Throwing in the Towel on TA
Posted by Brian Robb on Jun 4, 2009
Another day, another surgery for the C’s. The latest victim is Tony Allen according to a press release from the Green yesterday that reported the shooting guard had undergone right ankle surgery. This development came as a complete surprise to most C’s fans who had no idea Allen was hurt in the first place, much like the rest of the Boston roster down the stretch.
This ankle problem is the latest in a slew of injuries for the shooting guard out of Oklahoma State who has been limited to 282 regular season games out of a possible 410 during his five year career. The 27 year old was signed to a two year 5 million dollar extension during last year’s offseason with hopes that he would fulfill his potential and help fill in the gaps in the offense and defense that James Posey left behind after getting big money from the Hornets and skipping town.
The extension drew mixed reviews at the time which should not come as a shock to anyone. There are few players in green that Celtics fans are more divisive about than TA. There is one camp who loves the guy’s athleticism, tough defense and ability to get to the basket to create instant offense. The other side complains about his injury proneness, lack of outside shooting and constant boneheaded turnovers on the offensive end of the floor.
Both parties have valid points and not much headway was made by either camp against the other side in their arguments. In the past couple years, TA would show flashes of energy and productivity on the floor in a few games, providing the bench with a lift after some strong penetration, steals and an alleyoop here and there that would get everyone on his side for the time being.
That excitement would generally last five or so minutes until the Tony would undo all that goodwill with a dumb pass and an offensive foul while trying to force an opening in the lane that wasn’t there. The anti TA camp would again be filled with ammo about his lack of basketball IQ and rightfully so. Allen in a sense is the completely opposite of Brian Scalabrine as a player. He has (or had) all the athleticism that Scalabrine can only dream about but completely lacks the on court awareness and ability to play within himself that made Scal a valuable and useful contributor in the Celtics rotation during this past postseason.
Despite all of Tony’s flaws mentioned, I was firmly in his camp for much of the past four years. I think my support largely stemmed from the great run of games he had on west coast trip during the 2006-2007 season once Paul Pierce went down for the year with a foot injury.
TA was the lone bright spot while the losses piled up for that young but overall horrendous team. I have vivid memories of him tearing up the interior defense of soft western conference foes helping keeping the C’s in games without The Truth, as he piled up points, rebounds, steals (along with turnovers) at an impressive rate. In fact, TA went 16 straight games that season scoring in double figures, averaging 21 points a game in the month of January on 58%(!) shooting. Those are impressive numbers for any shooting guard in the league despite the fact it was for a 20 win team.
The problem for TA however is that no one remembers that production since it came to a premature halt on January 10, 2007, a day that will forever live in Celtics infamy. After being fouled on the perimeter, TA drove strong to the hoop anyway for a monster jam and came down awkwardly on his left leg and torn his ACL. Tony’s detractors would point to the play as classic TA, going up for a pointless dunk and hurting himself and the team with his foolish decision. You can watch the disturbing footage for yourself here and make your own judgment about the play.
I gave the benefit of the doubt to Allen after this freak incident. A lot of players pull these kinds of moves after the whistle in the NBA and Tony looked to be the recipient of bad luck more than anything else after this occurrence.
The overall effect this injury has had on Allen’s career however can not be overstated. I along with the rest of Celtics nation waited patiently for him to return to form these past two seasons. There have been glimpses of his athleticism and potential but to be blatantly honest, they have been few and very far between. And as the flashes of brilliance became rarer, the man’s offensive deficiencies have become more glaring. A look at the harsh numbers after the jump
Let’s start with the shooting. TA was never a good shooter to begin with from the outside, but his touch from the outside has almost completely vanished this past year, with an eFG% of just 28 percent on jumpers according to 82games. He was even worse from downtown going 22% for the year, making him effectively a useless player when on the perimeter and allowing opposing defenses to sag off him much like they do on Rondo. Defenders also learned to better protect the lane against his penetration, since that’s become his only real option to score.
His 98 offensive rating for the season according to Basketball Reference is the lowest for any Celtic player in the rotation speaks volumes to this reality. Shooting guards are called shooting guards for a reason people. It’s because they generally involve players that can shoot the ball at least somewhat well. TA is not one of those guys.
The turnovers are also a major problem and were as glaring as ever this year. TA averaged 3.1 turnovers every 36 minutes of play this year, the highest total for any Celtic player that played meaningful minutes. Now the C’s turnover problems by the starting unit have been well documented throughout the year. The last thing they need is for the bench to come in and pick up where that unit left off. With Tony in there however, that’s exactly what he contributes.
Now a part of me still does think TA can be a useful player in this league. It likely just won’t be on the Celtics. And right now, the C’s can’t afford to have 2.5 million dollars sitting on their bench and taking up a roster spot as the backup of an aging veteran star when his coach doesn’t trust him enough to keep him on the floor for a significant length of time during crucial games as became painfully evident during this past postseason.
So let’s say the team has realized this and decides to cut bait with Allen. The problem with this ankle surgery is that it may drop Tony’s stock to the point where the C’s can’t get rid of him if they tried. Even though this is the last year of TA’s contract, 2.5 million is still a lot of money that a lot of teams won’t be willing to take on in this economy for a turnover machine that is injury prone and has a history of off the court problems.
The C’s will likely have to fork over some money in a deal, package Tony in a bigger deal or take back a questionable contract/player of their own in order to dump the guy. And to be quite honest, given Allen has only one year left on his deal, it probably isn’t worth it to take a risk like that.
That being said, I still would like to see Ainge explore any kind of deal where he could convince a GM that TA is worth the risk. In the right offense, he could be a useful player but that offense is not in Boston. There’s still a slim chance Tony can still be a contributor off the bench here in Beantown but that’s a scenario the team should not be counting on.
The C’s need to proceed this offseason with the mindset that they will get nothing substantial from the fifth year veteran. Problem is he makes too much money and is not useless enough to dump outright. On the other hand, taking up a roster spot for that much money with a payroll facing a steep luxury tax as it is looks to be trouble.
There is also too much young dead weight in the backcourt at the bottom of this roster (J.R. Giddens, Gabe Pruitt) for the C’s to waste an additional roster spot on a backup they have no confidence in. If the team learned anything this year, it’s that you need depth in order to contend especially when you have aging stars.
With TA, the C’s have a guy that brings more risk than reward to the team. He can’t be counted on to be a consistent performer in the rotation and back up Ray. For those reasons alone, the team needs to bring in new blood to fill that role. I’ve got a couple ideas for that replacement coming in the next few days.
In the meantime, I hope the C’s try to trade TA if at all possible to free up the cash and/or roster space. A trade is likely not going to happen until he proves he can play again however. They could wait it out and play him a lot during the preseason, hoping he shows those flashes of potential Celtics fans have grown accustomed too enough to get a GM somewhere to bite on taking him on though. If not, keep him as a 10th or 11th man and use him as a situational player. Whatever you do though, don’t count on much.
Danny talked himself into TA once at the start of last year. I’m not bitter though since TA had me fooled as well into thinking he could take the next step here and be a consistent performer. Those days have passed however. It’s time for some new blood here in Boston on the bench for the 2 and 3 spots. Let’s hope Danny is willing to rectify the situation.