The 2013 season for the Boston Celtics will certainly be defined by the shocking draft-day trade that sent future Hall of Famers Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to the Brooklyn Nets for three draft picks and a myriad of players that didn't seem to keen on joining the rebuilding effort.
Veteran swingman Gerald Wallace came to Boston as a part of that package and found himself thrust into the debate of whether or not the Celtics made a good deal, as his albatross contract greatly limits Boston's financial flexibility for the next few seasons.
The fact that Wallace never actually came to Boston during the next few months made many think that the veteran would be so disengaged this season that he wouldn't even prove to be a valuable trade asset. At the end of September, Chris Forsberg of ESPN Boston reported that Wallace had still not made an effort to join his new team.
Even Danny Ainge was quoted saying, "I'm right there with you. I'm anxious to meet Gerald."
It is never a good sign when one of the highest-paid players on your roster has yet to even meet with the president of basketball operations a week before training camp is set to start. When Wallace finally did appear the day before training camp, his press conference didn't put anyone's mind at ease about the impending season.
Jay King of MassLive.com provided Wallace's press conference statements in full and showed that although Wallace claimed to love Boston, he was not very happy to be a part of a team that was in the rebuilding process. Wallace continually emphasized wanting to win a championship and working to get to a place where he could win a ring, but it was clear that he believed Boston was likely not going to give him that opportunity.
Due to the size of Wallace's contract and his position as the most experienced veteran on the team, the beginning of the Celtics' rebuilding process may very well be defined by how Wallace approaches the season. If he is a malcontent, then the rebuild will likely take longer; however if he plays to his potential and helps to mentor the younger players, he could help to accelerate Boston's return to relevance.
It turns out Gerald Wallace has been an absolute surprise during the preseason.
He has provided more energy and production than basically every player on the roster. Without the presence of Rajon Rondo on the court, he has taken a leadership role and helping to push the pace of play.
After the Celtics' embarrassing preseason loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday, it was that very same player that Boston was most worried about entering the season that was calling out his teammates for their lackluster play. Baxter Holmes of The Boston Globe reported that Wallace stated, "We're not playing with effort," and that the team is playing selfish, unproductive basketball.
Wallace needs to be careful that he doesn't alienate himself from the team by consistently hounding them in the media, but the truth is that the Celtics need a grizzled veteran to bark at them if they continue to play under their potential.
This should be an encouraging sign for Boston, since the loss of Garnett and Pierce leaves quite a vacancy in the leadership roles. Wallace showing an ability to fill that need would greatly increase his value to the team—and others around the league.
In addition to demanding excellence from his teammates, Wallace has shown that he may have a very productive and important role on the court for Boston this season. He has shown his ability to contribute on both sides of the floor in the preseason by posting 11.0 points, 3.0 rebounds and 2.8 assists in just over 24 minutes per game.
Wallace is not only one of the few players producing on the court, but he is greatly outplaying Jeff Green, whom Ainge has indicated is one of the players he would like to build around. He is also providing a much-needed tough mentality on defense and high energy.
If Wallace can carry his productivity on the court and leadership into the regular season, he could greatly assist the younger players in their development. Wallace has always been known for his toughness, and his presence could help to foster the defensive culture that Garnett brought back to Boston.
His strong play would also bring another scenario that may be tempting to Boston, as he could gain enough value that another team looking for a missing piece to a championship run may trade to acquire Wallace's services. The Celtics could then have the opportunity to further accelerate the rebuilding process by moving him to a more desirable destination, while getting expiring contracts for financial flexibility or perhaps even young talent in return.
If the Celtics could acquire a draft pick, a younger player with potential or financial flexibility, it would allow Ainge to explore other options to rebuild the team at a much faster rate.
No matter what situation unfolds, a productive Gerald Wallace would be the best-case scenario for the Celtics moving forward. Boston should be extremely happy and surprised with what they've seen out of the veteran forward so far and likely are hoping that he can continue to play to his true potential.
Not many would have made the prediction during the offseason, but the final opinion on the trade may be formulated by Gerald Wallace's play this season. Danny Ainge may just prove that not only did the trade with the Brooklyn Nets set Boston up for a better future, but that it will also put them in a significantly better position over the next few seasons.