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After down seasons, they’re in a good place

By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / July 10, 2009
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If you slid an empty picture frame between Kevin Garnett and Rasheed Wallace, they’d think they were staring at their own reflection. They consider themselves mirror images, which was why whenever they crossed paths this past season, Garnett could see in Wallace the same frustration he had felt two years ago.

The Pistons had been in the process of breaking up the band for about a year and a half. The success Wallace had become accustomed to - winning an NBA title in 2004, a return to the Finals in 2005, five straight trips to the Eastern Conference finals - seemed increasingly distant.

Garnett knew all about distance playing in Minnesota.

Wallace, after falling to the Celtics in the 2008 conference finals, waved the white flag on the Bad Boys II era. In the coming months, his words came true. General manager Joe Dumars traded away Chauncey Billups, one of Wallace’s closest teammates, and the team’s coaching situation was in limbo. There were times during the Pistons’ opening-round sweep by the Cleveland Cavaliers this spring when Wallace was almost unresponsive on the bench.

Garnett knew all about appearing unresponsive.

That’s why Garnett would say things to Wallace every so often during games last season, because he knew what he was going through.

“When you’re in the league for as long as we are,’’ Garnett said, “you go through a dark time.’’

Garnett reached out to Wallace, but discreetly.

“I don’t really chase too many people,’’ Garnett explained.

But after Garnett finished the season having played 57 games because of a knee injury - his fewest since 1998-99 - he recognized Wallace’s worth.

“This was my chance to play with another great big,’’ Garnett said. “Another person who was not only as passionate, but as intense, and as versatile skillwise.’’

Garnett flew in from Minneapolis to be in Waltham when the Celtics introduced Wallace yesterday. Rehabbing the right knee he strained in February, the thought of adding a player so similar to himself had kept Garnett up nights in anticipation.

“I haven’t been really sleeping that much,’’ Garnett said. “That’s how my excitement comes out. I’ve just been envisioning this whole year. I’m excited and I’m working to make sure that when I come in here for training camp that I’m ready and I’m ready full throttle.’’

Each intangible on the tale of the tape between Garnett and Wallace is a push.

“The heart,’’ Wallace said. “The adrenaline going into the game. Wanting to win.’’

If there is a difference, it’s in the brand of intensity and the type of emotion. Wallace’s stories are endless - his 296 career technical fouls (17 a year ago), his standing as the only player to get a technical foul in the McDonald’s All-American game.

Wallace conceded Garnett can control his emotions better, but added, “I don’t think you can match the intensity that either one of us brings to the floor.’’

Faced with the task of harnessing that intensity and turning it into a championship, coach Doc Rivers welcomes the added emotion Wallace brings.

“I haven’t controlled Kevin yet,’’ Rivers joked. “So I’m not going to try. I’m not going to be out there trying to change anybody. I love their passion. I wish every player had their passion. I love it. I think it’s going to help other guys on our team.’’

Excited about Wallace, Rivers was also eager to see how Garnett’s rehab was progressing, hearing his All-Star forward say that he was ahead of schedule.

Skeptically, Rivers said, “Everybody’s ahead of schedule in the summer.’’

Although Garnett didn’t have a timetable -- “Everything’s on schedule to be on schedule,’’ - he offered he was gradually regaining strength.

“To be honest with you, I’ve been in a pretty decent place mentally,’’ Garnett said. “I haven’t been in a dark place. I’ve been really educating myself with my injury going forward, trying to be preventative and do all the things I need to do to not be in this position next year.’’

Having Wallace as his new teammate is added incentive in the recovery process.

“I share his passion,’’ Garnett said. “I share his intensity. I’m just overly excited. You have no idea.’’

Julian Benbow can be reached at jbenbow@globe.com.

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