Trading Gerald Wallace will require extreme guile, patience and Power Ball lottery winning luck. With approximately $22 million guaranteed over the next two seasons, the soon-to-be 32-year-old small forward owns perhaps the most toxic contract in the entire league.
Making matters worse, Wallace is coming off season-ending arthroscopic surgery to his knee and ankle, further eroding the athleticism and physical drive that’s made him one of the NBA’s toughest players. This was the first surgery of his career, though, and there’s no telling how his body responds next season and the year after that.
But even if there wasn’t any surgery and Wallace was completely healthy, the production he’s capable of providing at this point in his career is all but invisible. The Celtics, an abysmal offensive team to begin with, were 2.3 points per 100 possessions worse scoring the ball with Wallace on the floor. The team’s defense improved by a marginal degree.
Wallace is a wing who defenses ignore. He can’t stretch the floor, which negatively affects every one of his teammates. Playing for the Charlotte Bobcats in 2010—his lone All-Star season—Wallace shot 37.1 percent from the three-point line. He hasn’t even sniffed the 30 percent mark from deep these past two seasons, and his career average from downtown is a depressing 31.2 percent.
(Wallace did shoot a remarkable 57.9 percent from the corner this season, but it was on just 19 attempts; his career average from that spot is 32.8 percent.)
His 50.4 percent field-goal percentage this year came on a measly four shot attempts per game, and less than 30 percent of them were unassisted. He’s simply useless on that end at this stage—a turnover-prone liability who’s light years away from the guy who once wreaked havoc in the open court.
Four or five years ago, Wallace was one of the game's finest chase down artists. He could swipe away a sure bucket then fly back the other way and throw down a hammer. He could finish just about any alley-oop lob tossed in the vicinity of his wing span, and always had to be accounted for as a cutter from the weak side. Alas, these days are long gone.
Here's his shot chart from last season.
Here’s ESPNBoston’s Chris Forsberg discussing the stretch provision, which is one way Boston can rid itself of Wallace without a trade partner. It’s not the best idea, but it’s an option.
Starting July 1, the Celtics essentially have a two-month window in which they could waive Wallace and enact the stretch provision, whereby the remaining salary on his contract would be paid over a five-year window (two times the remaining years on the deal, plus one season). Wallace is owed $20.2 million over the next two seasons, which means Boston could part ways and pay him a little more than $4 million per year through the 2018-19 season. In my eyes, there’s little reason for the Celtics to muddy up their books over the next five years to simply save $6 million in salary this season and next. Boston doesn’t need that immediate savings as it navigates the transition process. Boston appears better off swallowing hard on the $10.1 million hit this year while hoping his deal becomes more palatable as part of a trade package at some point over the next two seasons.
Wallace has no value on the trade market right now. Nil. The only way another team would willingly take him on is with at least one first-round draft pick attached. (In other words: the exact same way Wallace ended up in Boston in the first place.) It isn't ideal having him on the books, but as Forsberg suggests, the headache it'd create to ship Wallace off might be larger than keeping him around.
Boston values its draft picks and likely don't want to move them for the sake of unloading a contract. Two years from now, their cap sheet will be nearly clean, with Wallace's then-expiring deal serving as the only guaranteed money on the books over $3 million (Jeff Green has a $9.2 million player option, but it's very possible he opts out.) By then, he could be used as a tradable expiring, though those aren't nearly as valuable today as they once were, thanks to the shortage of sour contracts needing to be offloaded around the league.
Wallace's contract stinks, for all intents and purposes. But the Celtics are better off improving their roster by trading assets other teams are interested in. Danny Ainge has three future first-round picks from the Brooklyn Nets and the right to swap selections in 2017 in part because he was willing to take on Wallace's horrendous deal. It's simply the cost of doing business.
Moving Wallace's contract again this summer in a deal that benefits the Celtics is next to impossible.