Cavaliers center Jarrett Allen is helping Cleveland improve on and off the court this season.
On Friday, Allen hosted his fifth annual Meals + Math Thanksgiving event, where he helped participants complete sample math problems to budget their Thanksgiving shopping with gift cards to Giant Eagle.
Before the event, Allen spoke to HoopsHype about why he re-signed with Cleveland, maintaining playoff expectations for the Cavaliers with Collin Sexton out for the season, how he’s meshed with Evan Mobley and Lauri Markkanen in the frontcourt, Kevin Love behind the scenes, his plans for the community, and much more.
Editorial note: The order of the questions was rearranged
What do you think of playing you, Evan Mobley, and Lauri Markkanen in the frontcourt when the league is playing small ball?
Jarrett Allen: I think it’s working pretty well. If you look at our record, it’s a lot better than a lot of people expected. But even as a teammate, as a player in this trio, I think it’s working really well for all of us. I always bring it back to me and Evan kind of growing up playing the five. I’m not exactly sure what he played in college and high school. But we kind of know how we both will act on the court. We kind of know each other’s instincts. Lauri’s a three or four. He’s just a tall person for his position. If he’s a five, he can shoot the ball and space the floor.
Has it surprised you how you and Evan Mobley have coexisted despite playing the same position?
JA: At first, it was like, “Oh, how’s this going to work?” I’m pretty sure everybody in the country had that question. But once I was able to get on the floor with him immediately and actually play some pickup games with and against him, I saw the potential immediately.
Besides the money, what made you re-sign in Cleveland as a restricted free agent, and what’s your vision for the upcoming years with the Cavaliers?
JA: Grow together. It’s so cliche, but it’s just so true for this group, just how young we are. I’m the oldest person. I guess Lauri now is the oldest person in the starting lineup, and he’s only a couple of months older than me. We have a lot more room to grow than if we’re all 28 and older, like some of these teams.
What are your expectations for this team now that Collin Sexton is out for the season?
JA: We definitely lost a piece of scoring and definitely a piece of leadership with him going out. We all can see it in his eyes how hard of a worker he is, and he pushes us to work harder. But on the court, he’s the person that can go get the bucket whenever he needs. We’re definitely going to miss that, but I’m not too worried about him. I know he’s going to put as much effort into the rehab recovery as it does on the court.
What about the playoffs?
JA: We’re definitely shooting for the playoffs. First, I think people thought, let’s just get in for the play-in game, be one of those ninth or tenth seeds. But now, I guess you’ve got to be in the Play-In if you’re seven or eight, but we want to be in one of the old seven or eight playoff spots.
Did you ever think you’d be a $100 million player?
JA: I never thought that would happen. I’m not saying that I didn’t believe in my basketball abilities. I didn’t know that people saw that in me on the court. And you know, now that I have it, nothing’s really changed. I’m still who I am. I’m still going to be who I am on the court. There’s a reason I got the $100 million. I don’t think I need to go out there and shoot 20 threes a game. It’s a dream, and we’ll keep it that way.
Ed Davis was the first to say you’d be a $100 million man. Have you two talked about it?
JA: It’s funny that he was by my side when I was about to get the money, and he was rooting (for) me to get the money. Now that I have it, he’s by my side again, still edging me on to be the best I can be. It’s kind of funny. We’ve definitely talked about it.
Where do you rank among centers in the league?
JA: I’ve really just been trying to just keep all that outside, where I rank, how I’m doing and keep that outside and just playing my game and stay focused on myself.
What are the individual goals or accolades you wanted to attain this season?
JA: My goal, especially I know the coaches wanted me to do it too, anchor this defense. Be the anchor for this defense. Now I’m competing to anchor this defense, which is excellent with Evan Mobley down there with me. I just want to be able to be down there as someone they can rely on. I’m not a goal-oriented person for myself. I know an (All) Defensive Team would be nice, but I’m just rooting to make my team as best as I can.
When do you expect to return to the lineup?
JA: It’ll be soon. We have a three-day break. I’m starting to feel a lot better.
What’s it been like having Kevin Love as a teammate?
JA: For him, it’s been a tough role for what he’s been asked to do. He’s been an All-Star. He’s done amazing things. He’s been an NBA champion, and now, coming to this young team, asking him to sacrifice. He’s done a great job, not only for me but all the other young guys showing that sacrifice is going to help us win. And for me, we have talks on the side about what I need to do to become better, what I can help the team do to become better, and just things like that.
Has your time in Cleveland been what you thought it would be so far?
JA: It’s kind of what I thought it would be. I’ve been through it with Brooklyn. I hate to say it like that. In my rookie season, we won like 21 games. Then, in my last season there, we won 41. I was able to see just the whole growth of everything and how we’ve done it. Now that I’m in Cleveland, we’re seeing a lot of similarities to Brooklyn, and now, here we are in the same position to accomplish what we did last time.
What’s it been like getting immersed in the Cleveland community?
JA: It’s hard hiding seven feet and an afro. You can’t go into Target to buy standard groceries. But it’s a lot of love. Even when we weren’t winning last season, they were still cheering me on and telling me, “Go kill it.”
What’s the goal of your Meals + Math Thanksgiving event?
JA: Just trying to have a positive impact on these kids’ lives. Not only giving them money but making them learn how to use it.
Do you have any advice for those kids?
JA: Try to learn stuff as early as you can. Even though it might not seem useful at the time, you’re definitely going to use it later down the road.
How’s it been trying to establish yourself and giving back in the Cleveland community during Covid?
JA: It’s been hard. I want to follow guidelines. I want to do the right thing. It’s kind of been tough, like putting myself out there when I’m trying to look out for the kids’ health and safety too.
Any other events you have coming up in Cleveland?
JA: Try to, for one, establish myself in Cleveland, not only basketball-wise but just in the community. I had a slow start just because of COVID. I want to show that just because I’m coming from Brooklyn, it doesn’t mean that I’m not going to help and find somebody to help in Cleveland.
You can follow Michael Scotto on Twitter: @MikeAScotto