Gerald Wallace wasn’t supposed to be here. He was never supposed to be a Boston Celtic, not after signing that four-year, $40 million deal with an up and coming Brooklyn Nets squad back in the summer of 2012. Those Nets had given up a lottery selection in dealing for his services and committed an eight figure salary to the hard working forward, a contract that seemed borderline untradeable the moment he signed it, so he never expected to be jettisoned from the team just 12 months later.
The NBA went all NBA on Wallace’s career, though, and now he’s in Boston. Working for a 0-4 team, being paid like a superstar to do his blue collar work, completely out of place on a young team that has no designs on keeping Wallace beyond the expiration of his contract in 2016. And while he’s not pouting, it’s clear that he’s not happy. And not keen to spend his early 30s working for a team that is taking the long view under rookie coach Brad Stevens.
Still, after a relatively snotty exhibition season that saw Wallace call out his teammates for not giving appropriate effort, Wallace is taking the high road as he grimaces through what will be an 82-game slog. From Steve Bulpett at the Boston Herald:
“My thing about that is I don’t ask for trades,” Wallace said. “I don’t like to be traded. You know, once I get a place where I’m comfortable, I just want to know what’s expected of me and what my role is. For a guy that goes out and puts 110 percent of himself into it, you’re giving your all and you just want to know that. This is nothing against coach Brad (Stevens). Everyone has to figure out how we need to play with each other and how we can play together defensively and offensively to get the best out of each other.
“The thing is, the season starts so fast. It’s more like learning on the job. It’s not like college where you have that time to get to work as a team and grow and understand and see your players. In fairness to coach Stevens, he’s having to watch during the season to figure out his rotations and what guys like to do and how they play. I mean, that’s tough because these games actually count.”
For a guy that only went to one year at Alabama, Wallace certainly knows what he’s talking about when it comes to NCAA basketball teams growing from year to year. Though this Celtic roster was more or less in place by early July, the team truly had no idea how its disparate parts were going to work together, and how Stevens’ exacting approach would translate to the pros. So far, things haven’t worked out – the C’s are second to last in the NBA in offensive efficiency, and Stevens has the point guard-less Celtics walking up the court, ranking 30 out of 30 teams in possessions per contest.
Wallace didn’t ask for any of this, but his case is an unfortunate example of attempting to grab that cake and eat it slowly over the course of four well-heeled seasons.
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The Nets were widely criticized for both giving up a lottery pick (one that would turn into eventual Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard) for Gerald’s services, and compounding that payment plan by handing him a four-year, $40 million contract that no other team was anywhere near offering soon after. Wallace didn’t demand the high salary, but he certainly wasn’t going to turn it down – and he certainly didn’t think that 11 months later the Boston Celtics would be willing to trade Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce for it.
The Celtics did, though, taking on Wallace to adhere to the NBA’s transaction bylaws while securing a rash of first round picks from Brooklyn as they initiated a rebuilding program. Meanwhile Wallace, at age 31, has to ply his usual tough guy trade for a team that is still a full season away from securing its next great Celtic star through the draft, someone who will be some 13 years younger than Gerald when they likely suit up alongside each other in the fall of 2014.
That’s presuming the Celtics don’t trade Wallace by then, and while anything is possible in this ridiculous league, his contract leaves him a less than desirable asset at this point in his career. Counting 2013-14, Wallace has three years and nearly $30.4 million left on his deal. Those numbers are proportionate in reference to the blood, sweat, and (probably, considering his teammates) tears Wallace leaves on the court, but disproportionate to his overall contributions. He might be the NBA’s hardest worker, but he’s overpaid, and few teams are going to seek his services out at this price.
Which is rough news for a player that wouldn’t mind getting back to the playoffs, or actually contending for a title at some point.
At least he’s handling it professionally, and admirably. The paycheck helps, but it’s also pride that is feeding Wallace’s current approach.
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