Rondo came to the Celtics as an unpolished, yet immensely gifted rookie. Initially, he was the dutiful puppy who followed Allen around, even mimicking his pregame routine. He was Allen and Pierce and KG's annoying but lovable little brother. And then all of a sudden they were supposed to anoint him their leader?
Allen resisted, even publicly expressing his disappointment that Rondo didn't follow through with the kind of disciplined, dedicated routine that Ray felt was paramount to a player's success. The two drifted apart, and by the end of last season, the unpleasant undercurrent between them was unmistakable.
The situation is often framed as one where Ray could not handle Rondo's ascendence. In many quarters, Allen's relegation to the bench has been cited as his reason for leaving.
While I believe there's truth to these assessments, I also think there could be a fairly prosaic philosophical basketball difference at play. After all, isn't Ray Allen destined to come off the bench in Miami?
The Boston offense has been taken over by Rajon Rondo, slowly but surely. He is the focal point to end all focal points, perhaps to the detriment of said offense. The Celtics—for all their stingy defense—ranked 27th last season in offensive efficiency (via Basketball Reference).
Rondo can do some wonderful things as a ball-dominant centerpiece, but the Celtic attack often grinds to a halt as its point guard dribbles out the clock.
Meanwhile, Ray Allen was relegated to a strictly catch-and-shoot role, despite his above average handle. I'm not sure if the Heat actually want Allen to create offense in their system, but it would seem that he's optimistic about more positional freedom in Miami.
Here are some quotes I wrote down from Allen's Heat Media Day appearance on The Dan Le Batard show:
"We're not a team that's gonna be stuck in mud where you're trying to figure out like, who's the 5-man, who's the 2-man, who's the 1-man?"
"If you've got five guys who understand the game, it doesn't matter what position you're in."
"Every guy should have the ability to pass. Every guy should be a rebounder. Every guy should be able to make a play for somebody else."
"We've gotten to the point in this league where, this guy is the rebounder, he's the only one who can rebound...this guy is the point guard, and he brings the ball up and he's the only who can pass."
Ray Allen sees basketball as more participatory than Rondo does, or at least that's how Ray appears to view it. Rondo and Rivers prefer an organized system where offense is dictated by one figure. The irony is that passing is supposed to be inherently unselfish, yet Rondo's tactics are getting (tacitly) criticized in much the same way volume shooters tend to be knocked.
Rondo and Rivers have a case if they indeed wanted to move away from Ray Allen creating offense. Allen is 37 years old, and not quite the slasher he used to be.
Ray has a point if he believes that the old ways were too constraining, as Boston's offense can make Philadelphia's appear fluid at times.
I do not personally know either player, but I do believe in the emotional power of basketball nerddom. I'm not going out on a limb in calling Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo big, honking basketball nerds.
Yes, players battle over ego, women and cards, but these are professionals at the height of their craft. The disputes they have may well be over strategic matters.