Rivers made his most expansive remarks to date on the subject of Allen signing with the Miami Heat in an interview with Yahoo! Sports, and the Celtics coach said that a personal rift between his All-Star backcourt tandem was not to blame for Allen's departure. Instead, it was all on himself, Rivers said, although it was hard to examine Rivers' comments and find exactly where he should have acted differently.
The short version goes like this: Rivers had turned leadership of the team over to Rondo. Allen wanted to be a bigger part of the offense, which he admitted during his introductory news conference in Miami. Those two things would not jell with the Celtics, so even if Rondo did not personally force Allen out of Boston, the point guard's expanding role had everything to do with Allen's choice to leave.
The difference may be semantics, but the final takeaway should be that once again Rivers placed the good of the team above the good of an individual. What was good for Allen — to remain a starter, to continue to get 15 shots a game — was not what was good for the Celtics. Nearing the end of an illustrious career, Allen could not get over that, not even to the tune of $6 million per year. So he left. That does not make Allen a bad person — a fact that even Rivers sounded like he struggled with immediately after learning of Allen's decision — nor does it make Rivers heartless.
Rivers is the coach and he must make decisions he feels are right for the team. Certainly, that would seem obvious, but Rivers is one of only a half-dozen or so coaches of whom that statement is true. (Stan Van Gundy of the Magic found out the hard way that his front office would prefer he did what was good for Dwight Howard, not for the team as a whole.) The shortlist of coaches who wield this sort of independence includes Gregg Popovich, Rick Carlisle, George Karl and Rivers, with Doug Collins and Tyrone Corbin probably qualifying due to the old-school cultures of their respective franchises. By dawdling on extending Tom Thibodeau's contract, the Bulls are in the process of proving that they do not place the 2010-11 NBA Coach of the Year as high on the company masthead as was previously believed.
If the end of Allen's tenure with the Celtics seems harsh, bear in mind that this day will come for Rondo, too, and it nearly came for Kevin Garnett this summer as well. Even Paul Pierce, who predates Rivers in Boston, is not immune, as evidenced by reports that the Celtics shopped Pierce at this year's trade deadline.
For that reason, it is overly simplistic to claim Rondo is responsible for Allen turning down the Celtics' contract offer. Rondo did not force out Allen any more than Avery Bradley forced out Allen by taking his spot in the starting lineup. Rondo simply was the tool Rivers utilized to implement a new approach, with a greater emphasis on a 25-year-old point guard's budding skills and less emphasis on a 37-year-old shooting guard's creaky ankles. Not every coach could make such a move without risking his job and all future employment. Imagine Mike Brown asking Kobe Bryant to accept a decreased role with the Lakers. Now imagine unicorns flying out of Carmelo Anthony's ears. The latter seems much more likely, right?
Rivers and the rest of the Celtics will be asked about Allen at every opportunity until training camp, when the biggest story of the first day will be what everyone in green thinks of Allen now playing for the rival Heat. Each player will take solace in the knowledge that Rivers will always place the team's needs above the needs of one person. The same knowledge will keep each player just uncomfortable enough to keep him in line; otherwise he could follow Allen to the bench and eventually out the door.
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