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Welcoming committee

Celtics family has room for Wallace

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By Marc J. Spears
Globe Staff / July 10, 2009
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WALTHAM - Pistons guard Rip Hamilton was stunned. Of all the teams, longtime teammate Rasheed Wallace was joining the Celtics, the bitter rivals who knocked them off en route to the NBA championship a year ago.

“Rip, oh he was funny, man,’’ said Wallace, 34, after his introductory news conference yesterday. “He said, ‘Boston? Dang man, Boston?’ I said, ‘Hey, you got to go with the flow.’ ’’

Yes, after playing for the Pistons since 2004, Wallace was now officially a Celtic, and he held up a No. 30 jersey that once was supposed to be worn by Len Bias to prove it.

Wallace was introduced alongside the All-Star trio of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen, coach Doc Rivers, and president of basketball operations Danny Ainge at the HealthPoint practice facility, with his wife, Fatima, and children nearby.

Wallace signed a three-year deal Wednesday for $18 million, starting with a $5.8 million midlevel exception, with a player option on the third season.

Wallace has averaged 15 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks in 33.9 minutes per game over his 14-year career.

Wallace averaged 12 points and 7.4 rebounds last season while making 113 of 319 3-pointers (35.4 percent) in 66 games. The fiery Wallace tied Golden State’s Stephen Jackson with the most technical fouls (17).

The 6-foot-11-inch, 230-pounder won a title in 2004 title with the Pistons and has been to the playoffs for 13 consecutive years.

Wallace, Garnett, Cleveland’s Shaquille O’Neal, and San Antonio’s Tim Duncan are the only active players to have 15,000 points, 5,000 rebounds, 1,500 assists, and 1,000 blocks.

“I’m excited,’’ Garnett said. “I know we are all here looking at each other like we’re teenagers again. I’m really excited about [next season]. This is not only a key addition, but a major addition to our team. You can play with this any kind of way you want to. It almost feels like AAU basketball all over again, doesn’t it?

“I’m just happy that he and his family has joined our family and we’re going to make the best of this. I’m totally excited.’’

Said Allen: “When [the season ended], myself, Paul, and Kevin talked about things we needed to do to make the team better . . . We talked about things we needed to do over the summertime and potential free agents. And Rasheed was at the top of the list.’’

Wallace entered free agency July 1 with interest from Boston, Detroit, Orlando, San Antonio, and Dallas. But once the Pistons received a commitment from ex-Connecticut forward Charlie Villanueva to sign on the first day of free agency - on the heels of their drafting forwards Austin Daye and DaJuan Summers last month - Wallace felt his Detroit career was over.

On July 2, Wallace was impressed by Boston when the likes of Allen, Pierce, and Garnett knocked on his door. The Celtics players explained what it’s like to play for a franchise that owns more titles (17) than any other in NBA history. They calmed Wallace’s fears about old talk about racism in Boston. They told his wife about how good the school systems are in the area, and how the families from the team are close.

“We were going to do everything we could do to get there because we knew he was the one guy that could get us over the hump moving here into this future,’’ Allen said.

Said Wallace: “When those guys came, it was definitely a good feeling.’’

The Magic and Spurs seemed to be strong contenders for Wallace, and were expected to meet with him this week. But after he considered Boston’s three-year offer, how he fit into the system, and the sales pitch, he told agent Bill Strickland Sunday night that his decision was final and the Orlando and San Antonio trips could be canceled.

“At this point of my career, it’s not about the money,’’ Wallace said. “It’s about the rings. It’s about winning championships. If you’re very smart, winning a championship is going to bring you extra money with your endorsements and so on.’’

Despite starting 943 of 1,009 regular-season games, the man known as “Sheed’’ is expected to come off the bench behind Garnett and center Kendrick Perkins. The sometimes overly unselfish Wallace said he has no problems with his new role - as long as the Celtics win.

But Rivers said the starting lineup was not etched in stone, either.

“I’m going to let that play out,’’ Rivers said. “I’ve had plans many times in practice and then you like something else. I just think we’ve added more talent to the team and we have enough minutes to go around. It will work out.’’

At the Celtics’ practice facility for the first time yesterday, Wallace gazed up in the rafters at the Celtics’ 17 championship banners. Despite his lengthy career, he hasn’t seen such a sight since his college days at North Carolina.

Dreams of being part of the 18th Celtics title are a big reason why he is here now.

“A great basketball club,’’ said Wallace about what the Celtics banners meant to him. “Pretty much, a dynasty in more words than none. Just looking at it, I’ve seen some banners at North Carolina. I would say [North Carolina] has about the same amount of banners, but [Boston] has more championships. It’s going to be a good thing. I love the Celtics mystique here.’’

Said Pierce: “He fits in right like a piece in the puzzle. It’s going to be an exciting year.’’

Marc J. Spears can be reached at mspears@globe.com

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