Sitting up there, from bookend to bookend, they looked like basketball’s answer to the Steel Curtain: Garnett, Pierce, Allen, Wallace. Between them, there wasn’t a hair out of place.
For what it’s worth, Rasheed Wallace knows what you are thinking. The Celtics have a good thing going here and they don’t need a loose nut to affect their stability. Asked today to identify the more intense personality, himself or Garnett, Wallace ultimately pointed a finger squarely in his own direction, if only because Garnett "can control his emotions." Wallace freely acknowledged that he has had some issues with such self-restraint, referring to his "history with regard to technical fouls" amid supportive chuckles and smiles.
So what do the Celtics intend to do about it now that they have formally announced Wallace as the latest addition during their new-age renaissance? Nothing. Not a darned thing. And truth be told, that is exactly what they should be doing.
"I haven’t changed [Garnett] yet, so I’m not going to try [with Wallace]," Celtics coach Doc Rivers mused when asked about the challenge of handling his new big man, who has been signed to a three-year contract for the mid-level exception. "I can’t change anybody. I love the passion. …I’m not that concerned about it. …I love it."
Any concerns that this could fail?
"No," said Celtics vice-president of basketball Danny Ainge without the slightest bit of hesitation. "I mean, there are other teams out there [also vying for a championship]. But we’re a better team. We are, for sure, better."
So `Sheed blows a gasket every now and then. Big deal. So does Kendrick Perkins. Nobody ever won a championship by patting the refs on the bottom and holding the door open for opponents to drive the lane. Wallace has been accused of taking some nights off every now and then, and that might happen here, too. The Celtics are just hoping that they get fewer of them, be it from the presence of Garnett, the invaluable change of scenery – it can be a motivator – or the simple maturity of a man who will turn 34 in September.
The bottom line is this: The Celtics know what they are getting into here and they are embracing it whole-heartedly. According to Ainge, the Celtics did some research on Wallace and learned that he is generally liked by teammates and coaches, which is the true litmus test for any player. It doesn’t matter if the refs like him … or if the fans like him … or if the media likes him. All that matters is if Wallace and his teammates can freely express their displeasure with one another and work through the issues that inevitably arise on every team in every sport. Winning usually takes care of most of that.
And this team, again, will win a lot.
"That’s kind of like old news to me," Ainge said when asked about Wallace’s history of volatility on the court. "He hasn’t really had major issues with that the last few years. If he had done that every year, then that’s an issue."
Beyond that, let there be no doubt about the Celtics’ leadership here just as there is no doubt about the leadership in Foxborough. When it comes to running a team, Ainge and Rivers know what it is important and what is not. They’re not interested in changing players’ personalities or styles. At one point during Garnett’s first season here, Rivers said he talked to the player about being more restrained on the court, talking less trash, controlling himself. The moment Rivers saw that Garnett wasn’t playing as freely, he pulled his centerpiece aside and told him to go back to being himself.
Want to bet that the Celtics told Wallace the same thing during their full-court press on him last week? We just want you to be you, `Sheed. Just come in and do your thing. You might start or you might come off the bench, but that doesn’t matter, anyway. You’ll be out there when it counts. If Wallace needed to hear anything else, he wouldn’t be here right now.
"I felt as though it was a good fit," he said quite simply.
Does any of this ensure that the Celtics will win another championship in 2009-10? Of course not. There is still a lot to be determined, The Celtics still would love to add Grant Hill and could use another guard, and Ainge said they want to retain Glen Davis. Garnett is coming off knee surgery. Rajon Rondo has to be slotted somewhere between his rookie deal and a maximum contract. The Cleveland Cavaliers have added Shaquille O’Neal and the Orlando Magic have imported Vince Carter. The reigning world champion Los Angeles Lakers just brought in Ron Artest.
To their credit, the Celtics have not stood still. After the way last season ended – with or without a healthy Garnett – the Celtics had to get better and they knew it. They promptly set their sights squarely on Wallace and then brought him to Boston, evoking images of a five-man unit, including Rondo, that might be able to match up with just about any in NBA history.
"They wanted someone of my caliber and vice-versa,’’ said Wallace. "It’s a whole new world, a whole new day. I just can’t wait to get it goin’."
Concurred Garnett, "I’m really excited about this year."
Sounds like the bookends are in concert on this.
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