Which would you rather have: a modest contract at less than the mid-level, a quiet 15-minute contribution each night and a middling season for an average Western Conference team? Or that same modest contract, that same quiet contribution and a chance to win an NBA championship every year?
It seems like a no-brainer. And that's why the case of Tony Allen, who left the Celtics this summer after six seasons to sign with the Memphis Grizzlies, has left many in Boston scratching their heads. What about Memphis and the three-year, $10 million contract they offered him was so appealing to the Celtics' former bench defensive stopper?
It's puzzling. Even Allen's new coach has admitted as much.
"What would you rather do?" Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins asked this week, according to a report in the Tulsa World. "Win and play 15 minutes a game? Or you may not win as much and play 15 minutes a game? My thing is I would rather play on a winning team and have a chance to win championships — and get a playoff share, too."
When you put it like that, there's no way around it. Tony Allen messed up. He's 28 years old, he hit a crucial turning point in his NBA career, and he made a drastic mistake by leaving behind chance to win multiple championship rings in Boston.
But there's another way to put it — and this gets at a problem that a lot of bench role players face when they make the decision to come to Boston. Basketball is a team game, but there are always a lot of individual egos thrown into the mix, and it's always difficult to set aside the self and focus on a team's ultimate goal. Each guy knows there's not only personal fame, but millions of dollars at stake.
Allen was definitely in a tough personal situation in Boston.
"I was definitely overshadowed," Allen told the World. "Anybody would have been overshadowed, considering those Hall of Fame, prolific-type scorers that they had."
Getting the chemistry right on a star-studded basketball team is hard. When you've got Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen all in front of you on the depth chart, making superstar money and putting up superstar numbers, it's hard to earn the respect that you think you deserve. Some guys are OK with that; some guys aren't. It depends on the personality.
Nate Robinson needed a few months to figure things out as a Celtic, and he spent more than a few games watching from the bench while Doc Rivers waited for him to grasp "ubuntu." Glen Davis has always felt discomfort with his role in Boston, speaking out about it as recently as last month's Celtics media day. Shaquille O'Neal claims at the moment that he's fine with not starting, but we'll see if he's still singing that tune in the dead of winter.
It's hard to make yourself at home in a crowded house. Allen learned that lesson over and over again for six years.
He had plenty of ups and downs in Boston. At times he was a knucklehead and a troublemaker, criticized for his work ethic and his IQ. At other times, he was the star of the Celtics' bench, the defensive stud Boston needed to knock off Cleveland or L.A. in the postseason.
His status in Boston went up and down, up and down, nonstop, for six seasons, and he's far from the only player to experience that hardship on this Celtics team.
Maybe this is how you could describe Allen's decision — he was choosing between money, minutes and championships, and money, minutes and stability.
He'll be a happier person in Memphis. He knows his role there — he won't start, but he'll come off the bench as a stopper and occasionally an aggressive, slashing scorer. The Grizzlies will need him every time they take the floor.
Allen is no different than countless other players who have come and gone in Boston. He tried being a small fish in a big pond, but the role wasn't for him.
It takes a certain kind of player to survive in Boston. Luckily for the Celtics, they still have plenty of guys left willing to play together and win together.