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Finding a Fit for Tony Allen

Golden State’s competitors could use his abilities.

Memphis Grizzlies v Cleveland Cavaliers
Tony Allen gets pumped up during a game against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

I think it’s pretty safe to say that Tony Allen won’t be returning to the Memphis Grizzlies next season.

The team has only two roster spots remaining with restricted free agent JaMychal Green still in limbo, and the team’s two second round draft picks, Ivan Rabb and Dillon Brooks, unsigned as well. Those precarious situations plus the departures of veterans Vince Carter and Zach Randolph signal a changing of the guard for Memphis. Grit N’ Grind is over, and a younger breed will be ushered in under head coach David Fizdale.

In addition to a move to a younger roster, Memphis doesn’t have the offensive firepower to justify playing the 35-year-old anymore. Allen’s offensive production has never been stellar, but it has regressed over the last two seasons to be borderline untenable for the Grizzlies.

While his per game scoring was up nominally, this would simply be the result of more attempts. His true shooting percentage dipped south of 50 percent—that’s bad—while he posted his worst offensive win shares and offensive box plus/minus in eight seasons.

He was great for Memphis throughout this era. He just doesn’t make sense on this roster now. You can both appreciate what he’s done and acknowledge it is time to move on.

This doesn’t mean his NBA career should be over, of course. Despite his worsening offensive game, there are still teams out there who could use Allen’s services, namely, his outstanding defense.

Memphis Grizzlies v Dallas Mavericks
Tony Allen (9) dribbles against the Dallas Mavericks.
Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Allen was named second team All-Defense last year, and has been on the first or second team six of the past seven seasons. His remarkable work ethic and intensity manifest themselves on the defensive end where he routinely shuts down the opponent’s best player. Just ask Kobe Bryant, who called him the best defender he ever faced.

In recent seasons Allen’s been more prone to gambling and therefore leaving the rest of the defense discombobulated if his risk fails. These defensive bets have likely been a result of aging. He’s losing some of the speed and endurance he had as a younger player.

That being said, he still rebounds well for his size and position (especially on the offensive side of the ball) and remains an active and instinctive cutter on offense. Plus, his Grizzlies' colleagues have all praised him as being one of their favorite teammates.

The question then is what type of team would Allen help most?

Of course, he would be best suited on a playoff contender looking for that extra piece to topple the Warriors. But, he might also fit with a defensively challenged but offensively gifted team trying to sneak into contention.

Cleveland Cavaliers

In my opinion, his best fit would be with Cleveland, who desperately need anyone who can help them defeat the Warriors.

Allen’s track record in guarding Kevin Durant has been spectacular, and he’s also effectively shut down Stephen Curry as well. With Kyrie Irving, J.R. Smith and Kyle Korver on the wing, Golden State doesn’t face as tough a defensive backcourt as they used to in the Western Conference (think Grit N’ Grind Grizzlies or even Lob City Clippers).

However, bring in Allen and you at least offset some of those wing mismatches. With LeBron James and Allen switching onto Durant/Curry/Draymond Green/Klay Thompson, they at least make things more difficult for the Warriors (which may be all you can do against them at this point).

Plus, with those other offensively talented wings, Cleveland can somewhat neutralize Allen’s offensive deficiencies and keep him well rested/healthy.

My only concern is that James, like Marc Gasol last season, may become irritated by Allen’s penchant for creating mayhem and thereby straying away from the team’s defensive strategy. But the numbers don’t lie: the gambles work enough to keep him in the league’s upper echelon of wing defenders.

Los Angeles Clippers

This one would sting quite a bit.

However, basketball-wise, it makes sense.

Not only does Allen have a good connection with head coach Doc Rivers (the two won a championship together in Boston), but, like Cleveland, Los Angeles is a team with good offensive depth on the perimeter who need someone to help them slow down Golden State.

LA doesn’t stand as much of a chance of dethroning the champs as Cleveland does—especially in the wake of the departure of Chris Paul—but the Clips do have more financial capability to sign TA than the luxury tax paying Cavs.

Memphis Grizzlies v Denver Nuggets
The Grandfather going to work against a future teammate?
Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

The Clippers’ wing rotation of Danilo Gallinari, Sam Dekker and Lou Williams would all mitigate Allen’s offensive woes, as would ball handlers Milos Teodosic and Patrick Beverley. Allen’s cutting ability would be highlighted by nifty passers like Teodosic and Gallinari, and LA wouldn’t have to worry about Allen’s offense at all with Williams on the floor because he’d rarely pass the ball anyway on his way to being a prolific scorer.

And could you imagine an Allen-Beverley backcourt? That ferocious two-headed monster would annihilate almost every backcourt duo in the league on the defensive end. There would be no survival; just a deep, darkening, everlasting pit of despair and disruption with four menacing red eyes glowing within, ready to destroy.

Throw in DeAndre Jordan, a two-time first team All-Defense selection, and that’s a very tough lineup to score against.

This isn’t as great a fit as it would be in Cleveland, but according to ESPN’s Tim MacMahon, it’s more likely to occur.

Minnesota Timberwolves

MacMahon also cites the T-Wolves as another team that’s showed interest in Allen.

However, while the Wolves have plenty of roster spots to fill, I’m not certain Minnesota would be the best place for Allen.

NBA: Playoffs-Memphis Grizzlies at San Antonio Spurs
Tony Allen cleans up nice for a game against the San Antonio Spurs.
Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

With the additions of Jeff Teague, Jimmy Butler and Jamal Crawford (to go along with already entrenched young studs Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns), there’s no shortage of offensive weapons here. All five of those players had a usage percentage north of 22 percent last season, and three of them worked at 26 percent or more. And on those average to high usages, Crawford was the only player with an offensive rating below 105 per Basketball Reference.

Surrounding Allen with talented, high usage offensive players (especially in isolation) would be good, considering Allen wouldn’t have access to the rock very often if that were the case. But outside of those five, Minnesota has nothing on the perimeter, and barely any bench to speak of at all. Allen then would be forced to be the focal point of some offensive possessions, which, we as Grizzlies fans know, is not ideal.

And while Butler is an excellent perimeter defender and Wiggins has the potential to be, there’s not enough win-now talent or young prowess to justify Allen taking his talents to the Twin Cities. The team definitely could use his defensive genius, and in that way he would mesh nicely. However, the team is not a true contender now and also just traded away three of its young core players. There’s a lack of youngin’s for him to mentor beyond Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns and not enough talent to be regarded as a serious playoff threat.

It’s possible the T-Wolves pony up the most cash and/or years and sign Allen, but the fit, to me, isn’t ideal for them or him.

Portland Trail Blazers

Portland only has one remaining roster spot and is already in a cash conundrum, so don’t expect this move to get done unless there’s some roster maneuvering.

NBA: Indiana Pacers at Memphis Grizzlies
Tony Allen (9) contests the shot of Paul George (13).
Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

But, I like the potential fit here. Though the Blazers aren’t a contender, they do have a deep and offensively brilliant backcourt with Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum and to a lesser extent, Allen Crabbe. Their problem though has been defense. Portland finished 24th in the league in defensive rating last year, mostly because their perimeter D is trash.

Enter Allen, who can bring life to the team’s defense while still remaining hidden offensively behind Lillard and McCollum. Problem solved, right?

Well, it’s not that simple. Likely one of the two star guards would need to sit a majority of the time whenever Allen would play. And, just like in Memphis, defenses would clog up the paint for Portland’s bigs while also maintaining a razor sharp focus on Lillard/McCollum without sacrificing any energy worrying about Allen.

It’s an interesting thought, though, and experiment that would hinge on the play of Crabbe, who improved somewhat last year after receiving a hefty contract extension. At age 25, he could blossom into a bench cog whose offensive ability must be respected. If that were to happen, then Allen would fit better.

All in all, Cleveland looks like the most accommodating home for both parties if they were interested, which as of now seems unlikely. With an infusion of championship pedigree defense into a lineup made for optimal offensive output, it’s possible that the Cavs could alleviate Allen’s poor offensive play behind the rest of the team’s strengths.