With all the hoopla surrounding Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett returning to play against their former team, few talked about life on the other side of the coin.
When Boston Celtics team president Danny Ainge traded away Pierce, Garnett, and guard Jason Terry, he sent a crystal clear signal that his team approached a rebuilding phase. Former Nets Gerald Wallace and Kris Humphries never signed up for that scenario when they re-upped with Brooklyn prior to the 2012-13 season, though. Playing for a doormat fails to offer the same luster as playing in a billion-dollar arena on Atlantic Avenue.
While the Celtics kept Sunday night’s tilt against the Nets close, they lacked the talent to truly climb over the hill. The Nets fended off a feisty Celtics’ attempt with an 85-79 win at the TD Garden.
The Celtics clearly maintain no interest in actually winning these games. Much like the Nets in their waning years in New Jersey, the Celtics look to the future. Unfortunately for Wallace and Humphries, their futures do not extend that far down the line.
Humphries is in his final year of a 2-year, $24 million contract he signed with the Nets, while Wallace still owes the Celtics two more years of his life. Calling the former Nets’ tenure in Boston rocky probably signifies an injustice of the highest order.
Both players have bounced in an out of the starting lineup as first year head coach Brad Stevens mulls countless lineup combinations. Even without guards Avery Bradley and Jerryd Bayless Sunday night, Stevens still opted to go with a 10-man rotation. Trial and error leaves the likes of Humphries and Wallace feeling somewhat unsatisfied.
While Humphries indicated he might return to the Celtics depending on his standing with the franchise, Wallace exists in a different kind of hell. For a player accustomed to doing the dirty work to free up the skill players, Wallace actually finds himself as arguably the second most skilled player on the team outside of Rajon Rondo.
While the Nets continued their suffocating defensive style following their 2013 holiday doldrums, the Celtics sputtered in the water Sunday, totaling just a 37.7 field-goal percentage. Wallace actually emerged as the third-leading scorer for the Celtics with 12 points, matching teammate Chris Johnson in the scoring column. Johnson played on the final day of a 10-day contract, if that provides any indication of the talent Wallace deals with on a nightly basis.
Wallace, never one to shy away from a recorder, detailed his personal angst earlier in the season.
“You’re sitting, only playing 17 or 18 minutes a game,” Wallace said. “You’re watching, you know you can still play, and you watch guys in front of you who don’t play with effort, don’t respect the game and don’t think team first. It kind of frustrates you and pisses you off. You have to deal with it.”
Many Nets fans criticized Wallace’s disparaging remarks about Brooklyn general manager Billy King in the wake of the trade. Wallace let everyone know he did not appreciate the general manager’s less than forthright attitude.
“This season is a slap in the face, having to change my game and fine-tune it,” Wallace continued in an interview with the Boston Herald. “First of all, it has to come mentally. You accept your situation, but there’s two sides to your brain. One side is fighting the other side because of the predicament you’re in. You feel you can still perform at the level you always have, but at the same time, you’re doubting yourself.”
The “slap in the face” referred to King, which Wallace expounded upon later in the interview.
“It’s more hurt feelings, disrespected,” Wallace said. “What just happened? Nobody told you they didn’t want you or gave you a heads-up that they were about to trade you. It was just, bam, you’re gone to a team that’s been torn apart, and is looking to rebuild. That’s a tough place for you to be 13 or 14 years into the league.”
Whether anyone wants to acknowledge Wallace’s anger, he is right. Garnett and Pierce never wanted to rebuild, which is why they figuratively hopped onto a bus and came on down to Brooklyn. Yes, Wallace makes a lot of money. He makes more money than he deserves because the Nets ran roughshod with the pen when inking players to contracts. But Wallace wants to win.
Wallace actually performed admirably in the loss to the Nets. As a defensive-minded forward, he mainly switched off between Joe Johnson and Pierce. Those two combined to shoot 4-for-17 and score 12 points. In addition to his 12 points, Wallace added five rebounds in a game-high 41 minutes.
He played that way on the Barclays Center’s herringbone, and he’ll perform that way until someone tells him he can no longer play. Sometimes players really do care more about winning than the money. Is Wallace a crybaby as Nets fans so often call him? Perhaps, but maybe he wishes his prime years do not swirl down some Boston toilet while Ainge stockpiles assets and expiring contracts.
When the Nets stumbled out to a 10-21 record, head coach Jason Kidd accused the team of growing “comfortable with losing.” Apparently, Wallace will never accept that fate. Unfortunately, he and his former Brooklyn teammate have no choice.