The ups and downs of Tony Allen's stint with the Celtics have been well chronicled and whether you love him or you hate him you cannot deny that he has received more opportunities with this team than practically any other Celtic this decade. Between the knee surgeries, the thumb surgery, the ankle surgery and the off-the-court incidents, the Celtics have had plenty of chances to give up on Tony, but they have yet to do so.
Just when you think he's down for the count, he's somehow dragged back into the larger scheme of things, to the point where this team continues to acknowledge after every major injury that it will continue to count on Allen for significant production.
Well, one could argue Tony's lucky to still be on this team and despite everything that's happened since he's been drafted, he's about to receive his most important opportunity yet. With Paul Pierce sidelined for the next few weeks with that infected knee, Tony's minutes are bound to increase in some way, shape or form.
Doc Rivers has a few options in this case: He could start Tony at shooting guard and bump Ray Allen to small forward, he could start Tony at small forward, or he could start Scal at small forward and have Tony serve as Ray's primary backup. Those are just a few of the scenarios we might see over the next few weeks. But whatever ends up happening, Tony Allen needs to make the most of the minutes he is given - for himself and for this team.
The jury is still out on Tony this season. Sure, he's put a nice string of games together since he's been back in the lineup, but because of his history we have not been able to proclaim he's officially reliable. Many of us are expecting to see the dark side of Tony's game rear its ugly head any day now. We've been seeing the Tony Allen we expected to see all along, but because of the inconsistencies he's known for and because of the migraines he's given us in the past, it's impossible to gauge where he's actually at right now. Is he actually capable of playing significant, productive minutes? Is he only playing well because his minutes have been somewhat limited? Is he finally in the right state of mind to consistently produce for this team? Does he need some sort of guarantee that the minutes will be there in order to play well?
It's impossible to tell. But with Pierce's injury comes Tony's best chance to prove something to pretty much everyone (his teammates, his coaches, the fans and himself). His minutes could potentially jump to around 20 per game, which is enough to be considered a mainstay in the rotation and is enough to tell whether a player is doing more harm or good for his team. With the increase in minutes stretching over at least a two week period, Tony can basically make or break his importance to the Celtics this season. If he can consistently produce over this stretch (and by produce I mean limit the turnovers, play solid defense and attack the hoop in a controlled manner), we might have to admit (and for some of us, it will be against our will) that he's finally a reliable player of sorts who demands a place in the every day rotation.
However, if his stints on the court are marred by inconsistencies and are defined by the sloppy play many of us have come to expect from him, then we'll know once and for all that he doesn't deserve a significant role with this team. If this stretch doesn't work out for him, maybe all he's good for is playing the limited minutes he was playing up until Tuesday night's game against Indiana. Maybe that's all he's reliable for. Which is fine...once Pierce gets back. After all, up to this point, Tony's always been better in small doses.
Two weeks of games should be enough of a time frame to come to come to a reliable conclusion about a guy like Tony. There's a rather simple line of thinking with it: If he's consistent and plays well then he can be considered reliable. If he's not consistent and screws up too much, then we'll know he can't be counted on. If Tony were a rookie, maybe two weeks wouldn't be enough time, but he's been in the league long enough now and he's been already been given enough chances, so two weeks of games should serve as an adequate barometer.
Tony will probably see extended time with the other four starters (assuming Garnett is back), which could actually be his biggest challenge. The starting five of Rondo, Allen, Pierce, Garnett and Perkins have the formula down pat. They work fluidly and know each other's games well enough to simply make it work. Tony Allen doesn't have that luxury. When Pierce missed time back in 2006-2007 with that stress reaction in his left foot, Tony stepped in and played admirably (he averaged 11.5 points in the 33 games he played in that season). But he was playing alongside guys like Al Jefferson and Gerald Green on a 24-win team. Tony's now stepping in for Pierce on a team that could win 60+ games and has championship aspirations. For some, that's a pretty scary thought.
If I were Tony, I'd have Eminem's "Lose Yourself" blaring in my headphones before every game over the next two weeks.
Some might want to argue that Bill Walker being recalled from the D-League means he'll find time in the rotation and I hope that's true. But I doubt he'll take the majority of the minutes away from Tony, only because since Tony's return, he's received the minutes and not Walker. If Walker was the guy for this scenario, he probably would have been playing in place of Tony weeks ago. However, if Tony's game doesn't live up to what it needs to be, then maybe Walker will earn an extended preview to show whether or not he can be relied on instead.
This opportunity will probably make or break Tony Allen for the season and for the future. With his contract being up at the end of the year, I would say that this is Tony's last significant opportunity with this team, but some way or another he seems to always be in the picture, whether we like it or not. So while I can't honestly say this is his last opportunity, this is certainly his finest one. Now it's up to him to decide what he wants to do with it.