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Tony Allen is taking his talents to southwestern Tennessee. There was no gaudy, made-for-TV special (probably would have been broadcast on ESPN 8: The Ocho live from his garage) but having agreed to a three-year deal with the Memphis Grizzlies worth just over $3 million per year, Allen is leaving the only NBA home he has ever know for a team that has averaged just a hair over 22 wins the past 3 seasons.
Quite a sea change from the Celtics, who are coming off their second Finals appearance in three years.
Memphis GM Chris Wallace, fondly remembered ‘round these parts as responsible for the Vin Baker Era (for my money the penultimate low point in Celtics history trailing only the Sidney Wicks-Curtis Rowe era) snared the defensive whiz kid and career bench player by going where Danny Ainge would not: a guaranteed third year.
Being over the salary cap and retaining Allen’s Bird Rights, and having no reasonable facsimile on the horizon, it seemed logical for Ainge to re-sign Allen, but his swiss cheese knees and cranial flatulence scared Danny away from guaranteeing that third year.
For Allen, much like De La Soul, he hopes “three is the magic number.”
Coming off a stellar showing in the 2003 NCAA Tournament with Oklahoma State, and getting the nod as Big 12 Player of the Year his senior season, Allen was the 25th overall pick in the 2004 draft, selected directly behind Mad Max Delonte West.
Allen was a promising two-way prospect but his offensive game never materialized in the NBA. Always a strong defender, Allen had trouble staying on the court due to bad shot selection and the fact that his handle was akin to that of a seal playing with a rubber ball.
None of this, of course, dissuaded Allen from trying to exhibit his one NBA-level offensive dynamic: finishing at the rim. For the star-crossed Allen, even this skill proved to be detrimental as he suffered a torn ACL and PCL attempting a dunk after the whistle against the Indiana Pacers in 2007.
I remember this moment clearly and it seemed to happen in slow motion. At that point, all Celtics fans could see that Allen had plenty of bullets but no aim. I heard the whistle blow and, with the ball at the right of the foul line, saw Allen’s eyes light up. As I lurched off the couch I couldn’t even get the “Nooo” out of my mouth before he was coming up short on the rim. As soon as he landed all knew he was done for some time.
This summed up Allen’s career in Boston. A lot of misplaced sizzle. Steak not included.
Allen just had bad instincts. Bad timing. His bizarre 2005 offseason shooting incident in his hometown of Chicago wherein Allen broke somebody’s eye socket, spent a couple nights in the pokey and almost got himself thrown off the Celtics by Wyc Grousbeck happened just weeks after the Celtics instituted a very public and very strict personal conduct policy for players.
Still, it is a tad bittersweet to see Allen go. He was always a bit of an athletic freak who seemed to never be fully in control of his body, and Celtics fans watched him develop from an inconsistent, gambling defender to someone who played meaningful defensive minutes against Kobe Bryant in the Finals.
For a man with a degree in education, though, his learning curve was too steep for Ainge. Mix in his dubious injury history and not guaranteeing a third year was a prudent move for a team already well over the salary cap.
Also, did anyone else think Allen looked like a cartoon dog? Sort of Scooby Doo-ish? Anyone? We’ll miss ya, TA.
Allen must’ve felt like the proverbial neglected middle child as Ainge scrambled to re-sign Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, and chased every center from Brad Miller to Shaquille O’Neal, while he twisted in the wind. Toss in an additional guaranteed $3 million from Memphis, and it was a no-brainer for Allen.
Of course, this being a Chris Wallace initiated deal it is, by default, a poor one.
Having re-signed Rudy Gay to a max contract, the Grizzlies will at least have some form of stability over the next few years. A team with little direction, though, they need all the help they can get. This bodes well for Allen’s minutes per game average.
(Question: which low-impact player made whose teams have never done anything made out better this offseason, Gay or Chris Bosh? It’s a trick question. The answer is Joe Johnson.)
With the Grizz ranking 23rd in Defensive Efficiency according to ESPN’s John Hollinger (which measures points allowed per 100 possessions), there is plenty of room for defensive improvement on a team that surprisingly was ranked in the top half of the league on the other side of the ball.
Teaming with OJ Mayo in the backcourt, he and Allen should make for quite a suffocating perimeter tandem. With TA having the ability to guard small forwards, as well as shooting guards, it will allow the defensively challenged Gay to float and conserve his energy for getting buckets.
Playing alongside two potential 20-point scorers in Gay and professional head case Zack Randolph, Allen will not have to shoulder any type of meaningful offensive role, and that plays directly to his strengths.
With Pierce and Allen logging all the important minutes at the two and three spots for the Celtics, the only way Allen could manifest his skills, as limited as they are, was by seeking new pastures.
At the end of the day, Memphis will still be a second division team. The additional of Allen gives them maybe one or two more wins a year, as he does bring playoff experience and expertise on one end. At least he will get free and timely package delivery from FedEx.
Ainge has two clear choices. He can either try to replace Allen’s defense with a bench player with similar credentials, or he can add more scoring.
At this point in the offseason, the pickings are slim and Ainge may be forced to take whatever bench support he can get. According to the Boston Globe, Ainge has inquired about free agent guard-forward Antoine Wright, who could provide scoring punch.
If Danny really wanted some punch off the bench, both Ricky Davis and Allen Iverson are available, but methinks that is not the type of punch Ainge seeks.
At this point, re-signing Nate Robinson may be Ainge’s best bet in replacing some of what Allen brought to the table. Although diminutive and a point guard, by the end of the seasons and into the playoffs, Robinson seemed to buy into Doc Rivers’ defensive philosophy.
Remaining free agents at the two and three positions who could provide defensive are scarce, though Raja Bell remains an intriguing possibility. He is a pest defensively and a strong three-point shooter as well.
Having played some of his college ball at Boston University, Bell may be open to returning to The Hub.
Remember, Brian Scalabrinie is still out there too. Probably hanging around the Celtics practice facility until asked to leave.