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Basketball notes

In Memphis, Allen takes the grizzled veteran part

By Gary Washburn
Globe Staff / November 7, 2010

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Tony Allen says he has moved on. The newest Grizzlies free agent acquisition has been asked to spread a little winning glitter over the wealth of young talent in Memphis.

Allen has warmed to the role of veteran leader after six uneven but productive years with the Celtics. Yet, Allen’s departure from Boston was as mysterious as some of his tenure with the Green was.

After Paul Pierce and Ray Allen decided to come back and Nate Robinson signed a two-year deal, Tony Allen’s return appeared imminent. But Allen and agent Michael Higgins perceived Danny Ainge’s wait-and-see approach to his free agency as disrespectful.

And when an offer was finally made, it was a figure that was considered insulting by Allen. The Grizzlies won him over with a deal that was eventually less than Ainge’s final offer. The Celtics lost one of their best defensive players, leaving many team officials and players to ponder why Allen would depart a potential championship club for the smaller-market, upstart Grizzlies.

And many of his former teammates still wonder. They will get a chance to ask him in person Saturday at FedEx Forum in Memphis.

Allen has averaged 5.3 points and 1.5 rebounds in his first six games, averaging just over 13 minutes as the Grizzlies experience the growing pains of becoming a contender.

“It’s cool, I’m liking it,’’ he said. “It’s a new experience, definitely another chapter in my career, and I’m looking forward to making the best of my situation. My whole thing here was just to help win ballgames, and that’s what I want to be remembered as, a guy who helped win ballgames.’’

During his introductory news conference in Memphis, Allen said he felt overshadowed by Pierce, Ray Allen, and Kevin Garnett, that perhaps this new opportunity in Memphis would allow him to unleash offensive talents that he couldn’t in Boston.

He has backed off those statements, but it’s obvious that he left Boston a little bitter, feeling unappreciated for his contributions, especially during the 2010 playoff run.

“I miss those guys, but as far as [free agency], if [Ainge] wanted me, he would have did what he had to do to get me,’’ Allen said. “Obviously, it didn’t work out. Why he didn’t reach out and make me a priority, you’d have to ask him. I don’t know.

“At the time, I did want to be there. I did want to stay. And I miss the city, I love everything. All my years there, ups and downs. The organization, everybody there from the bottom guy to the top guy. Everybody was nice to me.

“But as far as when it came down to the recruiting process [Memphis general manager] Chris Wallace did a great job of reaching out to me and showing me a blueprint. He pretty much saw what I did in the playoffs and he thought I was a utility guy that his ball club was missing.’’

The Grizzlies are dramatically different from the team Allen left in Boston. They are young and hungry but still unsure how to win. They won at Dallas but were blown out by the Lakers, and lost the next night when Golden State’s Monta Ellis scored 39 points on them.

Allen is the lone player on the roster with an NBA title, and no others have even come close. Memphis’s average age is 24, and Allen at 28 is the second-oldest player. Compare that with the 2009-10 Celtics, who had seven players older than Allen. Memphis’s top seven scorers — including Rudy Gay, O.J. Mayo, and Mike Conley — have zero playoff experience.

“I am trying to prepare them to be good players, the best player they can be,’’ Allen said. “I attack them on the offensive end and the defensive end. But everything is to get them better.’’

Allen is looking forward to Saturday’s matchup. He has spoken to some of his former teammates on the phone, but this will be the first time many of them have seen him since the NBA Finals. He has no hard feelings for the Celtics, nor any regrets about his decision.

“People get traded every day. It’s the business,’’ he said. “It’s going to be pretty exciting. I’m looking forward to playing those guys. I’m pretty sure they know I wanted to come back. They know the business part of it. Obviously somebody showed more interest.’’

And Allen definitely feels as if he left Boston having played his best basketball, giving fans lasting memories.

“I pretty much did it all in the playoffs,’’ he said. “I am not looking in the past. I don’t have anything to be upset about. I like the camaraderie among my teammates. I am getting a chance to help them grow and be better. That’s all I can ask.’’

BROADWAY STAR

Stoudemire embraces role

Amar’e Stoudemire did not hesitate in accepting the responsibility of being the Knicks’ next superstar, although his predecessors have been unable to bring a ring to the Big Apple since 1973.

General manager Donnie Walsh cleared all the cap space needed to chase LeBron James and Chris Bosh, but instead, he found Stoudemire as the only taker. Stoudemire was willing to leave a comfortable situation in Phoenix and play for former Suns coach Mike D’Antoni, someone he clashed with in the past.

The Knicks are 3-2, with wins at Toronto and Chicago. They are improved. They are at least trying to play defense, and with Stoudemire serving as a legitimate threat in the middle, they are able to spread the floor for 3-pointers.

After eight years in Phoenix, Stoudemire was ready to cash in with a mega-deal.

“The most important factor for me is to build a championship team,’’ he said. “And I felt like here, the owner, Jim Dolan, wants to build a championship team. And that’s the ultimate goal for me.’’

There were times Stoudemire believed he was a top-five player in the league, but he never really attained that status. He is making a concerted effort on defense, improving his spacing and footwork. Thursday night against the Bulls, he stepped in and took a charge from Joakim Noah. For years, he was criticized as a selfish player who cared solely about scoring.

But franchise-caliber players constantly have to expand their games, and Stoudemire has. He has developed a perimeter jumper and even swished two 3-pointers in the Oct. 29 loss to the Celtics for the first time in five years. Like Karl Malone in the latter stages of his career, Stoudemire is beginning to realize there’s more to an offensive arsenal than dunking.

“I am a much more versatile player,’’ he said. “I do a lot from the outside now. The ball-handling skills have improved. The passing ability has improved. Defensively I have gotten a lot better. Things have opened up tremendously. Teams can’t really focus in on you, they can’t really [sag off] when you’re hitting that jumper.’’

Stoudemire realizes that the fate of the club will depend on whether he, Danilo Gallinari, and Wilson Chandler are able to combine to make the Knicks a factor again. Marketable free agents will be more apt to chose the Knicks if they are on the upsurge.

“Winning will intrigue other players to want to play here, so we have to make sure we do that,’’ Stoudemire said. “That’s the No. 1 goal.’’

MOTOWN MISERY

Woeful Pistons sing the blues

The Pistons are a franchise in turmoil. The team is up for sale, attendance is dwindling by the game, and the on-court product is putrid. Detroit (1-5) had its weaknesses exposed in a 109-86 loss to the Celtics last Tuesday.

General manager Joe Dumars tried the Danny Ainge approach of building young around old, but it has failed. Richard Hamilton missed Tuesday’s game with a sore right foot and is looking to get out of Detroit. Tayshaun Prince is playing lethargically — 3 personal fouls, 10 rebounds, 2 free throw attempts in his last 106 minutes of action — and Ben Wallace is aging.

Meanwhile, Dumars invested $93 million in Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva, and neither is an All-Star. And then there’s Rodney Stuckey. He is perhaps Detroit’s most talented player, but he didn’t get a sniff of a contract extension, meaning he’ll be a restricted free agent next summer.

After the loss to Boston, second-year coach John Kuester, who already looks disheveled and frustrated, challenged the team in a postgame media session.

“Going into this, the one thing that’s going to happen is no one is going to feel sorry for you,’’ he said. “What has to occur is your attention to detail on all things that need to happen has to magnify now because of the number of situations where guys are out.

“We have to collectively, some way or somehow, find another voice besides my own that is going to lead us. It doesn’t necessarily fall on the veterans. Somebody has to come out and play the game with passion consistently. The great teams have that.’’

The Pistons veterans didn’t take kindly to those comments, and Prince pointed the finger back at Kuester for his lack of leadership. In the next game, Wednesday at Atlanta, Stuckey apparently refused to enter at one point and wound up playing a season-low 14 minutes, scoring 5 points.

Dumars brilliantly compiled his roster for the 2004 championship run but made the mistake of “upgrading’’ his offense by acquiring Allen Iverson for Chauncey Billups, a deal that left an embittered core of players. The Pistons haven’t been the same since, and those remaining pieces from the glory days want out.

Dumars hasn’t been able to find a successful coach since Larry Brown resigned, going through Flip Saunders, Michael Curry, and now Kuester, who doesn’t seem to have the respect of his players. The Pistons would love to move Hamilton, but in a regrettable act of loyalty following the Billups trade, they signed him to an extension that lasts until 2012 at $12.5 million per season, with a player option for 2013, a tidy sum for a 32-year-old who has missed 51 games over the past two years.

Prince may be easiest to move because he has an expiring contract, has been virtually injury-free during his career, and would most benefit from a change of scenery.

It could get much worse in Detroit before it gets better.

ETC.

Keeping a lid on trash talk

A night after Kevin Garnett’s Twitter-fueled controversy with Charlie Villanueva, the Celtics forward was involved in an exchange with Milwaukee’s Andrew Bogut (above) after dunking on him for a key fourth-quarter basket in Boston’s 105-102 win.

Garnett screamed after the dunk, became entangled with Bogut, flipped an elbow, and Bogut responded by shoving him back. Both were assessed technicals.

Bogut, one of the league’s most brutally honest players, was asked later if he has to prepare to hear over-the-top trash talk from Garnett.

“Nah, he doesn’t test me,’’ Bogut said. “It’s not a big deal to me. I have no problem with him. Every player brings something different. He’s energetic. It doesn’t affect me and my play at all.’’

When asked about the specific incident with Garnett, Bogut was not so complimentary.

“He has an issue with [altercations]; I don’t, so just read between the lines with what happened in the last 48 hours, not just this game,’’ he said. “You read between what happened last game, too. He’s got a lot on his plate as far as that goes.’’

What is the banter like with Garnett?

“He doesn’t say nothing to me,’’ said Bogut. “We’ve got a little history as well. He doesn’t talk smack to me. He talks more to guys he knows he can that won’t do anything about it. He tried to do it my rookie year, but since then he hasn’t done much to me.’’

Layups
Maurice Lucas, one of the league’s most imposing power forwards during his career, died of cancer last week at 58. Lucas was known as an enforcer but you don’t make five All-Star teams by just knocking guys out in the paint. Lucas scored more than 14,000 points in the NBA and ABA and pulled down more than 9,000 rebounds. And this was during a time when power forwards were like tight ends in football: They were asked to be good at everything. And he was . . . Madison Square Garden reopened Friday after debris fell inside the arena Tuesday during the hockey-to-basketball transition and had to be tested for asbestos. The Garden is undergoing a major remodeling project during the next two summers to be ready for the 2012-13 season. Summer events usually held at MSG have been moved, such as the 2011 NBA Draft, which shifts to Newark . . . Kudos to former Boston College standout Jared Dudley, who agreed to a four-year contract extension with the Suns last week, one of the handful of 2007 first-round picks to receive extensions. Atlanta’s Al Horford and Memphis’s Mike Conley joined Dudley in agreeing to last-minute deals . . . The competition for spots on the USA Basketball roster should be fierce after LeBron James and Kobe Bryant committed to the 2012 London Games last week. It will be difficult for coach Mike Krzyzewski to make roster decisions when most of the World Championship team will return along with James, Bryant, Dwyane Wade and perhaps Carmelo Anthony and possibly Rajon Rondo with a chip on his shoulder. And don’t forget John Wall, Blake Griffin, and Tyreke Evans.

Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn@globe.com. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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