insider Jerry Zgoda
Three seasons after he last played, two-time NBA champion Ray Allen finally announced his retirement last week at age 41 by writing a farewell letter to his 13-year-old self for the Players’ Tribune website.
He urged that Air Force kid who moved with his father and family to another base every three years — from California to Germany, Oklahoma, England and back again to California and South Carolina — to find both sanctuary and a measure of military discipline on the court.
All these years later, the man all grown has won titles with Boston and Miami, is aimed toward the Basketball Hall of Fame and is remembered as both one of the greatest shooters and most dedicated players of all time.
“The consummate pro,” Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau said.
Or as new Memphis coach David Fizdale said, “You’re talking about the epitome of professionalism.”
Both coached Allen when they were NBA assistants, Thibodeau for three seasons in Boston and Fizdale for two seasons in Miami.
The 1996 draft’s fifth player chosen, by the Timberwolves and immediately traded to Milwaukee for Stephon Marbury, Allen won his first title with Celtics teammates Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce in 2008. He won his second alongside LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in 2012 after he hit an unforgettable Game 6 three-point shot that snatched the Larry O’Brien Trophy from San Antonio.
“I probably wouldn’t have this job as a head coach if it wasn’t for him,” Fizdale said. “I’ve seen him shoot that shot 10,000 times in practice.”
Fizdale remembers when Allen frequently instructed James or Wade to lie on the floor, get up, run behind the three-point line, gather a pass and shoot a balanced corner three.
“I’ve seen him do that laying on his stomach, laying on his back, posing on his side,” Fizdale said. “He just challenged them to get uncomfortable.”
The Heat trailed the NBA Finals 3-2 and trailed Game 6 by three points when Allen backpedaled to make sure his feet were behind the line and made one of those very shots that tied the score with five seconds left and transformed a series that eventually went seven games before the Heat won.
“All of us knew he was going to make that shot,” Fizdale said. “Who else could have made it because no one else had prepped it like he had.”
Five seasons later, Thibodeau now says he, too, knew the play’s outcome even as he watched it unfold from afar.
“That’s him,” Thibodeau said. “The bigger the moment, the better he was. He was one of those guys, he had a great routine every day. He had a shooting routine after practice; most people saw the one before the game when he got to the arena at 3. On the rare occasions when he didn’t shoot it well, he was always an hour early the next day.
“Everything was mapped. He was terrific. He took great care of his body. He hit so many big shots.”
Fizdale guarantees Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Bradley Beal all modeled Allen as they became a new generation’s great shooters.
“If you had to cut out somebody for these young guys to learn this is how you become a great player, a great person in the community, a great father, a great husband, he’s it,” Fizdale said. “He deserves to retire. Could he still play? Yep.”
Thibodeau won’t forget coming out of timeout huddles with a play called and seeing the entire defense morph to defend Allen’s shooting.
“He would force a whole defense to shift,” Thibodeau said. “When Ray left, those same timeout plays didn’t work quite as well.”
Paid to play … or not?
The NBA season isn’t even two weeks old and already teams — including Memphis with Marc Gasol and Mike Conley on Tuesday night at Target Center — are resting players.
Detroit coach Stan Van Gundy said, “It’s a little surprising. That’s not us.”
“Are guys really worn down already?” he said. “That’s up to each coach, each organization. Look, I’m not one to do it. Our guys get paid to play 82 games. Everybody that’s healthy for us will play for us every single night. But that’s just us.”
Forging Team USA
Former NBA executive Jerry Colangelo won’t continue for a third term as USA Basketball’s chairman, but he still will manage the national team.
“I think this has been part of the plan for a long time,” said Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau, a U.S. assistant coach since 2013. “They’ve built Team USA to last. The pipeline is full at every level. It’s organized. It’s well thought-out. That’s what you get when you have strong leadership like that.”
When Thibodeau was asked if he’ll be able to continue with the U.S. team now that he has two titles with the Wolves, he said, “We’ll see, we’ll see.”
Paying their dues
Thibodeau, Denver’s Michael Malone and Charlotte’s Steve Clifford all coached on Jeff Van Gundy’s staff in the 2001-02 season, as did veteran head coach Don Chaney.
“I soaked up as much as I could from all those guys,” said Malone, son of longtime NBA coach Brendan Malone. “Thibs was a 19-year career assistant. He’d be around some great coaches. It was just a matter of time before he got his opportunity. You knew he was more than ready to lead his own team.”
WOLVES’ WEEK AHEAD
Tuesday: 6:30 p.m. at Brooklyn (FSN)
Wednesday: 6 p.m. at Orlando (FSN)
Saturday: 7 p.m. vs. L.A. Clippers (FSN)
Player to watch: Blake Griffin, Clippers
Back after a season diminished by injury and suspension a year ago, he’s one of three players to start the season by averaging 20 points and 10 rebounds. Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook and New Orleans’ Anthony Davis are the others.
“No, I’m not doing that. Let’s just keep using Glen’s credit card, you know, and we’ll be fine.”
— Wolves big man Gorgui Dieng speaking about team owner Glen Taylor when asked if he’s buying teammates dinners now that he has signed a four-year, $64 million contract extension.
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