Allen embraces Memphis, Grizzlies franchise

Allen embraces Memphis, Grizzlies franchise
May 28, 2013, 8:30 pm
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MEMPHIS—One of the toughest players in the NBA felt vulnerable after the Grizzlies’ season-ending loss Monday night.
Chicago native Tony Allen had one of his typically high-energy, poor-shooting performances in Memphis’ defeat at the hands of San Antonio—he shot 2-for-9 from the field for four points—and while the hustle and determination that made him the leading vote-getter on the league’s All-Defensive team was there, he nor any of his teammates could contain superstar point guard Tony Parker, who went for 37 points on 15-for-21 shooting in leading the Spurs back to the NBA Finals.
But afterward, inside a melancholy Grizzlies locker room in FedEx Forum, Allen, an unrestricted free agent this summer, made an emotional declaration to remain in the city that’s truly embraced his trademark “grit and grind” mentality.
“I bleed blue. This is where I want to be, but it’s all in God’s hands and I’ll just leave it at that,” the veteran shooting guard said, growing emotional. “I don’t want to cry right now, but just a great season and I love the fight in all my guys.
“We set a plateau. We know where we want to be now. Western Conference Finals is a huge accomplishment for the city. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get to the big dance, but starting in training camp, guys know what they’re playing for,” he continued. “It’s not just about being in the NBA anymore. It’s about coming in and getting to the dance, fighting for that trophy. Winning feels great. Unfortunately, they swept us. We can look back and look at how Coach [Lionel Hollins] always said, ‘Pay attention to the little things,’ and we’ll pay more attention to the little things as we go forward next year.”
When asked if he could envision himself in another uniform next season, Allen responded, “Not at this point, simply because when I first got here, [Memphis general manager] Chris Wallace showed me the vision and he stuck to his plan, and great things happened.
“I just want to thank him for just even getting my career off the ground,” continued the product of Crane Tech, not far from the United Center on the West Side of Chicago. “You look back, each year we got better and it’ll be rough for me to try to look forward to going somewhere else.”
Allen, who along with All-Star teammates Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, has become a face of the franchise—while the other two are also beloved in the city, despite having less star power, Allen embodies the team’s ornery personality—understands that it’s a business, however, and knows that with the Grizzlies’ new ownership group and a front office with a focus on analytics (Wallace’s role is regarded as having been minimized in the process, even after building the squad into a certified contender in the West), he could be elsewhere come July.
“One thing that I did, through the grace of God, is I made a name for myself and a lot of teams around the league know me, so I’m not too worried about that,” said Allen, considered one of the league’s most underpaid players. “I’m just focusing on being here with the Grizzlies because I’ve built relationships with the guys—and I’m talking about real bonds with the guys—and just showed the guys what that grit and grind is about, and it would be hard leaving the city of Memphis. They showed me so much love, so I’m thinking about Memphis all the way.
“Leaving Boston after we won a championship, that was tough, but I just think Chris Wallace, he did a good job of recruiting and showing me a vision, and pretty much helping me get my career off the ground,” continued one of Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau’s favorite players from their days together with the Celtics. “I took heed in the Boston experience, I was sold on the sales pitch and each year, I just improved and tried to get better, and it showed through the wins each season. I’ve just got to thank him and I couldn’t imagine a few years back that I’d even be in Memphis, but shout-out to Chris Wallace for just showing me a vision.”
Allen isn’t the only important member of the Grizzlies who could be departing the “Bluff City” this summer. After trading max-contract player Rudy Gay to Toronto in a six-player deal that got them veteran Tayshaun Prince and young reserves Ed Davis and Austin Daye, as well as dealing backups Wayne Ellington—a shooter who could have helped the Grizzlies, whose perimeter marksmanship issues were highlighted in San Antonio’s sweep—and Marreese Speights, a big man, to Cleveland, there’s a chance that the payroll-conscious organization (who isn’t in the NBA these days, with the advent of the new CBA and punitive measures for spending?) could even deal Randolph, a cornerstone player, who struggled mightily against future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan, a first-team All-NBA player this season, in the series.
More immediately, the future of head coach Lionel Hollins, even following the most successful season in franchise history, is up in the air, as the former champion during his playing days with Portland doesn’t have a contract for next season. Hollins is at the top of the food chain when it comes to available head coaches, with the likes of the Nets, Clippers and Bucks all reportedly having interest, and with his old-school philosophy being at odds with the sensibilities of the new regime in Memphis—he famously criticized trading Gay, which was a popular sentiment in general at the time, though the Grizzlies were just as successful without him—despite him openly desiring to stay put, it’s easy to imagine him strolling the sidelines in another market, for a bigger salary at the outset of the 2013-14 campaign.
Allen believes the Grizzlies, as currently constructed, have what it takes, but was careful to praise the team’s new executives and ownership group—headed by Robert Pera, the youngest majority owner in the league, and also consisting of local celebrities such as music superstar Justin Timberlake, former NBA star and Memphis native Penny Hardaway and NFL quarterback Peyton Manning, who attended the University of Tennessee—even if Wallace, rumored to be a candidate to replace longtime Sacramento general manager Geoff Petrie (ironically, the Kings have a new ownership group in place; the NBA officially announced its approval of the sale of the franchise, which nearly headed to Seattle, just Tuesday), departs.
“We’ve got the pieces. Like I say, just more experience, more togetherness and just keeping that same grit and grind mentality. I think we can keep moving forward, but a great season for us,” Allen explained. “I like the transitions they’ve made thus far, bringing ‘Tay’ [Prince] in here, Austin and Ed, so I believe in that ownership group and I’m looking forward to them making the right moves.”
But beyond the business side of the NBA, the loyalties to both a city and his teammates, lies the same player who made his name in unconventional fashion, emerging as a Chicago Public League star late in his high-school career (he was overshadowed at Crane by Detroit Pistons guard Will Bynum) and bounced around the junior-college circuit before landing at Oklahoma State, where he led the Cowboys to a Final Four appearance alongside former Bulls fan favorite John Lucas III.
Allen isn’t as rough around the edges as he was back then—and truthfully, he’s always had a good heart, even if the decisions he made off the court as a young player weren’t always the best—but the fierce determination he’s used to find a niche with the Celtics as a defensive specialist, battle back from an early-career ACL injury and despite his offensive limitations (Grizzlies fans put up with his inexplicable turnovers and often-abysmal shooting, things that don’t do much for his efficiency statistics, because of his relentless effort), become a valuable and impactful player in this league, were first forged in the Windy City, a place where his hardscrabble game is more of the epitome of a Chicago ballplayer than even Bulls superstar Derrick Rose or Miami’s Dwyane Wade.
“Honestly, it boils down to just me playing in those parks, those pro-am games, just understanding that you don’t want to be the guy that’s in the position to be the one that got embarrassed,” he told, when the crowd around one of the most media-accessible players on a very media-friendly team, dispersed for a moment. “Some games are better than others, but each game I take that mentality, that I want to fight and I want to go out there and compete, and it started from those playgrounds and those pro-am games and things of that nature.”
Those attributes will ensure that even if he doesn’t remain in his beloved Memphis, Allen will have a place in the league next season—though it’s unlikely to be the fairy-tale story of him returning to his hometown to play for Thibodeau, as he’ll likely be beyond the Bulls’ budget, although his younger brother Ryan, one of Rose’s close friends and a training-camp participant last season, is slated to join the Bulls’ summer-league team in Las Vegas this July, according to Allen—and if it’s in a new city, he’ll gradually become the same widely-embraced figure he is in the home of barbecued ribs and blues music, where his posters adorn downtown storefronts and even in the closing moments of the season finale, fans at the “Grindhouse” showed their appreciation, loud and proud.
And that feeling of vulnerability Allen had Monday night will pass, though things won’t quite ever be the same again, as the emotional leader of the blue-collar Grizzlies—a team Bulls fans can relate to—will probably bless another fortunate place with his unique talents.