With Rasheed Wallace, Celtics Should Proceed with Caution

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With Rasheed Wallace, Celtics Should Proceed with Caution
(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

The Celtics’ signing of Rasheed Wallace is arguably the most impactful acquisition in the NBA’s brief offseason.  He dominates the boards, blocks shots at will, and serves as an ideal cog to the defensive prowess of Kevin Garnett and Kendrick Perkins.

But if history is any guide, the signing of Rasheed Wallace could be the most impactful acquisition for all the wrong reasons.

On July 9, Wallace became an official member of the Boston Celtics.  With the Big Three surrounding him, not to mention his coach and general manager, Wallace said all the right things.

“If Doc wants me to start then I’ll start,” said Wallace.  “If Doc wants me to come off the bench, then that’s fine, I’ll come off the bench.  Two minutes, 30 minutes, whatever—as long as I’m contributing to the team to get a ‘W.’ That’s my whole bottom line.”

That seems to be everyone’s bottom line these days.  Not the individual glory, but the opportunity to win.  That’s why Randy Moss joined the Patriots.  That’s why Stephon Marbury joined the Celtics—two players reputed to be “me first” players. 

As it turned out, both the Moss and Marbury deals panned out—Moss proving to be a much more productive signing than Marbury, no doubt. 

No one is expecting Wallace to be the kind of impact player that Moss has been with the Patriots.  But Celtics fans should not expect Rasheed Wallace to change his flagrant foul frequenting by donning Celtic green.  Why?  Because everywhere Rasheed has been, this has been his nom de plume. 

With Moss and Marbury, their troublemaking was more inconsistent than it was consistent.  And “troublemaking” may be overstating how adversely they impacted their respective teams. 

Moss’ play with the Vikings was remarkably consistent and impressive, making the Pro Bowl five times in his seven years while there.  He’s been the go-to guy with the Patriots, breaking Jerry Rice’s record for most touchdown receptions in a single season his first year, and hauling in enough receptions last year to break into the top 10 all-time receivers in yards gained. 

The one time Moss was perceived to be hurting his team was in 2006 with the hapless Oakland Raiders, when skeptics—harkening back to 2004 when Moss left the field with seconds to play in Minnesota’s last regular season game (they finished 5-11)—crowed that Moss quit on his team, even though he was plagued by injury much of the time.

The same standard applies to Marbury.  Admittedly, the public feuds Marbury had between former Knicks coaches Isaiah Thomas and Larry Brown were disruptive enough to bench him, thus adversely impacting his team as a result. But besides the 2007-08 season, his lack of game time has never been due to personal or professional skirmishes.

The same can’t be said for Rasheed Wallace.  Though he’s never been perceived as a clubhouse cancer, the frequency with which he gets hit with technical fouls has no doubt affected him teams’ ability to win games (like in the Game Six Eastern Conference Finals against the Cavaliers, when he was hit with two technical fouls, thus leaving him out of Game Seven had the Pistons won Game Six).

And don’t underestimate the value of reputation.  Like it or not, players with bad reputations—or teams known to be frequent flagrant foul violators—are given very little latitude when it comes to outbursts.

An outraged LeBron James is ignored, while an outraged Rasheed Wallace—a guy who’s led the technical foul statistical column six times since 2001 and been among the top three “tech getters” eight times since 2001—elicits a quick-to-tweet ref whistle.

How present a presence Wallace is in the Celtics lineup will dictate whether or not he exudes that “tech rep” on his team (remember, Kendrick Perkins was sixth among technical foul leaders last year).

Boston has been something of a bastion for perceived cancers or malcontents to “turn it around.”  But for players like Corey Dillon, Randy Moss, et al, they all came from losing teams.  Wallace hasn’t changed his stripes no matter what uniform color he’s donned, or how successful they were in the win-loss column.

It’s hard to know how many points or wins have been lost because of Rasheed’s antics, but technicals are administered because they hurt a team’s ability to win.  A team with a low technical foul count should not be underestimated.    

The Celtics and Rivers would be wise to take Rasheed’s own recommendation: have him “come off the bench.”  With Eastern Conference rivals like Orlando and Cleveland padding their already stacked roster, the Celtics’ competition is more star-studded than ever.

Keeping the reigns on Rasheed will help the Celtics win (keeping the reigns on=managing minutes).  By granting him lots of minutes, that’s more opportunity for a technical, and the fruits of that technical (a foul shot and possession) could be the difference between a key win or loss in the 2009-10 season. 

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