Apr 19, 2013 2:25 PM EDT
After playing only four minutes on an injured foot in the New York Knicks' final regular season game, Rasheed Wallace retired on Wednesday. One of the most talented and controversial players of his generation, he was still effective at 38, 20 years after he appeared on the national scene at North Carolina.
Along with Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, Chris Webber and Dirk Nowitzki, Wallace redefined the power forward position and revolutionized the game. But while he was as talented as his four contemporaries, he's the only one won't wind up in the Hall of Fame. Wallace never cared much for his image or his legacy, which is why, paradoxically enough, he became such a beloved countercultural figure.
There were very few things Wallace couldn’t do on a basketball court. At 6’11, 230 with exceptionally quick feet and a rumored 7’4 wingspan, he was a defensive prototype. He had the strength to battle the best low-post scorers on the blocks, the quickness to move in space and the length to protect the rim. He had all the tools on the offensive side of the floor too: an excellent post game, complete with a turnaround jumper that was essentially indefensible and the ability to stretch the floor out to the three-point line. His versatility on both sides of the ball and his understanding of the game made him the perfect teammate, capable of playing any role his team needed.
If there was a criticism of the way he played, it was that he wasn’t selfish enough. Despite being an overwhelming force on the low block, he shied away from dominating the ball, preferring to play a more team oriented game and often floating out to the three-point line. Even though he could create his own shot against anyone, he never averaged more than 20 points a game. His lack of aggression on the offensive end can be seen his number of free throw attempts. While Dirk, Webber, KG and Duncan all had seasons with more than six a game, Wallace’s career high was a little over four. He wasn’t as suited to being a primary offensive option as his peers, but when he was dialed in, his versatility allowed him to have a similar impact on a game.
In many ways, Wallace was ahead of his time. His fascination with the three-point shot drove many fans and analysts crazy, but it’s the ideal place for a big man to be on offense. The modern game is built around spacing the floor, with coaches in the NBA and the NCAA searching everywhere for a “stretch 4” who can drag his defender out of the paint. The problem comes on the other end of the floor, as most jump-shooting big men can’t play defense. Wallace was a stretch 4/5 who doubled as one of the best defensive big men in the game. MVP candidates are the only players more valuable than that. It's the same reason why Chris Bosh, not Dwyane Wade, is the second most indispensable player on the Heat.
It’s no coincidence Wallace won everywhere he went. The only year he missed the playoffs was his rookie season, when he played with Webber (!) and Juwan Howard (!!) on an underachieving Washington Bullets squad that was quickly broken up. By 22, he was one of the key players on the legendary “Jail Blazers” squads in Portland, where he began to develop the “rebel without a cause” reputation that followed him throughout his career. Seven years later, he wound up with the Detroit Pistons, where he teamed with Ben Wallace to form one of the most fearsome defenses in NBA history. He finished his career with stops in Boston and New York, where he was still a key player on two elite teams, even in his late 30’s.
Few players had more near misses than Wallace. The Jail Blazers came this close to knocking off the Shaq/Kobe Lakers in 2000, blowing a 15-point lead in Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals. The Lakers went on to win the next three NBA titles while the Blazers were quickly dismantled after the public grew tired of their off-court shenanigans.
In 2005, a year after Wallace got his revenge on L.A. as the missing piece for the Pistons, they lost to the Spurs in a classic 7-game series in the NBA Finals. In 2010, Wallace was the third big man for the Celtics who lost to the Lakers in another 7-game Finals that went right down to the wire. A couple bounces are all that separate Wallace from four titles.
All that, however, has been overshadowed by the way he carried himself both on and off the court. In terms of records that will never be broken, his 41 technical fouls in 00-01 is up there with Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak and Wilt Chamberlain’s 100 point game. With the NBA now suspending players after 16 technicals, no player will ever be able to carry on such a long-standing feud with the officials. Perhaps the best testament to Wallace’s talent was his ability to thrive despite so openly thumbing his nose at the sport’s power structure.
That’s where Wallace angered so many basketball traditionalists. Rather than using his immense talent to make himself the very best basketball player he could be, he used it to give himself the freedom to be the type of player he wanted to be. Wallace was such a good player that he could afford to view the game from an entirely different perspective, disregarding the basic norms of being a professional. He openly used recreational drugs, disrespected people in power and spoke his mind. Depending on your own personal view of the world, that made him either a hero or a villain. What made Wallace such a fascinating character is that he didn’t really care either way.
If a player doesn’t care about his image, there’s nothing the media can do to him. These are things he actually said, in reference to the NBA drafting kids out of high school: "They don't know no better, and they don't know the real business, and they don't see behind the charade," Wallace told The (Portland) Oregonian. "They look at black athletes like we're (expletive deleted). It's as if we're just going to shut up, sign for the money and do what they tell us ... As long as somebody CTC, at the end of the day I'm with them. For all you that don't know what CTC means, that's 'Cut the Check.” Wallace, quite literally, said anything he wanted too. He was good enough of at basketball to get away with it.
Wallace had the ability to be a Hall of Famer. He could hold his own against anyone in the NBA at his position; no one played better post defense on Tim Duncan. Circumstances never quite worked out for him, but it doesn't seem that he's all that bothered by it. The greatest players are supposed to play for their legacy, as if securing a place in Bill Simmons’ Hall of Fame pyramid should be their main goal. But why should a player spend his whole career worrying about how it will be viewed when he’s 60? Hopefully, he won’t spend his entire middle age re-fighting the battles of his youth. Rasheed Wallace was the A student happy with a B+. What’s the difference? He understood all the grades are pointless anyway.
Apr 18, 2013 12:45 PM EDT
A winning record to reach the playoffs wasn't necessary this season in the Eastern Conference, which demonstrates how far the below list of eliminated temas are from becoming contenders without addressing significant issues this offseason.
The Big Questions:
- Will they get the No. 1 overall pick?
- Can a frontcourt with a core of Nikola Vucevic, Tobias Harris, Andrew Nicholson and Maurice Harkless compete in the East long-term?
- Can they find another team who will give them an asset for Al Harrington’s partially guaranteed deal?
Notable Free Agents: None
2013 Draft Picks Held: Own 1st Round and Golden State’s 2nd Round (own 2nd round held by Cleveland)
The Lay of the Land: The Magic have a fascinating group of young players and a serious chance to add more assets. With a tie for the most ping pong balls, Orlando should be able to bring another high-level talent into the fold. While point guard stands out as the biggest long-term need, the team would be wise to take the best player available since they still need depth and quality at every position. Another interesting piece for Orlando this summer comes in the form of Al Harrington- because his contract is only half-guaranteed for the final two seasons of the deal, the creative Magic front office could use that to try and gain an asset from another team in exchange for the cap savings of a contract that counts on the book for more than the payment amount until he is cut. Considering Orlando already has a ton of money on the books for 13-14, it could even be a way for them to reduce their burden for the following years.
The Big Questions:
- Will they get the No. 1 pick?
- When should they use the amnesty on Tyrus Thomas?
- How much are they willing to pay to keep Gerald Henderson?
Notable Free Agents: Gerald Henderson (Restricted) and Byron Mullins (Restricted)
2013 Draft Picks Held: Own 1st Round, No 2nd Round (held by OKC)
The Lay of the Land: While the Bobcats have two potential lottery picks coming from Detroit and Portland in future years, in all likelihood neither of those will make it to Charlotte this season. That could be for the best considering how weak this class is on the lower end of the lottery. That said, the choice to take on Ben Gordon’s extra year to get a pick from Detroit means that Charlotte will have some money this summer but not enough to go after elite talent. The Bobcats do still have their amnesty available and have a perfect target in Tyrus Thomas, though they could still see some potential value in him since they would still need to pay him even if he comes off the books from a salary cap perspective. I’m guessing they wait one more year to push him off on an ice float though doing it now would be fine.
Beyond that, both Byron Mullens and Gerald Henderson will be restricted free agents this summer. The team needs to draw a line in the sand on long-term contracts for both players since while each has value they are not strong enough players to warrant tying up cap space when the team can make big moves in 2014 and beyond.
The Big Questions:
- Do they want to use their cap space this summer or wait until 2014?
- Will there be a good market for Anderson Varejao? Would the Cavaliers want to trade him now?
- How can they best use their two picks in each round?
Notable Free Agents: Wayne Ellington (Restricted)
2013 Draft Picks Held: Own 1st Round, Miami’s 1st Round, Own 2nd Round, Orlando’s 2nd Round
The Lay of the Land: Unlike pretty much every other team on this list, Cleveland might have more resources than they can deal with effectively. Carrying four picks in the first 35 on top of four other players on their rookie deals might be a little too much to handle. Fortunately, the team can combine assets and try to find the right fits at varying positions and roles.
The figure looming over the entire off-season has to be LeBron James. Considering how much trouble the Cavaliers have had acquiring high-level talent outside of the draft, it would make sense for them to try and woo the high-end guys in this class and then save most of their flexibility for the chance of LeBron James wanting to return home. Since Kyrie Irving still has another two years on his deal and then would have a reasonable cap hold, the Cavs would be wise to take on some short-term money and get a pick or two if the elite members of the 2013 free agent class choose to go elsewhere.
The Big Questions:
- What extension will the team offer John Wall and would he accept less than the max at this point?
- Will either Emeka Okafor or Trevor Ariza decline their lucrative options for next season?
- Can the team bring back Martell Webster on a reasonable deal?
- Would any team be interested in giving up a long term expensive talent for an expiring contract?
Notable Free Agents: Emeka Okafor (ETO), Trevor Ariza (Player Option), Martell Webster (Unrestricted)
2013 Draft Picks Held: Own 1st Round, Own 2nd Round, New York Knicks’ 2nd Round
The Lay of the Land: The largest consequence of the trade with New Orleans last year was the reduction in salary flexibility for the 13-14 season assuming Okafor and Ariza pick up their options. Either one could choose to go after a longer-term deal though neither should expect to get more per season than what Washington is committed to paying them on their current deals. The challenge for the Wizards would be trying to make the right deal for either should they choose to go for a longer contract since they have value but the team needs the flexibility because next year is the last with John Wall on his rookie deal.
I fully expect the Wizards to offer Wall a generous deal that falls short of the max (more than Curry, Holiday, or Lawson signed for last summer) and have absolutely no idea whether he will take it or not. Considering the Wizards can and should match any four-year deal he could get in restricted free agency in 2014, they have plenty of reason to wait to see if Wall can build on his strong second half.
The Big Questions:
- Can Joe Dumars use his newfound cap space responsibly?
- Will Greg Monroe and the Pistons come to an agreement on an extension?
- What will Andre Drummond’s role be next season?
Notable Free Agents: Jose Calderon (Unrestricted), Jason Maxiell (Unrestricted), and Corey Maggette (Unrestricted)
2013 Draft Picks Held: Own 1st Round, Own 2nd Round, Clippers’ 2nd Round (possibly)
The Lay of the Land: After the Tayshaun Prince trade, the Pistons actually have a remarkable amount of cap room this summer. That number will only increase when the team finally amnesties Charlie Villanueva and clears his $8.58 million off the ledger. Without a ton of money committed for 2014, Joe Dumars can afford to be patient with the space they have and go after all sorts of options this summer from signing a free agent like Andre Iguodala or taking on a long-term deal like the Raptors did with Rudy Gay in the aforementioned trade.
The other big potential decision for Detroit centers on Greg Monroe. He is clearly a good player but we still need to see how he can play with franchise building block Andre Drummond. The Pistons should make a low but reasonable offer to Monroe this year and spend most of next season trying to figure out if he can play with Drummond for years to come, ideally making a decision before the trade deadline since Monroe would have value if the team chooses to go in another direction.
The Big Questions:
- Can they get meaningfully better this summer?
- Will they use the amnesty on Linas Kleiza?
- Where will Terrance Ross fit in with Rudy Gay and DeMar DeRozan?
Notable Free Agents: None
2013 Draft Picks Held: None (1st Rounder to OKC via Houston, 2nd Rounder to Memphis)
The Lay of the Land: By making the trade for Rudy Gay, the Raptors committed to their current group of players for 13-14. Using the amnesty provision on Andrea Bargnani or Linas Kleiza would not alleviate the cap limitations though it could affect how tightly they push against the luxury tax and the apron. The Raptors will need to add a backup PG and likely one more swingman in order to complete their team.
The Big Questions:
- What the heck do they do with Andrew Bynum?
- What the heck do they do with Evan Turner?
- Can they find swingmen that make sense long-term with Jrue Holiday and Thaddeus Young?
Notable Free Agents: Andrew Bynum (Unrestricted), Nick Young (Unrestricted), and Dorrell Wright (Unrestricted)
2013 Draft Picks Held: Own 1st Rounder, Own 2nd Rounder, New Orleans’ 2nd Rounder
The Lay of the Land: After all of the moves that the Sixers’ front office has made over the past 12 months, the only real constant they have moving forward is Jrue Holiday. They have long-term money committed to both Thaddeus Young and Jason Richardson but either can move around in the rotation based on who else the team has in future seasons.
While Andrew Bynum looms largest over this summer, the three-pronged choice for Evan Turner might actually affect the team more directly since they have so much more power over the decision. Turner is eligible for an extension and still has value as a trade asset, so the front office needs to decide whether they want to do one of those options or just hold onto him another year and punt the decision on both keeping him and the extension until the deadline or next summer.
Jan 31, 2013 10:52 AM EST
The early reactions to the Memphis Grizzlies trading Rudy Gay to Toronto Raptors seem to fall in two camps: one thinks the trade was a very good one for the Grizzlies while the other, most notably Adrian Wojnarowski, see the trade as some sort of demolition of the strong team Memphis had put together. What makes this discrepancy so striking is that it feels like the second group has positioned themselves this way based on an off conception of how good Rudy Gay has actually been as a basketball player.
Immediately after reading Wojnarowski’s piece, a quote from an unusual source came to mind: in Win a Date with Tad Hamilton, one character turns down another by telling them it is “because you don't love me, you maybe want to love me. But I think what you love right now is the idea of me. You can't love someone for what they stand for or seem to be. You have to love them for their details, for the little things that are true of them and only them.”
In many ways, the critics of this deal are doing so from a love of the idea of Rudy Gay rather than the details of what he actually has been as a player thus far in his career.
As someone who got into professional basketball by writing obsessively about the NBA Draft, I fully understand the appeal of Gay. He came into the league as a physical specimen with some impressive hoops instincts as well.
Immediately after he was drafted, Jay Bilas described him on the broadcast as "Incredibly athletic, he's 6-foot-9, he's got really long arms, a wingspan of about 7-foot-3, he plays bigger than he is, he's got every skill, every piece of ability you would want in a player."
That description of Gay stuck and it created a persona of a guy who could do it all physically and was developing into a player who could take control of a team and a game. As Memphis went from being a rebuilding team to one that made the playoffs (incidentally helped by the reacquisition of the player Gay was traded for originally, Shane Battier), it became clear that while Gay had talent, he was not an essential cog in the Memphis machine. In fact, the No. 8 seed Grizzlies team that shocked the No. 1 Spurs in the 2011 playoffs did so with Rudy missing the entire postseason due to a shoulder injury.
The same story persists for those who prefer a more statistical edge to analysis. While no single stat gets particularly close to establishing player quality, my personal favorite is Win Shares/48. It takes the normal Win Shares concept and adds in a component scaling it for minutes played so it does not reward volume of time on the court and instead goes for something more akin to impact per minute played. Among players who logged 15 minutes per game and participated in at least half of the games in the season in question, the best Rudy Gay has ever finished in the league in WS/48 is a whopping 87th.
If you prefer PER, his best final position is 55th.
Incidentally, each of these high water marks occurred during the 2010-11 season where Rudy missed the end of the regular season and Memphis’ playoff run. Even 55th in the league does not mark any sort of elite player, especially considering Rudy has played substantially worse than that level this season. By just about any measure, Rudy Gay’s 2012-13 has been a disaster thus far.
Keeping all of this in mind, it feels like those who hate the trade for Memphis are more in love with the idea of Rudy Gay and what he could become as a basketball player than the understanding that a 26-year-old playing in his sixth season as a full-time starter can improve but just will not become the superstar everyone hoped he would progress into. He still can improve and absolutely has value to an NBA team but trading him (particularly for a solid player at the same position) does not cripple Memphis’ lofty aspirations in any meaningful way.
The deal for Memphis: On top of the analysis above, there are a few other major things to consider in terms of the Grizzlies here.
First, they were able to do a slight downgrade at small forward to Tayshaun Prince that saves the team about $10 million per season while still fitting what they do on the floor. Considering the money they have committed to other players, that flexibility allows them to add depth and continue to be a more versatile and challenging team moving forward.
Beyond that, Gay stands out as being younger than Zach Randolph by about five years, which likely means that he would have been given more of the reins of the team in a few seasons. If management reasonably surmised that he would not be particularly good at that even with positive development the next few years, moving him now for an older player makes it easier to make a bigger move down the line and spend more time trying to find the next big thing.
Speaking of that, the other major positive in the deal comes in the form of Ed Davis. While Davis only has two more years on his cheap rookie deal and then will want a hefty raise, he has been a revelation this season with the Raptors and gives Memphis an incredibly deep big man rotation. That depth can be used to withstand injuries since an injury to anyone other than Marc Gasol could be weathered by just moving everyone’s minutes up or it could be used in a trade down the line to strengthen the perimeter.
Considering Darrell Arthur and Davis both have team-friendly deals, Memphis’ front office could choose to trade either one of them for a nice return or make a bigger move and trade Zach Randolph. Heck, they could even keep this group together for a few years and then just choose between Davis and Randolph when Z-Bo becomes a free agent in 2015. Depth and flexibility (augmented with their flier on Austin Daye) coupled with largely reasonable salaries gives Memphis an advantage on and off the court moving forward.
Grade for Memphis: A
The deal for Toronto: I totally get the idea of using the specter of long-term cap flexibility to get talent that would be hard to procure in the free agent market. It stands as a strategy that more teams in non-major markets should employ moving forward. However, Toronto did not negotiate using that cap space as a major tool since they gave up a meaningful asset in Jose Calderon’s expiring contract and a young prospect in Ed Davis for the privilege of spending a ton of money on Rudy Gay for the next few seasons. In fact, by doing so Toronto gutted most of the trade assets they have that they are actually willing to move (leaving only Terrence Ross, Jonas Valanciunas, and Kyle Lowry as higher-end pieces) and leaving players that they want to keep around. As such, the combination of trading components and losing salary cap flexibility leaves Toronto with an OK team that will be tough to improve in the short term.
In terms of fitting on the court, acquiring Rudy Gay exacerbates the stupidity of extending DeMar DeRozan when they did. There are certain types of similar players that make sense to pair on the perimeter yet there are others that make very little sense. Both Gay and DeRozan are slashers that have severe limitations stretching the floor and creating for others at a high level. Putting them together allows teams to switch more and will not force them to make as many tough decisions, which should be the goal of any offensive philosophy. Instead of having an asset like DeRozan without a long-term commitment, the Raptors now have two players who do not make sense together making a combined $27.3M per season for at least the next two years. Ouch.
Grade for Toronto: D+
The trade for Detroit: As much as Tayshaun Prince has been an important part of the franchise and should age well, he does not fit this stage in the development for the Pistons. As such, getting out of his long-term salary commitment allows the team to get younger and fit their new core of Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond in both skill and age moving forward.
Unfortunately, we have seen recently what Joe Dumars can do to sink a team when he has cap space burning a hole in his pocket, though one would have to hope that he can do better this time. On top of that, Jose Calderon should be a nice fit shepherding the young guards Detroit already has on roster while lobbing the ball to Drummond all day, every day.
While we do not know what Calderon is looking for in his next team, it could also be possible to sign him to a reasonable deal and then make a decision about whether Brandon Knight actually makes sense as the future lead guard of the team or to trade him for a swingman and try again without the team falling off a cliff. A logical and practical trade for a team in desperate need of one.
Grade for Detroit: A-
Dec 12, 2012
As we move forward with “Amnesty 2.0,” we will see the fascinating possibilities that the provision brings even as the number of teams and players left dwindles with time.
Oct 26, 2012
The Pacers enter 12-13 as the favorites in the Central Division, while the Bulls, Bucks, Cavaliers and Pistons will likely be in transitional seasons.
Sep 24, 2012
In 13 seasons in the NBA, Isiah Thomas won two championships – back-to-back titles in 1989 and 1990 – but had to battle those old rivals, Magic Johnson’s Los Angeles Lakers, Larry Bird’s Boston Celtics and Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls.
Jul 19, 2012
The Heat, Thunder and Lakers appear to be a cut above the remainder of the NBA, but how do the 27 other teams rank?
Jun 29, 2012
Whle the Pistons, Blazers, Bobcats, Nets, Thunder and Bulls headline the 'Great Drafts', the caboose of 'Bad Drafts' is comprised of the Cavaliers, Suns, Bucks, Wolves, Heat and Knicks.
Jun 28, 2012
The Andre Drummond/Perry Jones effect on this draft before we make sense of picks seven through 30 just hours before a flood of draft-day trades shreds every mock.
Jun 21, 2012
The 2012 NBA Draft is a week away and nothing is certain beyond Anthony Davis going to the Hornets with the first overall pick even though several scenarios are beginning to crystalize.
Jun 19, 2012
There are two core reasons why players outperform their pre-draft expectations, while there are two main paths for prospects to underachieve.
Jun 18, 2012
Entering an offseason free of drama, Ben Gordon has been adamant about following through on his commitment to represent Great Britain in this summer’s Olympics, but was a no-show as training camp began.
May 31, 2012
Anthony Davis will become a member of the Hornets, but the draft is extremely fluid behind him with teams needing several weeks to sort through their unusual number of options even to the Bobcats at number two.
May 23, 2012
While every team in the lottery can bring their Anthony Davis jersey if they win the first overall pick, the gap between Thomas Robinson, Bradley Beal, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Andre Drummond is extremely narrow for me and highly intriguing.
Apr 24, 2012
There was great concern about how teams would struggle with so many games in so little time, but the numbers indicate that they fared better than expected. Teams averaged a .547 winning percentage in the third game of consecutive days.
Apr 19, 2012
As we move forward into the 2012 offseason with “Amnesty 2.0", here is a team-by-team look at which players are eligible for amnesty and identify the reasonable candidates.
Feb 17, 2012
Greg Monroe is the latest in a long line of Hoya bigs to succeed in the NBA, following Patrick Ewing, Dikembe Mutombo, Alonzo Mourning and Roy Hibbert.
Jan 09, 2012
While the losing took its toll on Richard Hamilton, he hasn't forgotten what it takes to win and intends on showing his new teammates what is necessary to become a championship team.
Dec 26, 2011
Duke, Kentucky, UCLA, Texas, Kansas, North Carolina, UConn, Florida and Arizona each begin the 11-12 NBA season with 10 or more players on NBA rosters.
Dec 24, 2011
After a whirlwind free agency period, the balance of power in the NBA looks a lot different than it did less than a month ago, with the Thunder, Heat, Bulls, Knicks and Mavericks looking like the legitimate 2012 contenders.
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