The best free-agent signing in Memphis Grizzlies’ franchise history was a player whose greatest strength was not scoring or any other flashy statistic.
After spending his first six NBA seasons with the Boston Celtics, Tony Allen entered free agency in 2010. In the same summer that gave us “The Decision” from LeBron James and other big decisions from big names like Dwyane Wade, Amar’e Stoudemire, Chris Bosh, Shaquille O’Neal and Paul Pierce, someone like Tony Allen wasn’t the highest priority.
The Grizzlies took advantage and agreed to a three-year, $9.7 million contract with Allen that would bring the 6’4″ shooting guard to Memphis.
Allen was such an important part of the team’s new defensive culture that he became known as the “Grindfather” during the franchise’s “Grit and Grind” era. Allen was a blue collar defensive monster and a perfect fit for the Grizzlies.
As a smaller market franchise, Memphis could not bring in the major superstars in free agency. Allen’s stats were not eye-catching, but he was the greatest and most intense defender at the guard position since Gary “The Glove” Payton in the 1990s. Allen was recognized by NBA superstars like Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant as being the toughest defender they ever faced in their careers.
In his first three seasons with the Grizzlies, Allen played a total of 209 games, averaging 24.6 minutes per game, 9.2 points, 3.7 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 1.7 steals; shooting 47.5 percent from the field, 20.2 percent from beyond the arc, and 75.6 percent from the free throw line. While Allen’s stats didn’t reflect his true value, he was still recognized by teammates, opponents, and coaches throughout the league in his 14-year NBA career.
Allen’s relatively low salary is another reason why he was the Grizzlies’ best free-agent signing. He was a bargain and a signing of great value. When Allen’s original three-year deal came to an end he got a contract extension in 2013 for another four years and $20 million. While it was a bigger salary compared to his original contract, Allen had proven he was worth every penny.
Throughout his next four seasons with Memphis, Allen’s numbers stayed consistent for the most part. He did raise his 3-point shooting percentage to about 35 percent, making himself a bit more of an offensive threat. But defense was always Allen’s bread and butter.
Allen was snubbed for NBA Defensive Player of the Year more than once, but he made the NBA All-Defensive Team six times with the Grizzlies; three first team nods and three second team nods. Three times he finished top-10 in the league in steals per game, and twice he led the NBA in steal percentage.
Allen brought championship experience to Memphis, having won a ring with the Celtics in 2008. He helped the Grizzlies make the playoffs six times in his seven years with the team, including a trip to the Western Conference Finals in 2013.
In 2017, the Grizzlies began to move away from the “Grit and Grind” era and rebuild the team in a new image. Allen was a free agent that summer, and Memphis let him leave; he signed with the New Orleans Pelicans.
The 2017-18 season was Allen’s last in the NBA. He was 35 years old when he played his final game. The Grizzlies have announced that they will eventually retire Allen’s No. 9 jersey in Memphis.