One time at another website, I listed the things that Tony Allen should and shouldn’t do on the court during games. The “don’t” section included things like, “Make any move that involves more than two dribbles.” Allen saw the post and didn’t like it; a fellow reporter told me that the then-Celtic was grabbing at press credentials before a game in 2009, trying to find this Zach Lowe character writing nasty things about him. Rule of life: You don’t want Tony Allen on your bad side.
I’m glad to report that we’ve reconciled. I chatted Wednesday with the Grizzlies’ 30-year-old guard — my pick for the NBA’s most entertaining player — about a lot of things, including the difficult job of being a perimeter stopper, his exuberance in cheering for teammates and the price he’s paying for missing open-court layups.
SI.com: Who’s the toughest guy in the league for you to guard?
Allen: Rudy Gay, because I guard him in practice. I’m not giving anyone else no kudos.
SI.com: Come on. You can’t name one guy on another team?
Allen: No way. I’m not going to say that. I’m all grit and grind down here.
SI.com: OK. Should we expect to see you guarding Chris Paul a lot during your first-round series against the Clippers?
Allen: I don’t know, man, but that might be a good assumption. It just might be. I can guard any position one through four [point guard through power forward].
SI.com: Should you win Defensive Player of the Year? Do you care? Are you campaigning?
Allen: I really ain’t campaigning, but it would mean a lot because I’ve worked so hard. Eddie Sutton [Allen's coach at Oklahoma State] told me, “I don’t care how many points you score, if you want to last in the NBA, you have to defend.” And I was like, “Is he serious?” But I have worked so hard, why not shoot for the top? Who are they going to pick, do you think?
SI.com: Tyson Chandler seems like the favorite. Voters like big guys for this award, and there’s an argument that big men can impact the game defensively more than guards or wings.
Allen: [Laughs]. Come on. Put it like this: Name all the guards I have to defend throughout the league and name all the centers, and tell me whose job is the toughest. A guard has to defend a prolific scorer every night. They come off pin-down screens, double screens, they go on pick-and-rolls — there are so many different things a guard has to defend every night.
SI.com: You made the All-Defensive second team last year, right?
Allen: Yeah. I missed out because Kobe made first team. I felt he did more damage on offense than defense last year. But they gave it to him. I was still happy.
SI.com: I’ve nominated you on Twitter for an imaginary award: Most Entertaining Player.
Allen: Isn’t that sweet. I’ll take it, hands down. I’m taking it, and I love it.
SI.com: Watching you play defense is great, but you know that. You’re also nuts on the bench, especially when the end-of-bench guys are in during blowouts. You’re stepping onto the court to celebrate baskets, tossing your towel way up in the air, stomping your feet. Have the refs ever told you to sit down?
Allen: Oh, yeah. They always tell me to sit down. But like EA Sports says, “It’s in the game.” I’m always excited when those guys score because I’m always telling them, “Stay ready.”
SI.com: Have you ever hit anyone with one of your towel throws?
Allen: Oh, yeah. I hit a woman right in the face once. It wrapped around her face.
SI.com: Was she mad?
Allen: No! She seemed pretty excited, but she was confused where it came from at first. I said, “I”m sorry,” and she said it was OK.
SI.com: You’re also entertaining on fast breaks because, I’m sorry to say it, you have missed a lot of breakaways. I heard you on the Chris Vernon Show the other day, on the radio in Memphis, saying the team has a system now where you have to pay $100 for every missed breakaway. Whose idea was that?
Allen: It was Marc Gasol. We were in the training room one day, and he said, “I know what I’ll do to make you stop missing those layups. Every time you miss one, you have to pay everyone on the team $100.” I said, “OK,” and right after that, we played New York, and I’ll never forget: I got a wide-open layup and I missed it.
SI.com: How much money are we at now?
Allen: I don’t know.
SI.com: Have you paid? Or is it a running tab?
Allen: It’s a running tab. We’ll deal with it when we get our playoff shares.
SI.com: Gasol, by the way, seems like he’d be a lot of fun to play with — good passer, unselfish, etc.
Allen: He understands that in order to win, it’s going to take all the puzzle pieces, you know? He’s always encouraging me to take my shots, make my cuts, whatever. And I’m like, “Damn, this guy is talking about passing me the ball?”
SI.com: You have one of the highest offensive-rebounding rates among guards this season. Do you know that? Have you intentionally amped up that part of your game?
Allen: I didn’t even know that. Listen, when I got to Boston, Paul Pressey [then a Celtics assistant coach] told me, “Look to your right, and there’s Paul Pierce. He’s making, what, $80 million? Then look the other way, and there’s Antoine Walker.” Those guys could score, and they needed someone to defend. So I decided to go ahead and be one of the best defenders in the world, and make hustle plays. The offensive rebounds are part of it.
SI.com: You’ve also cut your turnovers a bit in Memphis. That was something that frustrated Boston fans. Is it just sort of maturing as an NBA player?
Allen: I’d say I’m more mature. I just found my niche being a defensive guy. In Boston, I was doing too much. But I’m still the wild card sometimes. Damon Stoudamire [a Grizzlies assistant coach last season] used to tell me that for every two boneheaded plays I make, there will always come four or five good plays.
SI.com: Speaking of the Celtics: It was reported that they matched Memphis’ offer two summers ago in a last-minute attempt to keep you. Is that true?
Allen: No, no. If that was the case, I’d still be in Boston. They did not make that offer to me. Listen, I don’t even want to talk about Boston. I have nothing bad to say about them. Danny Ainge drafted me, I learned a lot from Doc [Rivers] and I picked up work ethic from guys like Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett.
SI.com: There was a report circulating this week that Rudy Gay and Zach Randolph don’t get along. Is that true?
Allen: You can’t believe a word of that. People on the outside are going to think what they think, but when it’s time to go on the hardwood, it’s going to be the Grizz together.
SI.com: How is Zach Randolph looking? How close is he to 100 percent?
Allen: He looked so great in practice [Wednesday], and he’s going to play big minutes on Thursday [when Memphis can clinch home-court advantage in the first round with a victory against the Magic]. He practiced without a brace. He’s going to be ready.
SI.com: Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace says you watch a ton of film. How important is that? Do you ask for particular stuff?
Allen: We have a great video guy, Jason March. He breaks down pretty much all the guys in the league. He edits all their moves so I can get familiar.
SI.com: So you look ahead and ask for specific video packages?
Allen: Yeah, like, pick a team.
SI.com: OK, Houston.
Allen: So they have Kevin Martin at the two-guard. I’ll tell Jason March, “Go get his last five games.” I don’t even want to see anybody else. I just want to see everything he does — the way he comes off a pin-down, the way he comes off a ball screen, the way he sprints to get open. Anything. Everything.