No one could wrap their head around it. Not Paul Pierce. Not Danny Ainge. Not Doc Rivers. After six years in a Celtics uniform, Tony Allen had just started to fit into a perfect role last season, showing more responsibility on the floor, morphing into the team’s defensive stopper, and getting to a point where Rivers trusted him more than he had at any other point. When the Celtics lost Game 7 of the Finals to the Lakers, Allen practically cried a moat around his stall in the visitor’s locker room.
Then, in the offseason, he bailed for Memphis.
A hard sell by familiar face, Memphis GM Chris Wallace, who drafted Allen in 2004, lured Allen in. A three-year, $10 million deal sealed the decision. He left a championship situation in Boston, saying he felt overshadowed by all the stars.
“I felt wanted,” Allen said this morning as he prepared to face his former team for the first time tonight at FedEx Forum. “I felt like this is where I need to be. I felt like this is where I can be at, with these guys, to try to push toward a playoff run.”
Even though teammates said that he was impossible to reach during free agency, Allen said he still texts former teammates like Paul Pierce, one of his closer friends in the Celtics locker room.
He said the decision was a difficult one, but now that he’s in Memphis, he’s adjusting to being on a team full of budding stars like O.J. Mayo and Rudy Gay (who signed a max contract this summer) rather than established ones like Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett.
“Taking everything in stride, trying to learn the offense, trying to figure out what they need from me defensively, and learning the sets, but I’m enjoying my new situation,” Allen said. “It’s my first [time being] part of going to a new team. It’s my first time getting to be around it. But I’m enjoying it. It’s pretty different from a veteran ball club to a young ball club, but I’m enjoying it.”
As a veteran in the locker room and as the only player with a ring, Allen said he’s trying to bring the discipline he learned in Boston over to Memphis.
“I pretty much try to carry it over over here, trying to get guys to be more focused before game, more serious in practice – not saying that they haven’t – but make that a point of emphasis as approaching the next game,” Allen said.
The Grizzlies are off to a 4-5 start, losing four of their last five after struggling on a four game road trip that where they lost to the Lakers, Warriors and Suns (double OT) before beating the Kings. Allen is averaging 12.7 minutes and 5.1 points, but last week, Memphis coach Lionel Hollins decided not to play Allen on two occasions. There’s a theory that Allen’s struggles have come because he’s focused more on creating shots for himself.
“I’m definitely trying to rediscover [my role] over here,” Allen said. “Trying to find my niche, trying to find where I can get my groove in at defensively and offensively.”
Allen’s role was clearly defined in Boston, but when he was asked if he has second thoughts about leaving, he said, “I don’t live with regrets. I just deal with the choices that I make.”