Celtics

Celtics

The 2010 NBA Finals were over and the Boston Celtics were oh-so-close to bringing home Banner 18 before losing in Game 7 to the Los Angeles Lakers. 

There would be significant changes for Boston on the horizon for sure; among them, the departure of Tony Allen. 

Now Allen wasn’t one of the Boston Celtics’ star players, evident by him logging just five minutes in that winner-take-all Game 7. 

He was an on-the-rise defender who after six years in Boston (2004-2010), seemed to finally not only understand that role but embrace it. 

And then … he was gone. 

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The Memphis Grizzlies swooped in with a three-year, $9.7 million offer for Allen that even back then wasn’t a big money offer. 

Boston was OK with the annual salary, but the Celtics had no interest at first in giving Allen that third guaranteed year. 

Bringing Allen back would have meant paying his salary and a dollar-for-dollar penalty because the C's at the time were over the then-$70 million luxury tax threshold.

But it raises the question: Would it have been worth it? 

Especially when you consider how Allen was on the rise as an elite, game-changing, pain-in-the-you-know-what defender. 

"It wasn't about money, it was about years and flexibility," Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said when explaining why a deal with Allen didn’t get done. "We wanted to keep a lot of cap flexibility and that was the issue."

Boston eventually offered Allen a deal similar to the one on the table from Memphis, but there was a sense that it was a case of too little, too late. 

 

Had the Celtics offered Allen a three-year deal earlier, there’s a decent chance he would have taken it. 

But if he did, what would the Celtics have looked like?

The 2010-2011 Celtics struggled to find that impact wing defender with Marquis Daniels, Sasha Pavlovic and Von Wafer all having varying degrees of success. 

They had their moments, but they weren’t Tony Allen, who by now was fitting in better than most anticipated in helping the Grizzlies advance to the Western Conference semifinals that year for the first time in franchise history. 

Allen’s impact only grew in Memphis, but took on a life of its own when his “Grit and Grind” style of play became a moniker for the team

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And while the third year in Memphis was a major factor, Tony Allen (known also as “the GrindFather”) would later reveal that getting out from under the shadow of Paul Pierce and Ray Allen played a role in his decision to leave as well. 

“When I was saying 'overshadowed,' I felt like I couldn't get any further than where I was, playing behind Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, those Hall of Fame guys," Allen told reporters upon his return to Boston. "On paper, you would be a fool to play Tony Allen in front of Ray Allen or you'd be a fool to play Tony Allen in front of Paul Pierce. I wouldn't blame anybody for that decision. But like I said, it's just a chapter in my book and I'm starting a new one. And I'm enjoying it. I'm loving it, and success is here and the sky's the limit for Tony Allen over here."

Not only did his play and presence elevate Memphis to new basketball heights, but the Grizzlies in turn rewarded him by having his jersey number 9 retired at the start of this season — an honor Allen knows would have been unlikely to happen had he stayed in Boston. 

“When I got to Boston, I still thought I was like a player of the year kind of guy,” Allen told NBA.com. “Before all that, I thought I was this prolific type of scorer. These guys needed me to be a puzzle. Doc (Rivers) told me if I wanted to be on the court, I needed to be making the 50-50 plays, diving for loose balls, taking charges and trying to make plays. That’s how I would stay on the court.”

 

And stay in the hearts of Celtics fans, who at times have to wonder how things would have played out if he had re-signed with Boston to make another run at Banner 18.