Wednesday, December 9, 2009

'Sheed In Green

(Boston- November 15, 2009)
If there’s one thing that the Celtics have exhibited affection towards lately it’s signing old men with great track records. It’s a relatively unpopular method that has brought the franchise some serious success.

In 2007 the C’s signed Ray Allen at 32, one of the best set shooters to ever play the game. The same year they also signed free agent Kevin Garnett, 31 years young with the tenacity of an eighteen year old. Together with the help of veteran (and fellow thirty something) Paul Pierce, Garnett and Allen led the C’s to a championship. In ‘07 they also brought in PJ Brown, old as hell at 39, and he still blew up in the playoffs for us and contributed in the post. Sam Cassel, the single ugliest man on the planet, filled in an important coaching role for the playoffs (despite being signed as a player) for the squad when they picked him up late in ’08, helping develop Rondo to the pit-bull he is today. Lastly they added 31 year old Stephan Marbury in ‘08 who's an asshole, certified lunatic and will probably be playing in Europe somewhere because no team in the league will take him; you can’t win ‘em all. This year the Celts have decided to add 35 year old Rasheed Wallace to the roster; vicious animal, champion and a big man with an inside/outside versatility that the NBA has rarely seen.

In respect to his game, I have no doubt ‘Sheed will prove a solid addition; He’s 6’11, a seasoned veteran and a champion. His experience is invaluable. Throughout his career he’s proved to be an enormous presence down low, isn’t afraid to scrap for boards and plays better defense than Johnny Cochran. The big man is a four time all star, has a solid 15 point career average including 7 rebounds and one of the best three balls for a guy over 6’7 in the league. On top of everything he was there when Ron Artest went bananas in Indiana and started throwing hammers at fans, so if nothing else he can manage security.

That being said Wallace also played for the Washington Bullets his rookie season; he’s an old dude. To add another concern beyond age and performance, he’s a veteran with a championship ring, has been a starter for his entire career and now he’s coming into a team of veteran champions as a bench player. This is the stuff that soap operas and group murders are made of, or at least the potential downfall to a team’s chemistry. Add to the boiling pot his comments after the ‘08 playoffs about the Celtics team and things could get messy. Despite all of the concerns and everything that could go wrong, with age comes wisdom and ‘Sheed certainly has plenty of years. I’m convinced if he’s smart enough to join the squad in hopes to get another ring, he’ll be smart enough to avoid fucking things up. On top of new found wisdom, I don’t see Doc River’s putting up with any bullshit.

As stated earlier, my concern with Wallace’s game is minimal; it’s his huge ego, his violent mouth, his entire persona that might get him into trouble in Boston. He holds the season record for technical fouls which he achieved in 2001 with 40, after beating his own record set the year before with 38. He once threatened a referee with physical violence after a game on a loading dock (certified animal). Not to mention he did run his mouth after the playoffs in ‘08 about the Celtics flopping, questioning their game. After game five of the Eastern Conference Finals, Wallace erupted on the C’s and officials, “The cats are flopping all over the floor and they're calling that shit. That shit ain't basketball out there. It's all fucking entertainment.” Nine out of fifteen players on this year’s squad played or were on the bench during the ‘08 playoffs. Clearly there could be some bad blood, but Wallace’s journey to Boston tells a different story.

Celtic’s President of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge pursued Rasheed (then a free agent) admittedly over the off season, inspired by his three veteran floor leaders; Allen, Pierce and KG. They’d considered him before the season had even ended, “Rasheed was at the top of the list for all of us,” Ray Allen said, “We even talked about it during the year because we knew he was going to be a free agent.” On top of some nice words from Allen, Pierce claimed that if we were to pick up ‘Sheed and things go as he envisioned “it’s going to be a great summer,” (referring to this year’s playoffs). In a final act to show ‘Sheed how bad the team really wanted him, the Big Three actually flew out to Detroit with Doc, Danny Ainge and owner Wyc Grousbeck to visit ‘Sheed and his family in an attempt to move him in the right direction. It worked.

So Wallace agreed to come to Boston, passing up offers made by some top squads including the Cavs and Spurs. He was welcomed warmly by the entire cast. On top of everything the big guy was awfully humble about joining the squad even as a bench player. He told reporters in a press release, “Two minutes, thirty minutes, whatever, as long as I’m contributing to the team for the `W.’ If I score a point and we win, hey, it’s the sorriest point I’ve ever scored but we got the win. That beats 100 points and a loss any day.” Maybe Wallace is happy to be on the other side of the flopping. Maybe he’s just come to terms that the Celtics were the better team that year. Maybe age has led him to appreciate the benefits of a team game. I’ll put my money on a combination of options two and three.

We’re 8-3 after a 6-0 start season and everyone’s actions have seemed to have reflected their words; it’s all smiles, brotherhood, and (for the most part) victory. The fans love him. The squad loves him. He loves the fans. He loves the squad. I love him. I’m a fan so by association he loves me. Everyone’s in love.

We suffered a tough home loss to Phoenix at the hands of the little Canadian freak and point guard extraordinaire, Steve Nash. Since then the last straight two games resulted in a pathetic loss to the Hawks after being dominated on the boards, and a loss to the Pacers that literally makes me want to cry for Marquis Daniels who we stole from Indy in the off season. On the bright side ‘Sheed hasn’t even gotten a technical yet which is like a dream come true. Still a decent start and smiles don’t necessarily mean Wallace is earning his loot; although I admit watching him and KG bark in people’s faces might be worth at least a couple grand.

As stated before, I’m convinced about the Big Guy’s ability to contribute but there are still skeptics claiming that ‘Sheed might be too old to help out. So far he looks solid, averaging a solid 9.7 points per game and pulling in a little under four boards and did I mention he still hasn’t recorded one “T”?

So how’d he look while we were undefeated? In the opening game against King James and his cavalier court he contributed 12 in a huge win, helping the C’s spoil Cleveland’s home opener. Against the Bobcats he put up a solid 9 and 5 in only 15 minutes. He put up another 12 against the Hornets. Verse the Sixers he put up 20 points, snatched 6 boards and shot 6-8 from behind the arc. Lastly when we snuck a short 2 point win in against Minnesota he grabbed five boards and a decent seven points. While we remained undefeated one thing was clear; you include his three point threat to Ray-Ray’s shooting, Eddie Houses hot hand, and our boy Scal’s occasional slip off the hand that somehow finds the bottom of the net, and we’re one of the most dominating perimeter teams in the game. Good start.

The second half of the season was a little less “perfect.” That’s not to say that there weren’t mistakes made in the beginning half of the season or that there weren’t moments of greatness in the second half, but in the end the win is all that matters. The second half of the season showed us a few less wins, and the introduction to the feeling associated with a loss. This is obviously bad for the squad but good for our study on ‘Sheed. No one runs their mouth when the squad hasn’t lost, it takes a little adversity to see a squads true colors.

When we tallied our first loss against the Suns, Nash dropped 16 and donated 12 dimes, and even my absolute boy Rondo couldn’t keep in with that creepy looking quickster. Rasheed contributed his usual 5 boards and a decent eight 8. What the box score doesn’t show was the potentially huge three ball he hit in the fourth that brought the game within 7 and could have sparked a run. It didn’t.

In the easy ten point victory against the winless Nets ‘Sheed gave us 9 and 5, but went 0-4 from behind the arc. He’s allowed one game to not have a soaking wet three ball, and he did only dry up for one game. Verse the Jazz he came in with a solid 12 but lost his presence down low with only 1 board.

That’s when things got weird. We lost to the Hawks in the most pathetic rebounding effort I’ve seen by the Celtics in a few years. The Hawks almost rounded up twenty more boards, and ‘Sheed only wrapped up 3. Then we lost to the Pacers. The Pacers are a dog shit squad and this loss is inexcusable. ‘Sheed had 4 points and 0 boards. He didn’t get a rebound. Not one. It may just be one game, but it’s a game that leaves a nasty taste in the mouths of Celtics fans everywhere. Relax, there’s still 71 games left, and although we hit a rough patch we look good and ‘Sheed is playing consistently despite the last two games.

So what is there to be learned from that dry overview of the season thus far? ‘Sheed is beloved. Even after the losses, everyone seems to be swallowing their pride and taking the blame. Pierce put the Phoenix game on simply missing shots, and pretty much all the big men took blame for the Hawks game, Wallace included. The Pacers game makes me physically ill but we’ll see them again and December and hopefully draw blood. Regardless, Wallace seems to have humbled himself greatly and calmed down to make himself a solid addition to the team dynamic.

On top of everything his averages are great for a guy coming off of the bench and his three ball is still soaking wet. Did I mention he still hasn’t gotten a tech? As the season continues let’s hope he can keep being on good terms with the boys, and continue to intimidate big men across the league with the help of KG.

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