Ray Allen joins Miami Heat: No such thing as traitors here

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In 2007, Ray Allen had spent five years in Seattle. There were likely kids in Seattle who had Ray Allen jerseys. Sonics fans touted him as a great scorer. The team wasn’t great. But Allen had ties to the Sonics at that point, since coming over in a trade from Milwaukee. Allen didn’t have a choice when he was traded from Seattle to the Boston Celtics. But ask yourself, do you think he resisted for a heartbeat when they asked him about being traded to Boston to join Paul Pierce and conceivably Kevin Garnett (the deal hadn’t been pulled off yet)? Do you think he hesitated and said “what about my time with Seattle?”

No, because Ray Allen is not an idiot. Seattle’s time of even possibly being in contention was over. They were not a good team, but more importantly, they did not afford him the best opportunity to win. He was traded, but it might as well have been a free agency decision.

The point? With Ray Allen joining the Miami Heat, this is the second super-team Allen has joined in five years. And the first time, there were no comments about him being a traitor. There were no calls of Ray Allen or Kevin Garnett selling out. It was a feel-good story. “Isn’t it great? They joined the Celtics!”

I’m not here to deny that there are differences in the two situations. Seattle and Boston weren’t rivals. Boston hadn’t just slammed the door shut on Seattle’s improbable title run, with Paul Pierce scoring 45 points and leaving a half-empty building chanting “Let’s Go Sonics.” There wasn’t a special bond between Allen and Rashard Lewis, the other Sonics star spit off as the Sonics/Thunder began their rebuilding process. There was no Ubuntu in Seattle.

And Boston fans, this isn’t about  you. You get to feel however you want, within reason. Fandom isn’t rational, you hate Miami, you loved Ray. It happens. This is about everyone else. The internet is subtly littered today with words like “traitor” and “sell-out.” There’s a quiet resentment even among national media that, despite LeBron James’ seeming rehabilitation in terms of his public persona, still has an old-school attachment to Boston and a poisoned resentment of Boston. Kevin Garnett screams and pounds his chest? “Look at the intensity!” LeBron James poses after a dunk? “What a preening fool!” The double-standard in the reaction between the two teams is enough to force a multiple-personality disorder.

As if joining a super-team in Boston is a heart-warming story and joining a super-team in Miami is a travesty representative of the terrible team-ups that are occurring. I’ve been beating this drum for two years, but guess who started this trend? Guess what the first modern-era superstar team to kick off this trend was?

Your Boston Celtics.

Maybe if nothing else this is a revisionist criticism of the idea that Ubuntu mattered. We bought into the concept that the Celtics were truly great because they sacrificed. They were different from other teams because of their attitudes and sacrifice. Yet there was always an order of ego in Boston, with Pierce and KG at the top, and Rondo climbed that ladder as he got better. Adrian Wojnarowski points to the reasons why Allen left, and they include Rajon Rondo’s personality, the Celtics’ repeated efforts to trade him, the ways that the relationship was damaged enough to drive Allen to South Beach.

But let’s not get this twisted. Allen’s not burning bridges on his way out. Boston will burn those bridges as he leaves, and that’s fine. But Allen is a true professional. He’ll say nothing but good things about his time in Boston, and about their 2008 championship. But just as the Celtics elected to consider trading him because they felt it was their best chance at winning a title, Allen left because he knows a truth that no one else in Boston is willing to accept.

Their run is over.

Yeah, they made the Eastern Conference Finals, on the back of a Derrick Rose injury, a Sixers team that almost but couldn’t quite get its head out of the offensive sand long enough to knock them off, and an NBA seeding process that continues to boggle by not re-seeding after the first round. They pushed the Heat to the bring of elimination. It was right there. Even in Game 7.

But if you were paying attention, if you watched the Celtics’ reaction and the way Miami played, you’d know it.

LeBron James ended the Celtics’ title run. Not for last season. For this era.

James scored 45 points, locked up the East, locked up the Garden, turned out the lights on the Big 3 era, and as it turns out, took Ray Allen back to South Beach with him not just for Game 7, but for the end of his career. That’s when it was over. Boston’s lead in Game 7 never felt safe, never felts secure, there could be no confidence. And when it came down, they buckled. The strain was too much, the age was too great, the Heat were too good.

And so Ray Allen goes where he can win a title. Boston can still be the third best team in the East. Have some injury luck, again, and they can be right back in the Eastern Conference Finals. But the problem with age is that once it starts to have an impact, it only hurts more. Allen will suffer that as well. But Boston’s dependent on it. Jason Terry will help, but there were signs that he was slowing down last season. Not everyone starts the slide at the same time. Boston’s still relevant, they’re just contenders.

And beyond that, we act as if these rivalries are real. Like they matter. Paul Pierce was hanging out with Dwyane Wade and LeBron James during the lockout. Garnett and Kobe Bryant are close friends. Guess what, kids? As has been said so often, it’s just laundry.

Ray Allen’s no traitor, he’s just a player who decided to pursue his last, best chance at a title. He took less money to join a better team. In an era that has seen stars in their primes make worse decisions by choosing the money over the better team, maybe we should hold off on the witch hunt.

Funnily enough, “traitor” isn’t a position on the basketball floor.

Watch LeBron James’ top highlight from each of his postseason appearances (video)

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LeBron James and Tony Parker are the only players to play in the last dozen postseasons.

(If you’re wondering, Manu Ginobili missed the 2009 playoffs due to an ankle injury.)

It’s fair to say LeBron was a bit more spectacular than Parker in that span. As LeBron enters his seventh straight Finals, the NBA released this awesome video showing LeBron’s best playoff highlight from each year:

There’s no entry for this year. Here’s betting it comes against the Warriors in the NBA Finals.

David Stern: We thought we could re-work Chris Paul-to-Lakers trade until Mitch Kupchak ‘panicked’

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NBA commissioner David Stern – acting as New Orleans’ owner representative, he says – infamously vetoed a potential Chris Paul-to-Lakers trade in 2011.

But that didn’t close the possibility of Paul going to the Lakers.

The New Orleans Hornets (now the Pelicans and not be confused with the current Charlotte Hornets), Lakers and Rockets tried to rework the three-team trade that would’ve sent Paul to the Lakers, Pau Gasol to Houston and Lamar Odom, Kevin Martin, Luis Scola, Goran Dragic and a first-round pick to New Orleans. But talks fell apart around the time the Lakers dealt Odom to the Mavericks.

Stern on Nunyo & Company (hat tip: Harrison Feigen of Silver Screen & Roll):

In fact, in the course of the weekend, we thought we could re-do the deal. We really thought that Houston would be ready to part with Kevin Lowry, and we had a trade lined up for Odom that would have gotten us a good first-round draft pick – not we, but my basketball folks. But Mitch Kupchak at the time panicked and moved Odom to Dallas. So the piece wasn’t even there for us to play with at the time. So that was it — just about what was good for the then-New Orleans Hornets.

Remember, Stern – roundly criticized for his handling of this episode* – has blamed the Lakers and Rockets for the lingering perception. This could just be him again trying to shift responsibility.

*Somewhat fairly, somewhat not. Owners veto general manager-approved trades often enough, and Stern was acting as New Orleans’ owner after George Shinn sold the franchise back to the league. But Stern had an agenda as commissioner. He never should have assumed such a large conflict of interest. What he did with the Paul trade was reasonable for an acting owner, but because Stern was also commissioner, it’s fair to question how much New Orleans’ interests and how much the league’s interests factored into the decision-making.

But let’s take Stern at his word – that he and the Hornets thought they could re-do the trade and send Paul to the Lakers. That doesn’t mean they were right. Maybe the Lakers and Rockets (who had Kyle Lowry, not the “Kevin Lowry” Stern named) were never going to part with enough to get Stern’s approval.

And maybe New Orleans didn’t properly convey its interest in still completing a deal. Perhaps, Kupchak acted reasonably by trading Odom to Dallas – for a first-round pick, a deal Mark Cuban would ultimately regret – rather than wait around for the Hornets, who eventually sent Paul to the Clippers.

It’s easy to blame Kupchak, but he might tell a different story.

Isaiah Thomas makes it clear he wants to stay in Boston

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It’s been a long time since there was so much discussion about whether a team needs to trade or just let go of an All-NBA and All-Star player at his peak who is clear and away a fan favorite.

Yet that’s where the Boston Celtics and Isaiah Thomas find themselves. After landing the No. 1 pick in this year’s draft — where they will almost certainly take point guard Markelle Fultz — and with the Celtics looking a full couple steps behind the Cavaliers in the playoffs, the question about whether Thomas is part of the future in Boston has come up. He is a free agent in 2018 and are the Celtics willing to pay the big money it will take to keep him?

Know this, Thomas wants to remain a Celtic and win a Celtic. You can listen to his full comments above, but Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe has the money quote:

Outside of chasing Gordon Hayward, this summer the Celtics are going to focus on getter some frontcourt help, someone to help with rebounding and rim protection. They will look to get better, but Danny Ainge isn’t going to push all his chips into the middle of the table to make a gambit on immediate massive improvement. He will remain patient, building this team so that in three years and five years they will be a force in the East.

And the Thomas discussion likely gets put on hold for a year (unless there is a change of course and contract extension talks come up, but that’s only if Boston misses on Hayward and any other big targets).

Stephen Curry says talk of lack of competitive balance “disrespectful” to Warriors, Cavaliers

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This year’s NBA playoffs have been horribly lopsided and they lacked drama because we all knew where it was headed: Golden State vs. Cleveland. They were so dominant that between them they lost one playoff game so far. This has brought up discussions of competitive balance — we have seen the same Finals three years in a row, and we will almost certainly head into next season expecting a fourth. Then maybe a fifth.

Not surprisingly, Stephen Curry isn’t a fan of the lack of competition argument, saying it disrespects the Warriors and the Cavaliers.

“That almost is kind of disrespectful, because it’s not like it’s easy for us to get here. It wasn’t that at all. Us and Cleveland worked our butts off all year to put ourselves in a position to be playing for a championship. The league is as strong talent-wise across the board as it’s ever been. Every night we get challenged. Obviously, we had that one stat I guess, point differential, all year. We had a pretty solid showing in that respect. But, every night was hard. Every night was challenging. You can’t just sleepwalk through a season and sleep walk through the playoffs and expect to be here. You got to do something. You got to come out every night and prove yourself. Granted, anybody who was betting on who was gonna be in the Finals probably picked those two. It’s easy for them to say that and just wake up in June and see it happen. We had to put that work in all year long to make it happen.”

Curry is right in that nobody should question the work the Warriors and Cavaliers put in to get to this point, and that the other teams did not just roll over for them. Also, both teams did get a little lucky with injuries.

However, that doesn’t change the fact that right now there is a dominant team in each conference, and that sucks the drama out of the postseason. (Maybe a healthy San Antonio team could have pushed the Warriors, we didn’t get to find out.) Golden State has four of the top 15-20 players in the NBA, and that makes them a juggernaut — again, regardless of the work put in. Other teams don’t have much of a chance if the Warriors are healthy and focused, not in a seven game series. The fact that it was flukey circumstances that put a dominant team in each conference — there isn’t another LeBron James returning home, and out West it took a one-time salary cap spike to add Kevin Durant to a 73-win team — doesn’t change the fact this season has felt like a foregone conclusion from the start.

Right now we’ve got what we wanted and expected, the trilogy between the Warriors and Cavaliers. But if we head into next season expecting (and maybe getting) round four of this matchup in the Finals, is that good for the league? Why watch the movie if you know how it ends before it starts?