The most important player for the Boston Celtics is Rajon Rondo. That much is obvious, but I'd submit that the next most important player for the Celtics this year might just be Gerald Wallace.
As early as a few months ago, nobody wanted Gerald Wallace. Back in March of this year, Bill Simmons ranked him as the 3rd worst NBA contract. Here's what he said.
The good news? If the Nets didn't trade for Wallace, they wouldn't have been able to pay Deron Williams $98 million for the five years after his prime, and they wouldn't have been able to lock down Wallace at $40 million right after his career careered off a cliff.
2012: 13.8 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 45.4% FG, 80% FT, 16.0 PER
2013: 8.5 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 41.5% FG, 65% FT, 12.5 PER
That's not a slump, that's NBA menopause. We've seen it happen with too many athletic NBA forwards over the years — once they lose it, it never comes back. Repeat: NBA menopause. It's a real thing. Anyone know how to swear in Russian?
Suffice it to say, he's vastly overpaid based on his recent historical production. Even worse, if you count this year he's got 3 years and a total of $30.3 left owed to him.
Make no mistake about it, this is a bad contract. So bad that the Nets had to toss in some extra incentive via draft picks to entice the Celtics to take the deal off their hands. If you remember, Danny's rumored asking price for Pierce or Garnett was a first round draft pick each. The Celtics walked away with 3 picks plus the rights to swap picks one year. We have Wallace to thank for a good deal of that.
This year is likely to be a bit of a wash. You have to pay someone to play and since we are (barely) under the cap this year, from a strategic standpoint there's no real damage done in paying Wallace his paycheck. The issue is largely in the out years when we won't have as much flexibility with him on the books.
So all of that leads us into the start of training camp. Since that moment, Gerald Wallace has been the best player on the Celtics (yes, even better than Sullinger despite my "MVP of preseason" comments). There's a very real chance that Wallace, if he keeps up his current production, could be the best player on this team until Rajon Rondo returns. And when Rondo does return, you might see Wallace become even more productive. Rajon has that kind of potential impact.
Granted, I'm not sure if his agent would list "second best player on a lottery team" as his client's top accomplishment. As they say, "in the land of the blind, the one eyed man is king." Still, it isn't the worst thing to have on your resume either.
Wallace is also one of the few veterans on this team and we've already gotten a taste of his tough-love leadership. He pulls no punches and he backs it up with his effort on the court. That's another big take-away. This guy's motor is always running and he's always (at minimum) giving it his full effort.
All of which could be very beneficial to a young, developing team with few true leaders or veteran examples to follow. But that might not be the biggest long term benefit that Wallace provides.
If Gerald continues to excel in his role on the Celtics and maintains that level through the first few months of the season, we could very well see some deep pocketed contenders come calling about a potential trade.
Wallace obviously isn't the kind of guy you can build around long term and he isn't worth his paycheck to most teams. But he could very well be an excellent addition to a team looking to be a contender this year. Just because things didn't work out so well in Brooklyn doesn't mean he can't thrive somewhere else. He can prove that here in Boston and then take his talents to the playoffs if some team is willing to pay his salary the next 2.5 years.
All it takes is one, though admittedly the team with the deepest pockets is the one that just traded Wallace to us.
I'm not sure exactly how high he could raise his trade value this year, but he could at least go from being a net negative to being either neutral or a net positive in worth. Perhaps we could swap him for another bad (but shorter) contract. Maybe he could be packaged with some other pieces in order to match salaries.
The point is this. There's no such thing as an "untradable" contract and Wallace can only help his value by continuing to play well on this team. Or at worst, if he's never traded then he'll at least give it his all every night, giving a good example to his teammates and a good show for the fans.