Strangely, soon after telling reporters that there were “no rivalries” between the Miami Heat and their Eastern Conference counterparts, LeBron James seems to have it in for the Brooklyn Celtics Nets. Though Miami handily swept the Nets by a 3-0 count in the 2012-13 regular season, some Miami particulars still harbor a certain distaste toward the Boston Celtics team that remained an Eastern Conference playoff fixture from 2008-2013, even after downing that team in both the 2011 and 2012 postseasons.
Set off by Boston’s somewhat petulant reaction to Ray Allen leaving the Celtics to join the Heat as a free agent in the 2012 offseason, LeBron seems to see some parallel between Ray’s particular career choice, and the deal that sent Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Jason Terry away from Boston to Brooklyn. James vented about as much in the hours prior to the exhibition “duel” between the two teams on Thursday night. From Brian Windhorst at ESPN:
"I think the first thing I thought was 'wow, Ray got killed for leaving Boston and now these guys are leaving Boston,'" James said.
"I think it's OK, I didn't mind it. But there were a couple guys who basically (expletive) on Ray for leaving and now they're leaving. That's the nature of our business, man. I don't know what Boston was going through at the end of the day. I know Ray had to make the best decision for him and his family and his career. Doc, KG and Paul did that as well. You can't criticize someone who does something that's best for their family."
James is sticking up for his teammate and taking a shot at some old Boston rivals in the process. But he's obviously sensitive on this topic because of personal experience. He was roundly criticized, of course, for leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2010.
"I can relate to that, you think so? I'm the No. 1 relator," James said. "I've been through it all, I know all about it."
(The idea of LeBron James, outfitted in a yellow real estate jacket while talking up his role as Miami-Dade County’s No. 1 realtor, will leave me giggling for days.)
It’s true that Garnett and Pierce were traded from Boston, hardly a free agent jump, and technically there is a difference between that transaction and Allen’s signing. And it’s also true that neither was pining for a trade, and we believe both KG and Pierce when they say they wouldn’t have minded sticking it out in Boston, even if it meant a slow decline in Celtic green.
With that in place, Garnett had to waive his no-trade clause to join a possible championship contender in Brooklyn, and while Boston Prez. Danny Ainge drives a hard bargain, he probably wouldn’t have traded Pierce had his longtime star made a desperate plea to finish his career in Boston. Garnett and Pierce probably both could be playing for the Celtics this season had they utilized their significant influence.
James may be shooting to have Ray Allen’s back, but he also somewhat echoed the thoughts of Dwyane Wade from a day before. From Ethan Skolnick at Bleacher Report:
And while the Celtics are no longer a contender, three of the Nets' new faces—Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry—appear awfully familiar. Bosh said Garnett and Pierce would always be Celtics. Wade said something traveled with them: "the dislike."
"They might have on [a] different colored jersey, but you might see green when you see those guys," Wade said. "So that dislike, yeah..."
And Brooklyn had already irritated Miami before the arrival of Garnett (who's had confrontations with Wade and Udonis Haslem), Pierce (James' repeated choice for truest contemporary foil) and Terry (whom James enjoyed dunking on).
Wade somewhat countered that hint at enmity a day later, telling the media that “if they're happy in Brooklyn then let them be happy,” but it’s clear that James and Wade are enjoying their passive/aggressive version of throwing off the scent. The Heat, using press barbs alone, can’t rankle the Indiana Pacers, a team that gave them all they could handle in the 2012 and 2013 playoffs. And despite an Eastern Conference finals win over Chicago in 2011 and Eastern semis victory over the team last May, the Bulls’ basically-even work against Miami since 2010 can’t be laughed off. Mssrs. James and Wade can’t laugh down their sleeve at either team.
They can laugh at the Nets, though, while hinting at hypocrisy before delving into the PC nonsense about doing what’s right for one’s family.
The Nets enjoyed a spirited, unfriendly four-game regular season series with New York last year. The Heat are just a year and a half removed from emerging victorious in a similarly spirited and unfriendly seven-game Eastern Conference final with Garnett and Pierce’s Celtics. There is history here.
This is a long way of telling you that while Thursday night’s exhibition game may be a snoozer, the regular season (and hoped-for postseason) pairings between the Heat and Nets could be something else.
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