Wallace was one of many moving parts in the blockbuster deal that brought Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry to the Brooklyn Nets. Wallace, who had been traded for the third time in 30 months, had three years and $30 million left on his contract. Boston not only took on a lot of salary, it also acquired a guy whose best years may be behind him, and who isn’t about to go quietly into the good night.
Wallace was said to be caught off guard by the trade, yet excited to be in Boston with its great tradition of sports franchises.
On Friday night, the Celtics had a comfortable 16-point lead against the Milwaukee Bucks at halftime. As Brett Pollakoff at ProBasketballTalk observed, the world came crashing down in the final frame, as the Bucks outscored Boston 34-15, coming away with the win:
Boston is expected to be bad this year, after trading Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to the Nets for rebuilding pieces and aging veterans with bad contracts. Gerald Wallace falls into the latter category, and apparently he didn’t get the memo that this would be a very long year in terms of wins and losses. Wallace ripped his teammates following the loss, claiming they were more concerned with getting their individual numbers than they were interested in helping the team win.
Wallace's verbal beatdown went something like this, per Ben Rohrbach of WEEI Green Street:
I don’t have a clue. You’ve got to ask everybody individually. I don’t know. I don’t even really understand it. I’m trying to figure out what’s more important, winning or padding your stats, because this was a game that we were supposed to win easy without even the starters playing in the fourth quarter. Instead, we got selfish as a team. We didn’t move the ball, we let the ball stick, we stopped pushing the ball, and their second unit came in and manhandled us and did whatever they wanted to do.
Wallace has long been known as one of the league’s most fiery competitors. It hasn’t been the easiest of times for him—he was clearly not at his best last season for the Nets and now, another adjustment in yet another town. It’s hard to find traction when the faces in the locker room aren’t the same. Those familiar sports narratives about having your teammates’ backs in battle don’t work as well when the sides keep changing.
After Friday night, a Celtics team that is expected to be mediocre is beginning to show how bad that can be. They’re 0-2 in this embryonic season. Losses don’t sit well with a competitor like Wallace, regardless of whether he’s on the downside of his career or not. In truth, hard talk isn’t always a bad thing. When you barely know the guys around you, though, it can get ugly fast.
And then there’s always the T-word.
A tanking narrative took shape this summer, spreading like a virus, touching teams across the country. The Celtics were just one of many. President of basketball operations Danny Ainge downplayed the possibility, if not completely shutting the door. In a Sports Illustrated article by Ian Thomsen, Ainge explained the difficulty of the process:
That’s harder than people recognize. It’s a really easy thing to conceptualize, and an easy thing to talk about and philosophize about. But it’s a hard thing to live through – for fans, for coached, for sponsors, for our TV partners.
The elephant in the room for Ainge is Wallace’s contract.
It won’t be the easiest to package next year if the Celtics do go into major rebuild mode. And if the team does manage to get into the lottery and draft well, there’s also the question of influence of unhappy veterans on impressionable kids.
Wallace has big shoes to fill in Boston. He steamed past Pierce and Garnett like a ship in the night—one more port in a career now entering its 13th season. Maybe he didn’t ask for the trade but that’s part of the business. You lace them up and you do your job. Pierce and Garnett didn’t trash their team, they made it better. They often took the bullets when things went wrong.
It may be time for Rajon Rondo to step in and make things right. Of course, no one really knows what Rondo’s future is with the team. It’s certainly time for coach Brad Stevens to take charge. Welcome to the NBA, new guy.
The season has just begun. Wallace can be part of the solution if he channels his anger into on-court production, if he leads by example rather than backstabbing. If he continues calling out new teammates in the Boston press, however, there could be a long, rough ride ahead.