A Change of Seasons

The Celtics were facing a bit of an image problem.  Kevin Garnett is the big bad wolf, Paul Pierce is the self-proclaimed “best player in the world,” Rajon Rondo kills poor, Kansasian combo guards with his bare hands, and Kendrick Perkins is some combination of a beast and…well, something else.  Obviously those in Boston couldn’t really care less, provided that the team’s off-the-charts confidence/brashness/swagger/hubris correlates with some tangible success.  In 2008, that meant good ol’ Larry building a small, trophy case sized vacation home in the Garden.  In 2009, it meant a few near losses, bad timing on a few injuries, and watching the “rival” Lakers have their parade.  Needless to say, that was a less than suitable result.

Regardless of what the Celtics’ counterparts were doing across the country, Boston needed to add something.  A back-up center would be nice, and any scoring would be gravy.

But Danny Ainge didn’t really go with that game plan.  Instead, he signed a starting caliber center that can score from all over the court and defend like hell.  On top of that, the guy used to think the Celtics were devils, has a bit of a rep for his hijinx, and his cup overfloweth with whatever choice word you’d like to use to describe his self-confidence.

This is gonna be fun.

Despite the fact that Sheed’s exit from Detroit seemed kind of inevitable, I had him pegged as a Piston.  Most players are identifiable by the one team with which they found the most success, the colors and uni that look natural and fitting on them.  I thought the Pistons were that team for Rasheed, who was a bit of a malcontent with the Blazers and a short-term Atlanta Hawk and Washington Bullet.  But with his latest act of deviance, Sheed signed with the enemy.  From their first moments on the floor together, it was clear that the Pistons and the Garnett Celtics hated each other.  All of that animosity must have evaporated along with Sheed’s passion for playing in Detroit, or else Wallace has officially become a merc.  The highest bidder, the highest championship odds, whatever; Rasheed Wallace signing a two-year deal with the enemy isn’t just the end of his persona as a Piston, but also the beginning of a completely new stage.  I wouldn’t say he’s a Celtic, but he’s also not a championship freeloader.  Wallace is likely to be a key contributor for a championship-caliber team, albeit one that used to be the bane of his existence.

I have to wonder: the blessing and the curse of Rasheed’s game has always been his fire.  He’s attached, he’s emotional, and when the dude cares about basketball, he’s a force.  But a lot of what Wallace has always been able to achieve comes from the kinship he forms with his teammates.  The battle-in-the-trenches and goof-off-in-the-locker-room mentality always appeared to be what fueled him.  If he really has morphed into some mercenary warrior, devoid of the loyalty that has been a staple of his career since his Portland days, will Sheed ever be able to regain his former success?  The same success that completely eluded him in a final, ‘going through the motions’ effort with the Pistons?  It’s impossible to say at this point, but it’s worth a thought.

Sheed’s internal politics aside, this is a pretty great move for the Celtics.  I don’t think it puts them head and shoulders above the rest of the title hopefuls, but it certainly cements Boston’s place among the league elite.  Any chance of slippage or rust is countered by making such a big addition, and the fact that the Celtics were able to fortify the center position is even more helpful than you might think.  Wallace might seem to be but a marginal upgrade over some combination of Leon Powe and Glen Davis, but he’s both put together and then some.  The problem with both Powe and Davis is that their skills are held back by their lack of size.  Wallace is tall enough to cast shadows over both, while well eclipsing their respective skill and talent levels.  If Leon and Big Baby remain Celtics, then they’re as deep as an ocean up front.  If not, then Sheed is more than capable of fulfilling their duties (while playing far superior defense) in a three big rotation with KG and Perk.  Those are three big, bad men with three big, bad mouths on ’em, and a strong enough group to challenge any team in the league.

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