Saturday night marked the third time in three weeks that the Jazz were going up against the Grizzlies, and so, by this occasion, the novelty of facing Jae Crowder and Grayson Allen — a pair of Jazz players a season ago — had worn off.
Still, with both of those prior matchups being played in Memphis, Saturday did mark the first time those players were back in Salt Lake City since being included in the trade that brought Mike Conley to Utah.
Allen said that since flying back into his first professional city on Thursday, it had been a pretty low-key return.
“I got my hair cut here. I went to the barber I was going to last year and got my hair cut. But that was about it,” Allen said. “This is the middle of our road trip. I wish I was coming back at some point outside of the season — I’d go and get a hike in or something. But [it’s been] mostly rest while I’m here this time.”
As for Crowder, he posted a video to his Instagram account on Friday in which he was taking a stroll around Liberty Park (in true Crowder fashion, he captioned it, in all caps, “PEACEFUL WALK AT LIBERTY PARK!”). After scoring 13 points in his team’s 126-112 loss to the Jazz, he told reporters he enjoyed the return trip.
“Feels good to be back. It’s somewhere I feel comfortable with, obviously. Me and the crowd have a good relationship, and [I] left on a good note, so it felt good to get an ovation when I came back here,” Crowder said. “… We’re just having fun with it, seeing familiar faces, obviously. It’s like when you see a brother growing up, you want to play hard against them. You want to beat your brothers. Those are my brothers on the other side, and I just want to play them and get win but they played great tonight.”
Allen said that while he doesn’t chat a ton with his ex-Jazz teammates, he does keep in touch with a few, noting he talks to Donovan Mitchell, Georges Niang, Royce O’Neale and Joe Ingles a bit. (“Joe’s always joking with me and messing around anyway.”) He also joked that, having played the Jazz twice previously, it feels as though “I’ve talked to them once a week already in person.”
He mentioned that before the teams’ first matchup back on Nov. 15, he also got a chance to speak with Quin Snyder for the first time since being called into the coach’s office ahead of Summer League play, when he was informed he was being traded.
He recalled going from initial surprise at the news to trying to pivot toward embracing a new opportunity.
“It was a shock at first. I definitely wasn’t expecting it. After that, I went back to my apartment and was on the phone with a bunch of people for a couple hours. And then a couple hours of shock passed,” Allen said. “And then, for me, it was like, OK, it’s time to move forward. … So you just went from shock to just kind of the excitement of looking forward and moving on to something new and something fresh.”
He conceded that getting more of an opportunity to play with the Grizzlies has helped to ease the transition, as has the presence of Crowder: “It did help a little bit just having somebody to talk to, and somebody familiar, and some type of carry-over from my first year in the league to my second.”
Memphis coach Taylor Jenkins noted before the game that Crowder has been an invaluable contributor as a veteran presence on a mostly young team.
“He does a great job of rallying the group together. He’s obviously been through so many battles at the highest levels, and when we first sat down, he said, ‘I want to impart that wisdom on our guys.’ We got a young group, we got a new group, but I think he’s great at communicating with his teammates, rein them in, focusing on the next play. He’s got great vocal leadership,” Jenkins said. “And then he’s competitive, plays super-hard, he sets the tone for us. … The number one thing is he sets a tone with our leadership and sets a tone with our competitiveness.”