The Pelicans are in the process of signing veteran free agent guard Tony Allen, league sources told The Advocate on Monday.
The move is intended to shore up the Pelicans’ perimeter defense, filling the void left by Solomon Hill who is expected to miss six-to-eight months while recovering from surgery on a torn left hamstring. Allen has built a reputation as one of the NBA’s premier defenders throughout his 13-year career with the Boston Celtics and Memphis Grizzlies.
The details of Allen’s contract are still unclear, but he’ll pull down at least $2.3 million, which is the minimum salary for any NBA player with more than 10 years of service.
Nicknamed “The Grindfather” for his role as one of the primary architects on the defensively-oriented “Grit and Grind” Grizzlies, Allen has been named to the NBA’s all-defensive team six times in the past seven years, including a second-team nod last year.
He’s one of only three active players with at least six all-defensive team honors, alongside LeBron James and Chris Paul.
Sources said Allen’s main responsibility will be guarding the opponent’s best perimeter scorer, which is the role Hill took last season. He also adds a major boost of experience to the locker room, participating in 112 career playoff games and reaching the postseason each of the last nine years.
He joins his former Celtics’ teammate, point guard Rajon Rondo, in re-shaping the team’s playoff experience. The pair of free agent acquisitions are expected to help guide the Pelicans’ foundation of Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins, neither of whom have won a postseason game.
However, this move also comes with a bit of scrutiny.
Not only is Allen at the tail end of his career, approaching 36-years old, but he’s also a below-average offensive performer. He’s a career 28 percent 3-point shooter who made just 15 of his 58 attempts (27 percent) from beyond the arc last year.
It means he’s unlikely to garner much attention on the perimeter, allowing opponents to clog the lane or remain on double-teams against Davis and Cousins. It’s particularly troubling if he’s paired in the backcourt with Rondo, who has also been a subpar outside shooter for most of his career.
The team’s spacing will be reliant on Jrue Holiday, who signed a five-year, $125 million contract this offseason. However, Holiday hasn’t built a reputation as a knock-down shooter himself, never converting better than 39 percent from 3-point range in his eight-year career.
So, Allen’s signing only adds another layer to the curiosity when training camps opens on Sept. 25.
Can Rondo, Allen and Holiday complement each other to maximize the Pelicans’ defensive prowess without surrendering too much on the offensive end? Or will the Pelicans need to rotate the backcourt more often to keep opposing defenses honest?
The answers likely depend on the performance of Davis and Cousins, whose prolific scoring prowess may be able to overcome having a defensively-loaded backcourt which lacks reliable shooters.
“Both of those guys are incredibly skilled and can score from anywhere so it’s not like you look down and see you have two big guys and think you have to play the whole game from the low block,” Gentry said in June. “They can provide spacing for themselves in a lot of sets, since DeMarcus can shoot 3s better than most people think and AD can make that mid-range shot consistently. We just have to work around them and figure out what’s best.”