Gerald Wallace Assumes Role As Emotional Leader On Rebuilding Celtics

Gerald Wallace stood tall. - Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Was Gerald Wallace perfect on the floor this season? Was he worth $10 million? No and no. But he was still a valuable member of the Celtics in a few ways, both tangible and not.

When I start to think about Gerald Wallace and reflect upon his first season in Boston, I feel the need to address a larger issue that exists between pro athletes and their fans. It's something that applies to Wallace, yes, but a lot of other guys as well.

Wallace is overpaid. I get that.

I also don't fault him for it.

There are a lot of fans in Boston who have expressed frustration about Wallace and the contributions he's made to the Celtics since his arrival last summer. There are people who, quite frankly, feel cheated by the veteran small forward and his production, and they have 10,105,855 reasons why.

I think this is silly, and I think it's an issue we all need to move past before we can judge Wallace fairly.

Yes, the paycheck that Wallace pulled in from the Celtics this year - and will again next season, and a third time in 2016 - was exorbitant. The 31-year-old vet is not an eight-figure guy anymore, and you could argue that with the exception of a brief two-year window during his prime in Charlotte, he never really was. Wallace's game is predicated upon a combination of two things - basketball IQ, which tends not to fully develop in players until 25, and energy, which starts to deplete around 27 or so. I'm making those numbers up, but you get my point. Gerald Wallace wasn't going to be a star forever.

That doesn't mean he's wronged the Celtics in any way. Wallace was merely pursuing the American dream, getting himself paid handsomely for his services, and he happens to have found success. So what was he supposed to do? Tell Mikhail Prokhorov in 2012, "Nah, I'm good, I don't need this much?" Toss a few million back? I think not.

If you're going to blame anyone, blame the Nets' billionaire owner for signing Wallace to that crazy $40 million contract in the first place, and blame Danny Ainge for trading for it. But as for Wallace, leave the man alone. He did everything in his power to earn his money this season in Boston.

That's right, I said it. Gerald Wallace had a decent year.

I didn't know what to expect when Wallace first landed with the Celtics last summer. The guy was incommunicado when he was first traded, refusing to show up to his introductory press conference with the rest of his old Nets guys in July. Then leading up to training camp in September, he remained off the grid. But from media day on, he was one of the Celtics' most devoted guys, a hard worker in the practice gym and on the TD Garden floor, a model veteran on a team that really needed one.

It's true that athletically, Wallace today isn't the player he once was. He earned his nickname, "Crash," because of his ability to bowl into dudes, beating them to rebounds and 50/50 balls with his speed and reckless abandon. Now that he's 31, he doesn't have that same capability, so it's unsurprising that his rebound, steal and block numbers are hovering around career-low levels these days, even on a per-minute basis.

Wallace has shown a bit of a dropoff, but it doesn't seem anything too far out of the norm for a 31-year-old who previously relied on athleticism. Everything we got out of the swingman this season was to be expected.

By which I mean: Including the good stuff. Wallace has a relentless motor and an undying motivation to play hard. In that way, he kind of reminds me of Kevin Garnett, incidentally the man he was traded for. Crash is nowhere near the player that the Big Ticket ever was, but he has the same mentality. There's only one gear there. He plays with the same intensity every night, whether it's Milwaukee in February or a playoff Game 7.

That was Wallace's role on this team. He was an emotional leader - a guy who used every win to stoke the group's pride, and took every loss personally, like a slap in the face. You need at least one guy like that to be successful in the NBA. Some nights, I felt like the Celtics had just the one. When they lost him in March - sidelined for the final six weeks of the season with a torn meniscus - they lost a big piece of their spirit.

It probably wasn't easy for Wallace this season to maintain the same competitive spirit he's always had. Previously, he'd pretty much always played for winners. He came up in Sacramento, when Peja Stojakovic and Mike Bibby were in their primes and the Kings were title contenders. He went to Charlotte and turned the Bobcats into a playoff team. His brief stops in Portland and New Jersey/Brooklyn featured some competitive teams.

Playing on a dud Celtics team wasn't what Wallace wanted. It wasn't a very well-kept secret that after the first few weeks of losing, the veteran started to feel an urge to play elsewhere. But Ainge wasn't trading his contract anywhere, so Wallace stuck with this Boston thing. All in all, that's worked out OK for him - he's earned a lot of people's respect, and he still has a valuable role in Brad Stevens' rotation as an all-purpose sixth man.

Wallace learned to accept Boston for what it is. I'd say it's high time we returned the favor.

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