The Grizzlies haven't missed a beat following their trade of Rudy Gay, going 24-9 since adding Tayshaun Prince, Ed Davis, and Austin Daye to the active roster in Gay's place. Zach Randolph and other Grizzlies have even come around on management's stance that Memphis may be a better team without Gay, as Randolph told Sam Amick of USA Today last month.
However, while the Grizzlies have survived the loss of Gay, there's another player on the perimeter in Memphis who is even more essential to the team's success: Tony Allen. One of the league's best defenders, Allen is a key piece on a Grizzlies club that hopes to make a deep run in the 2013 playoffs. But after Memphis' season ends, either with a postseason defeat or a title, Allen will become an unrestricted free agent, giving him the opportunity to sign anywhere.
As Chris Mannix of SI.com wrote in March, Allen has been a perfect fit in Memphis, where the defense-first Grizzlies get a good chunk of their scoring from big men Randolph and Marc Gasol, meaning they don't need much offense from Allen. Like Andre Iguodala in Denver, Allen has a role in Memphis that plays to his strengths, something that wouldn't necessarily happen if he were to sign with another team. Still, at least one Eastern Conference executive told Mannix that he thinks the 6'4" guard would be a good fit just about anywhere.
"I like him a lot," the exec said. "He adds instant toughness and a defensive mentality to your team. He's a leader on the floor and he isn't going to back down from anyone. I think everyone in the league would love to have him."
Not only would every team in the NBA likely have some interest in a player like Allen, who has the ability to shut down the league's premier perimeter players, but his price tag may be affordable enough that just about every club could have a real shot. The Oklahoma State product is playing in the final year of a three-year contract that paid him just over $3.1MM annually, and one Eastern Conference general manager predicted to Mannix that Allen could sign a similar deal this time, perhaps with a slight raise — "three years at $4MM per year sounds right," said the GM.
At age 31, Allen seems to be hitting the market at an ideal time. His last three seasons in Memphis have been the best three-year stretch of his career, as he's seen his playing time steadly increase (from 18.4 career MPG prior to joining the Grizzlies to 27.1 MPG this season). His defensive prowess has also become more widely recognized, culminating with a spot on the NBA's All-Defensive First Team in 2012. Based on his production and his reputation, I could see the bidding going even higher than $4MM per year on Allen. He seems to me like the kind of player to whom a contending team would be willing to commit its full mid-level exception.
While that sort of salary would still put him within most teams' price range, it may make it tricky for the Grizzlies to bring him back. Even after clearing Gay's and Marreese Speights' projected salaries for 2013/14 from their books, the Grizz have over $60MM committed to next year's roster. The team could still re-sign Allen for a fair market price and avoid going into tax territory, but barring any further cost-cutting roster moves, it wouldn't leave much wiggle room for other upgrades.
Still, based on Allen's comments and his attitude since arriving in Memphis in 2010, I get the impression that the veteran would be reluctant to leave, particularly if the difference in money elsewhere wasn't significant. As such, I expect Allen and the Grizzlies to work something out this July, perhaps for a slightly lesser salary than the 31-year-old would receive from a rival suitor. A multiyear deal would provide some long-term security for Allen, while the Grizzlies would avoid having to try to replace Allen's production as effectively as they replaced Gay's.