Tony Allen is still on the market, and he’s the ideal candidate to serve as a mentor to a young Brooklyn Nets roster.
If I told you that no one had signed one the NBA’s premier defenders, would you believe me? That’s precisely the case with Tony Allen. After his seventh season with the Memphis Grizzlies, the Grindfather entered free agency and is still there at the time of this writing. His age could certainly be one of the reasons. However, for a team like the Brooklyn Nets, all those years of experience would be beneficial to them.
Allen turns 36 in January. Any team that signs him has to be wary of the deal they offer because Father Time is undefeated. The odd part is that Allen’s game hasn’t regressed much over the years. In 2017, he averaged 9.1 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.6 steals in just 27 minutes a night. The rebounds and minutes were career-bests. Allen also led the NBA in steal percentage at 3.1, and that’s an estimation of how many of his opponent’s possessions are ending in steals.
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Ever since his early seasons with the Boston Celtics, Allen’s built his brand on gritty defense. He may not be able to stop you, but he’s going to make you work. When a coach challenges his best defender to guard a superstar player, that’s all they can ask for.
Most likely, Allen isn’t looking to sign with a team like Brooklyn. Since his clock is ticking, it’d make sense for him to want to go somewhere where he can contend for a title. But if the Nets were able to persuade him, it’d be a match made in basketball heaven.
The Nets focused their 2016-17 campaign on cultivating young talent and forming an identity. When Twitter released the custom hashflags for all 30 NBA teams, the Nets’ was “#BrooklynGrit,” a slogan that has resonated throughout Brooklyn and the fan base. For 82 games, the Nets slugged it out with their opposition and scrapped hard just to make each contest close.
Allen is coming from Memphis, another team who has a similar mantra. Both organizations are run differently, but Tony Allen’s wealth of knowledge would be invaluable.
Heading into this season, Timofey Mozgov and DeMarre Carroll are the two oldest Nets at 31. Their core (D’Angelo Russell, Sean Kilpatrick, Caris LeVert, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson) are all ‘90s babies; they have just eight years of combined NBA experience. Tony Allen has been around the block. He won a championship with the Celtics back in 2008, and that means he’s shared a locker room with Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce.
I can only imagine the stories (mostly not safe for work) that Allen has, but also the other little things he picked up that a lot of the younger guys haven’t yet been around. More than anything, though, he knows what it takes to build a championship team; how everyone needs to buy into their pre-determined roles.
The Celtics drafted Allen in 2004, and two of his first three campaigns were sub-500. Boston wasn’t even able to think about winning a championship when Allen got there, and the Nets’ situation is similar. Sean Marks is doing his best to construct a team that’s going to improve year-over-year. Unfortunately, Billy King handed him a mess. If Marks began his tenure with a slew of assets, this rebuild would be much different. But we can’t cry over spilled milk.
What Allen can teach the young guys is how it takes talented players who play both ends of the court to win a title. The 2008 Celtics were an elite defense. They were also tough-nosed. Few wanted to enter Garnett’s paint, and Allen was one of the guys who would rough you up on the perimeter and deter you even more.
Brooklyn, unlike the old Boston Celtics, doesn’t have an elite defense. In fact, they’re one of the worst in the league. I watched a lot of them last year, and I’d feel comfortable saying that they are, in fact, the NBA’s worst. The Nets gave up 112.5 points a game last year, a number that only the Phoenix Suns allowed more of. They also got pummeled on the boards (47.2, second-worst) on a nightly basis and their three-point defense was mediocre (36.6 percent, 22nd-worst).
Allen’s presence wouldn’t have any seismic effects, but it’d be a start. The Nets’ players would have someone that they could look toward for mentorship and guidance. Furthermore, the coaching staff would have a veteran who could reiterate their points. If Kenny Atkinson is serving a parental role, Allen is like the cool uncle.
When Atkinson tells his players something, they’ll listen but may not believe it works. Allen then comes in and stresses the importance of what their coach just said. Hearing that second opinion could be enough to put some guys over the edge to understand the lesson. Not everything is going to be that easy, though. The Brooklyn Nets are far from utopian, but Tony Allen’s presence for situations like that would be tremendous.