It’s exceptionally rare that a player with the credentials and career resume of guard/forward Tony Allen is available during the late stages of NBA free agency, but the New Orleans Pelicans managed to sign the 13-year veteran on Sept. 15. The late-summer addition was a welcomed one to a roster that greatly improved its savvy and postseason experience this offseason, including the acquisition of 11-year veteran Rajon Rondo, a teammate of Allen on the 2008 champion Boston Celtics.
Perhaps no one was more excited – and maybe even a bit relieved – about the Allen pickup than Pelicans players themselves, who will spend 2017-18 playing with the uber-intense defender, rather than against him.
“He’s a tough-nosed guy who can bring it defensively,” New Orleans guard Ian Clark said of Allen, a six-time NBA All-Defense selection. “He’s been around the league for a while, so he’s a veteran who knows how to play. On the defensive end, he brings that intensity and that mindset of getting stops, getting steals and being that player who will get dirty for you. He’ll dive on the floor, take a charge, things like that. We definitely needed that.”
“He definitely brings the intensity,” guard Jordan Crawford said. “He brings the fear factor. There are guys who the day before the game, they are thinking about having to face Tony Allen. When they landed in Memphis, they were thinking about him. We have a lot of personalities like that. We’re not just talented; we also can bully teams. That’s what I’m looking forward to.”
Along with providing ferocious defense, another thing Allen, 35, has done throughout his entire NBA career is win. Dating back to playing for the ’08 Celtics, the Chicago native’s teams have made the playoffs nine consecutive years, including seven straight with Memphis.
Pelicans forward Dante Cunningham, a Grizzlies teammate of Allen for one season in 2011-12, noted that Allen supplies a range of intangibles to teams that help them create chemistry and an intense environment.
“His knowledge defensively and his willingness to give his body up,” Cunningham said, listing some of what he remembers most from playing with Allen. “He doesn’t care – he will dive through the stanchion to get the ball; he will be the first person to help you up off the floor. Amazing teammate. Guys like that are hard to come by, that’s why guys like him make his teams win.
“Any drill we did (in practice), his competitiveness brings you along, or makes you want to beat him even more. He always brings that competitive edge to the court that we need.”
Allen said Pelicans GM Dell Demps was instrumental in getting him to sign with New Orleans, along with the Pelicans’ primary goal of reaching the postseason, which would extend Allen’s individual playoff streak to double digits.
“We talked about how free agency went for me – free agency didn’t go so well,” Allen said of his conversation with Demps. “He thought that with the way they wanted to play me, it would bring a couple more years to my career and be beneficial to the ballclub.
“Dell did a phenomenal job keeping it honest with me, letting me know how he wants to play me, what he’s trying to do with me as far as my health, getting me in great gear for the playoffs. Playoffs are a short-term goal that he put in the sales pitch.”
With 112 career playoff games under his belt, Allen is the most experienced player in that category on the entire New Orleans roster, besting even Rondo (96 games), who advanced deep in springtime basketball several times with Boston. The Pelicans hope Allen can help generate another trip to the playoffs, after he went 7-for-7 in doing so with the Grizzlies. Allen noted that consistency in mentality was one major factor behind Memphis’ year-in, year-out success.
“Part of having that mindset of going to the playoffs is winning the games you’re supposed to win,” he said. “When you’ve got teams that are under .500, or just young, coming in here (as visiting teams), you should have the mindset that you’re not going to lose those. Having that camaraderie and togetherness in approaching each game is important. Also, knowing that we belong as a team I think will take us far.”