifth title in 1962. (In a way, the Lakers already are tied with the Celtics at 17 titles apiece, but one of the Lakers' trophies came in the old NBL.)
Without Allen, the Celtics are not the favorites to win the Eastern Conference crown this season. With Allen, they would not have been, either. Allen's departure did not decimate their hopes. The Celtics remain a viable contender with the additions of Jason Terry and Courtney Lee, the crucial retention of Garnett — "He's everything to us trying to win a championship," Pierce told the website — and a rejuvenated Pierce, who has been strengthening and icing the quad that troubled him during last season's playoffs. Piece endorsed the moves made this offseason by Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge.
"I love what Danny's been able to do," Pierce said in the interview. "It was a tough decision this summer. I know a lot was riding on what direction we were going to head. I think it was just a domino effect. Once we signed Kevin, we knew we were going to try to make another run at it. That's pretty much the way I looked at it. Once we signed him, a number of guys were able to jump on board."
Pierce seems more concerned with trying to win another championship with a new group of teammates than pining over the championship he won in the past with a former teammate. Because without that teammate, there would be no past championship to dwell on. Remember that when the boos rain down on Allen in January.