Forgotten amidst the massive deals that bombarded the NBA this offseason were the smaller deals, the role players that re-signed or found new destinations.
This summer the Boston Celtics made their greatest and only mistake of the offseason. On July 12, Tony Allen agreed to a three-year $9.5 million deal with the Memphis Grizzlies. The Celtics had offered a similar deal of $6 million over two years to Allen but were not willing to guarantee that third year.
Not extending the offer or showing their commitment to Allen's role on the team likely demonstrated to Allen and his agent Michael Higgins that the Celtics did not value Allen's body of work as much as they should have.
Allen had some issues with Doc Rivers in his time there and had suffered a plethora of injuries during his six year stay in Boston. The injuries included reconstructive ACL surgery in January of 2007, and right ankle surgery last season that caused him to miss 28 games. Coach Rivers re-inserted him toward the end of the regular season and Allen regained a key role off the bench.
Why was Tony Allen so crucial? The answers, when contemplated, are more than apparent.
Allen is the intangible role player. Off the bench, Allen averaged 1.1 steals per game last season averaging only 16.5 minutes a game. To put this in perspective, Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo led the league with 2.3 steals/game last season over 36.6 minutes.
Allen's defensive abilities cannot be undermined, but they were. Allen was a crucial component of the bench, helping to damper production and contain LeBron James and Kobe Bryant during the postseason. With youthful superstars like James and Dwyane Wade matching up with a noticeably older Celtics roster, Allen kept them from skipping a beat on D.
Whether it's Paul Pierce or Ray Allen guarding the league's best, it is essential to have a player off the bench who can contain these stars. Tony Allen was that player for the Celtics.
Without Allen, the Celtics will need other bench players to step up defensively. Marquis Daniels and newly acquired Nate Robinson underachieved last year and the Celtics were able to re-sign them for a relative bargain. Daniels and Robinson should have more productive years, but Daniels' defense has not lived up to expectations. Robinson, although pesky, is too small to guard the superstars but he may need to at some point.
By adding Shaquille and Jermaine O'Neal, the Celtics added size that will be a big factor come playoff time, especially with the return of Kendrick Perkins. With a 6'10”(Perkins), 6'11”(J.O'Neal), and 7'1”(Shaq) centers, the Celtics will be able to clog the lane with starters and off the bench. This will be very helpful to prevent the top teams from driving on them.
The problem that the Celtics are going to face is on the outside. As a 6'4” defensive guard, Allen's quickness and smothering capabilities kept shooter's honest.
The Celtics will also need newly acquired Von Wafer to step up. At 6'5” Wafer can offer size on the perimeter, but the last thing on Wafer's resume is defensive specialist. The Celtics acquired Wafer as an extra perimeter shooter, one asset Allen did not have.
Ranking fifth in the league with 95.56 PPG allowed, the Celtics relied heavily on their defense when their offense went stagnant. With this off-season's acquisitions and re-signings the Celtics may have realized that they would need more offensively stout players off the bench to remedy the loss of Allen.
Time will only tell what the newly formatted Celtics team will become known for, but it is hard to believe that the loss of Tony Allen's services will not be evident at some point.