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Fran Blinebury

Fran Session

The pairing of Kevin Garnett (left) and Rasheed Wallace next season puts Boston back in contention.
Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

Wallace's strut gives Celtics championship swagger again

By Fran Blinebury,
Posted Jul 8 2009 10:38AM

It wasn't long after Boston was knocked out of the playoffs by Orlando that the world's most frustrated spectator, Kevin Garnett, told team owner Wyc Grousbeck that he guaranteed the Celtics would win the NBA championship in 2010 and 2011.

It was just this week when Danny Ainge may have certified that pledge by reeling in free agent forward Rasheed Wallace.

For all of the attention given to Shaquille O'Neal's arrival in Cleveland to give LeBron James' Cavs some muscle, Ron Artest's move to LA to give Kobe Bryant's Lakers a snarl and Richard Jefferson's landing in San Antonio to give Tim Duncan's Spurs fresh legs, the move that is most likely to affect the outcome of The Finals next June was Wallace going to Boston.

On one hand, the tattoos and the rebellious image would hardly seem to fit in with the retired numbers hanging from the rafters and Boston's tradition. On the other hand, the grandest Celtics tradition is simply winning. And Wallace knows how to do that.

While in every arena around the NBA Wallace is known as being the wild, crazy, expletive-spewing villain, in virtually every locker room he is known as an ideal teammate.

In short, 'Sheed happens.

Is he the arrogant one, strutting around the court and ticking off opponents with his antics?

Or is he the fiery hero, the spirited big man hustling all over the court and lifting up his own teammates with those same actions?

"Fifty percent of the fans love me, 50 percent hate me," Wallace once said.

Those numbers will suddenly flip-flop in Boston, where all of those things that made the former foe get under everyone's skin will now raise goose bumps when he does them on behalf of the Celtics.

It was no coincidence that the Pistons went from a team in the Eastern Conference to NBA champions when Wallace arrived just ahead of the 2004 trade deadline. He is long, active, has an outside shot and, most important, he has the swagger.

That strut, that bounce, that cockiness in their step was clearly missing from the Celtics this spring when they had to take the floor without Garnett. Now, with Wallace likely coming off the bench, Boston can always have a lineup on the floor that includes at least one guy who's hound-dog-crazy and ready to bay at the moon.

Never mind those whispers from last month that the Celtics were looking to trade Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo. Now they are most likely the savviest bunch of veterans, going seven deep, who'll take the floor on opening night and might have to be the preseason favorites to earn another ring.

Even without Garnett on the floor, how much closer might the Celtics have been last season to getting past Orlando (and then Cleveland) if they'd have had Wallace in reserve? How much more productive might Wallace have been if he were playing for a legitimate championship contender instead of playing out the string in the shadows of what once was in Detroit.

He'll be 35 by the start of next season and no closer to letting anyone outside of his own locker room know who is he or what makes him tick. Yet in this situation, where he doesn't have to be the main cog in the machine, Wallace will still be able to score, get key rebounds, block shots and defend.

I have a t-shirt hanging in my closet with one phrase printed in block letters on the front: "Both teams played hard." The shirts were made up by the NBA media relations staff one season after Wallace succinctly and stubbornly summed up a playoff game with that one line.

"Ball don't lie." That's another Sheedism that he often serves up to referees when they hit him with a personal foul and the shooter goes to the free throw line and misses.

An odd duck, for sure. But he is unselfish and plays to win. Cleveland wanted him, Orlando wanted him ... even the squeaky-clean Spurs wanted him. The Celtics wanted him in their huddle so much that they put on a full-court recruiting press of (among others) Garnett, Paul Pierce and Allen to convince Wallace.

Will he be angry at times? For sure. Will he best misunderstood at times? For sure. Will he need to be reeled back in at times when Wallace spins off in his own orbit?

Most definitely and that's where Garnett comes in, the other hyper-competitive, over-the-top personality who will be able to get in Wallace's face and inside his head when needed.

What the Celtics needed was that veteran know-how, that fire, that talent, that swagger.

'Sheed does happen.

Enough to pencil in the Celtics already at the top of next season's list.

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