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.

Pacers erase 17-point deficit to take 2-1 lead over Cavs

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Bojan Bogdanovic scored 30 points, leading the Indiana Pacers back from a 17-point halftime deficit for a 92-90 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday night for a 2-1 lead in their first-round series.

Cleveland was 39-0 during the regular season when leading after three quarters and kept that perfect mark intact with a Game 2 win.

The incredible second-half charge came exactly one year after Indiana blew a 26-point halftime lead in a historic playoff collapse against the Cavs.

This time, the Pacers delivered a devastating blow to the three-time defending Eastern Conference champs – on a night LeBron Jones joined Michael Jordan as the only players in playoff history to record 100 double-doubles. James finished with 28 points and 12 rebounds, but it wasn’t enough to prevent Cleveland from losing its first game this season after leading following the third quarter.

The biggest reason for the collapse: Bogdanovic.

After charging back with striking distance, he completed a four-point play to finally give the Pacers an 81-77 lead with 6:10 left. Bogdanovic followed that with another to make it as seven-point game.

Then James answered with the next seven to tie it.

Bogdanovic came right back with a layup and another 3 before Thaddeus Young scored to give the Pacers a 91-84 cushion with 53 seconds left.

James knocked down a 3 to cut the deficit to four, and the Cavs got another 3 from Kevin Love with 7 seconds left to make it 91-90.

Darren Collison made 1 of 2 free throws with 5 seconds left, giving Cleveland one more chance. But J.R. Smith‘s long desperation heave came up short..

Shaq attacks verse in new TV series "Poetry in America"

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Shaquille O’Neal called himself “The Big Baryshnikov” and “The Big Socrates” in his days in the NBA. Now he can add “The Big Shakespeare.”

The basketball Hall-of-Famer, TNT TV analyst, commercial pitchman and onetime rapper is putting poetry on his lengthy resume as part of a new public television series.

He brings his best bard to a dramatic reading of a poem in his episode of the 12-part “Poetry in America ,” then discusses it with Elisa New, a Harvard English professor who hosts the show.

“I’ve always been into poetry,” O’Neal said in an interview with The Associated Press in a sunlit conference room overlooking the Los Angeles skyline. “I’ve been writing rhymes all my life.”

“Poetry in America,” distributed by American Public Television and presented by WGBH in Boston, is airing at various times on local public TV stations. Some episodes, including Shaq’s, are already available to stream.

On the show the 46-year-old former All-Star from the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat recites “Fast Break,” a poem by Edward Hirsch from his 1986 book “Wild Gratitude.” It describes some very imperfect players who manage to put together a perfect basketball play.

“A hook shot kisses the rim and hangs there, helplessly, but doesn’t drop,” the poem begins, “and for once our gangly starting center boxes out his man.”

O’Neal, whose 350-pound bulk would never be called “gangly,” still related to the center in the verse, but said he initially missed the poem’s point.

“The first mistake I made was thinking it was about basketball,” he said. “I read it real quick I said `fast break, shovel passes, sure, this is what I do.”‘

He said New, who sat next to O’Neal in the interview and like almost everyone is utterly dwarfed by him, gave him whole new insights that led to a fast friendship.

“When she broke it down intelligently for me, I was very astounded and very amazed,”

The poem is written for a close friend and playing partner of Hirsch’s who had just died. That’s easy to miss if you skip past the dedication at the top, as most readers do.

“It’s fun that only later as you’re reading, you look back at that dedication,” New said. “One line can change everything.”

Suddenly it becomes an examination of transcendent moments and human connections.

“It’s about friendship, it’s about caring, it’s about emotions,” O’Neal said. “I had missed that.”

His latest learning experience took O’Neal’s thoughts back to high school, where he had a 69 percent in English after blowing a test during the basketball playoffs, and needed a 70 to stay eligible for sports.

The teacher allowed him a retest, and suggested a tutor.

“This guy, his name was McDougal, he was a geek, he saved my academic life,” O’Neal said. “Everybody bullied him in school, except me.”

O’Neal said he took the work and “broke it down, made it seem so simple.”

“I retook the test, got an 80, and we won the state championship,” O’Neal said.

“Now,” he said, “I always tell kids I’m a geek.”

The professor had another name for him. “He’s a learner!”

O’Neal partly looked the poet during the interview in a polo shirt and jeans, having traded his basketball sneakers for a pair of slip-on Toms shoes, size 22.

When he wanted them, a company executive told him “it wouldn’t be worth it to make them in my size unless I bought 500 of them,” O’Neal said. “I told him to give me 2,000.”

 

Rumor: Grizzlies had to choose between Marc Gasol and David Fizdale

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David Fizdale has been linked to most of the NBA’s head-coaching vacancies.

He developed a legion of backers as lead a Heat assistant, and he did good things guiding the Grizzlies before they unexpectedly fired him. He deserves consideration.

But he also must explain his fractured relationship with Memphis star Marc Gasol. They weren’t speaking for a while.

And maybe the problem was even worse than that.

Marc Berman of the New York Post:

According to a source close to Fizdale briefed on the Grizzlies’ decision, it was ownership having to make a choice — trade their All-Star center Marc Gasol, who has fallen in love with its small-market city, or fire the coach. Their relationship had gotten that bad.

If Grizzlies ownership felt it had to choose between Gasol and Fizdale, it’s not clear why.

Fizdale benched Gasol down the stretch during the coach’s last game, and Gasol publicly expressed his frustration.

But Gasol denied issuing a me-or-Fizdale ultimatum. Fizdale said focus on his relationship with Gasol was “overblown,” adding he cared far more about whether he could win with a player than whether they got along personally.

Memphis obviously sided with Gasol – probably too strongly.

LeBron James bought Cavs teammates matching designer suits to wear to game tonight

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I’m still trying to decide if this is cool or a little too Stepford.

The Cavaliers rolled into the Bakers’ Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis tonight wearing matching designer suits, all paid for by LeBron James and custom fitted to each player.

If a college team rolled into a game in four-digit designer suits, the NCAA would have questions. And not about the vests.

The Cavaliers are LeBron’s team, and if he wants to buy his teammates suits and tell them to wear them it’s going to happen. Is it a bonding thing that helps bring them together? Sure. Is it in place to make sure LeBron remembers which ones are his new teammates? Probably not.

Do the suits help on the court? No. And the Cavaliers better bring it in Game 3 because if they go down 2-1 in this series — something that is a realistic possibility — the whispers of doubt are going to get a lot louder.