Wallace gives Celtics ‘K.G. Insurance’

File this one under “The Rich Get Richer.” Or “Danny Strikes Again.”

Celtics basketball boss Danny Ainge was determined from the outset to make Boston a destination city in the NBA for free agents, championship wannabes and other skilled players. He has done so once again with the addition of Rasheed Wallace(notes).

Yes, Wallace can be goofy, eccentric, volatile to a fault and has been known to, as they say in hockey, skate his wing and little more. But the man can still play, as evidenced by the kinds of teams who targeted him once he became a free agent: Boston, San Antonio, Cleveland, Orlando and Dallas, among others.

Photo Rasheed Wallace averaged 12 points and 7.4 rebounds a game last season. He also led the NBA with 19 technicals.
(Ken Mauer/Getty Images)

Ainge brought out the full arsenal in an all-out assault on Wallace, enlisting Kevin Garnett(notes) (a Wallace chum), Paul Pierce(notes) and Ray Allen(notes) to make the recruiting pitch. The money was pretty much the same, but, once again, the Celtics’ owners stepped up, mindful the team already is over the luxury-tax threshold. That means Wallace will cost $2 on the dollar. Not every owner would do that; most, in fact, would probably reject it out of hand. Having won once, however, has given the Celtics’ owners the appetite for more.

And, quite simply, it’s worth it to them, it’s worth it to Wallace’s new teammates and it’s worth it to Celtic Nation at large. He’s a huge addition to an already talented and veteran-laden roster, virtually assuring another long playoff run in Boston in 2010.

You might wonder what would have happened this spring had Garnett not been injured. We’ll never know, of course, but had coach Doc Rivers had someone like Wallace at his disposal, instead of Glen Davis(notes), the Celtics might have advanced well beyond the second round. Having both Garnett and Wallace healthy and productive represents an explosive 1-2 punch out of the 4 and 5 spots.

In one sense, this addition can be viewed as K.G. Insurance. Wallace knows he’s not going to be a starter, but he also has to know he will be on the floor at critical junctures. (Then again, maybe the game presentation folks in Boston will push for Wallace to start so that he can replicate his dance from his Detroit Pistons days.) And Garnett’s health has to be a concern; prior to arriving in Boston, he was never injured. He’s been hurt in both of his seasons with the Celtics, and last season’s injury cost Boston a chance to repeat. That is where Wallace comes into the picture.

We all know his game – the offensive threat from inside and outside, the rebounding, shot-blocking and occasional defense. He has been for some time one of the most singularly gifted players in the league, but the talent always seemed to be overshadowed by his quick, Krakatoa-esque temper and the now-and-again lapses into abject apathy. One year, the NBA public relations people distributed T-shirts to the media with four words on them: Both Teams Played Hard. That represented the entire transcript of a Wallace news conference after a playoff game.

Photo Kevin Garnett joined in a Celtics recruiting pitch to land Rasheed Wallace. Can K.G. motivate his new teammate?
(Brian Babineau/Getty Images)

The temper is unlikely to change. He’s been that way all his career. Then again, Wallace could fit right in there, as the Celtics were among the league leaders in amassing technical fouls last season.

But what Ainge and the Celtics players are counting on is that the aimless Wallace will be a thing of the past. Garnett, for one, is the ultimate motivator and you can be sure he will be in Wallace’s ear (and face) if need be. Wallace also is joining a team which is one of the handful (as of now) which has legitimate championship aspirations. That should be enough to keep Wallace focused and motivated, not to mention his desire to play well upon joining a new team. The last time he changed teams, he helped the Pistons to a championship. GM Joe Dumars made no attempt to understate Wallace’s impact on the 2003-04 team; without him, there would have been no title.

But, six years later, the Pistons were slowly drifting apart and Dumars accelerated the rebuilding phase with the trade of Chauncey Billups(notes) to Denver for Allen Iverson(notes). Detroit has since reloaded with Ben Gordon(notes) and Charlie Villanueva. The Magic got Vince Carter(notes) (but are losing Hedo Turkoglu(notes)). The Cavs got Shaq. Out West, the Spurs got Richard Jefferson(notes) and the Lakers added Ron Artest(notes), the latter a far more combustible individual than Wallace.

And the Celtics got ‘Sheed, who will instantly go from loathed to adored in Boston. (He’ll also be much closer to his native Philadelphia.)

It’s an ideal match for Wallace and his new team. He comes in knowing he doesn’t have to be The Man (or even The Second Man or Third Man) and can lend his considerable skills to the team. Boston gets what it so desperately lacked last season: a quality big man coming off the bench. Two years ago, that man was P.J. Brown(notes) and, with a healthy K.G., Boston won it all. Last year, it was thought to be Mikki Moore(notes) and, without K.G., the Celtics went out in the second round.

Neither Brown nor Moore is close to the talent that Wallace offers.

Ainge has never shied away from adding players who have had issues elsewhere. Stephon Marbury(notes) was the latest. Gary Payton(notes) and Ricky Davis(notes) came before Marbury. Ainge even traded Antoine Walker(notes), brought him back and traded him again. None of those players is around anymore (and Davis has gone through a number of teams since leaving Boston). Now comes Wallace, who can be as high maintenance as anyone.

But if you poll Wallace’s former teammates, most of them will unequivocally vouch for the guy. The consensus: When committed, he is as good a teammate as you can have. (The fact that the Spurs, who have been the Character Uber Alles franchise of the last 12 years, wanted Wallace speaks volumes.) If there’s a problem with commitment next season (or the one after that), then the Celtics will have unexpectedly crashed and burned.

Clearly, no one expects that to happen.

This is Year 3 of the rebuilt Boston Celtics and, with a healthy roster, they look, once again, to be the team to beat in the Eastern Conference. True, it’s still July, 11 months away from the 2010 NBA Finals. But Boston has taken a big step toward securing one spot in David Stern’s June showcase by landing one of the most coveted, short-term, immediate-impact free agents out there.

In all likelihood, Ainge won’t have to wait until February next season to get frontcourt help for the stretch. He took care of that this week.


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Updated Monday, Jul 6, 2009