Jerome Allen works out pre-game with guard Avery Bradley
One obvious takeaway from the Las Vegas Summer League?
The Pistons have some promising young players.
“It’s early, but it certainly looks like things are pointing in the right direction over there,” one Western Conference scout said last week.
Obviously, it starts with Cade Cunningham. But Detroit also has Siddiq Bey, Isaiah Stewart and several other players under age 23 who can make an impact.
A roster as young as Detroit’s usually needs a strong coaching staff to make it all work.
If you ask Jayson Tatum, the Pistons added one of the best in the business a few weeks ago.
“Pooh is going to be great there,” Tatum said over the phone recently. “He just wants to have an impact and help you get better.”
“Pooh” is a nickname for Pistons assistant coach Jerome Allen. After working closely with Tatum and other young Celtics for the past six seasons, Allen accepted a position on Dwane Casey’s staff in June.
“They’re getting a good one,” Tatum said of Allen. “They’re getting somebody that’s very knowledgeable about the game and that can connect with anybody — from the star player to the 15th man on the bench. He can relate to anybody.”
Allen was an assistant with Boston for the past five years under Brad Stevens.
Shortly after Stevens was elevated to team president, Allen accepted a position on the Pistons’ bench.
To Tatum and other Celtics players, Allen will be the perfect coach for Cunningham and his young teammates in Detroit.
“He’s someone I just kind of gravitated towards when I first got to the Celtics,” Tatum said. “He’s always just trying to help you. And he can relate to (all) players.”
Allen was Tatum’s head coach in the 2017 Summer League. Their bond was established over a few weeks in Utah and Las Vegas. It’s only strengthened from there. Allen’s family knows Tatum and Tatum’s family knows Allen. Tatum recalled being at Allen’s house when his daughter was taking pictures for her senior prom.
“I would say he’s much more than a coach — his family is like family to me,” Tatum said.
Marcus Smart established a similar bond with Allen early in his Celtics career.
In a recent phone interview, Smart recalled visiting a juvenile detention facility in Dorchester with Allen and Terry Rozier. Allen had asked both players to join him for the visit.
“Some of (the juveniles) had been there for two or three years, some of them just got there, some of them had a court date coming up, some of them probably are going to jail, it’s real,” Smart says.
Allen addressed the teenagers during the visit.
“I didn’t really know that side of him,” Smart said. “We got to sit down (there) and talk about real things, real life. That just really hit home with me.”
Smart and Tatum both reference Allen’s authenticity when describing his success in Boston.
“Everything with him is real, it’s real life. He’s always going to hold you accountable and he’s always going to hold himself accountable,” Smart said. “You can trust that whatever he’s telling you, he means it. And he’s saying it to help you.”
Allen can relate to Tatum, Smart and other players because he was once in their shoes.
Allen was selected in the second round of the 1995 NBA Draft and played two years in the NBA.
He later served as a head coach at the University of Pennsylvania, his alma mater. Allen’s tenure at Penn included an NCAA rules violations concerning bribery.
Instead of shying away from the incident, Allen uses it to shape his approach on and off the court, as detailed in his book about the subject, When The Alphabet Comes: A Life Changed By Exposure.
“I’m just hoping my transparency helps someone in terms of character development, in terms of choices, just in terms of trying to address the sins of your own hearts,” Allen said in an interview with The Undefeated. “No one is necessarily perfect, but even in failure, you still have purpose.”
The infraction didn’t keep Stevens from hiring Allen in 2015. And, obviously, it didn’t prevent Troy Weaver, Casey and the Pistons from hiring Allen last month.
Smart is excited to see how Allen impacts the Pistons’ roster.
“They’re getting someone who is going to fight for you on and off the court,” Smart says.
Both Smart and Tatum believe Allen is exceptional at connecting with players and holding them accountable. So it sounds like Cunningham & Co. are in good hands.
“I think Detroit’s going to be happy with him there and I think he’s going to be happy there with a franchise with some young developing talent,” Smart says.
The rapport between player and coach seems like one of the most important criteria for NBA head coaches right now.
Several head coaches hired in the 2021 offseason, including New Orleans’ Willie Green and Boston’s Ime Udoka, were heralded for their ability to develop strong bonds with players.
Both Smart and Tatum believe Allen will eventually land a head coaching job.
“Of course, I have no doubt that he’ll be a head coach, sooner rather than later. When that does happen, hopefully I’ll be at the press conference (to support him),” Tatum says.
“I definitely see Coach Allen as a head coach one day,” Smart adds. “The way he approaches the game, the way he understands it, he knows what he’s talking about. I definitely think someday he will be a head coach. I don’t know where but I’m looking forward to seeing it.”