The Celtics have answered the Cavaliers' acquisition of Shaquille O'Neal, the Spurs' trade for Richard Jefferson and the Lakers' pending signing of Ron Artest.
Rasheed Wallace, who agreed to a two-year contract with the Celtics on Sunday, isn't the dominant inside presence of O'Neal, doesn't run the floor like Jefferson and can't defend quite like Artest. But what Wallace can do -- specifically defend two positions and provide valuable inside-out scoring -- is exactly what the Celtics need to regain their championship swagger.
Consider: Though the Celtics' title hopes were dashed last season when KevinGarnett was ruled out for the playoffs with a knee injury, their ability to repeat as champs was in doubt long before that. One reason was a lack of depth on the front line. Mikki Moore, a free-agent pickup in February, proved to be useless in the postseason, while Glen Davis, who made significant strides offensively in his second season, is not the type of low-post presence and long defender Boston needed at the power forward spot.
Wallace, 34, is all those things and more. At 6-foot-10, 225 pounds, Wallace has the size and skill to score in the paint, and his three-point shooting (35.4 percent last season) will open up the floor for slashers Rajon Rondo and Paul Pierce and give Garnett another option to find on the wing from the post.
Wallace can also defend power forwards and centers, the latter on display when he capably guarded Dwight Howard without much help in Detroit's playoff victories against Orlando in 2007 and '08. Even with Garnett and center Kendrick Perkins entrenched as starters in the frontcourt, Wallace should still approach the 32.2 minutes he averaged with the Pistons last season, especially with Celtics coach Doc Rivers' desire to cut back his starters' minutes with the hope of keeping them fresh for the playoffs. (The Celtics are also making a bid to sign free agent Grant Hill to provide more help for Pierce and Ray Allen.)
Keeping Wallace's emotions in check -- no small task for a man who holds the NBA record for technical fouls in a season (40, a mark he set with the Trail Blazers in 2000-01) and was once suspended seven games by the league for threatening a referee after a game in 2003 -- will be a group effort. The Celtics proved they could integrate a mercurial player when they brought in Stephon Marbury, who played the second half of last season without incident. Wallace will be expected to play a much bigger role than Marbury, but Boston has plenty of veteran leadership in Garnett, Pierce and Allen, as well as a "players' coach" in Rivers, who should be able to exert some measure of control over Wallace.
Besides, while Marbury came to Boston loaded with baggage, Wallace is regarded as an excellent teammate. A Detroit source said that while Wallace's on-court behavior occasionally grated on teammates, he was always a popular locker-room figure. Boston's only concern with Wallace is his quick temper, which tends to explode at critical moments. If he can control his emotions, the Celtics will once again be a serious threat next season.
The Pistons are expected to hire a new coach in the next 48 hours, according to league sources. Former Mavericks coach Avery Johnson has been considered the front-runner since Detroit fired Michael Curry last month, but sources said the Pistons could be slowly moving away from Johnson -- who reportedly is looking for a say in personnel decisions and could ask for a contract worth $5 million per season -- and toward Cavaliers assistant coach John Kuester.
Kuester, a former college head coach who has worked in the NBA as an assistant with the Celtics, 76ers, Pistons, Nets, Magic and Cavs since 1990, has become a hot name after serving as Cleveland's offensive coordinator last season. Kuester has a strong relationship with Pistons president Joe Dumars from his years coaching on Larry Brown's staff in Detroit. That relationship extends to several key Pistons players, including Richard Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince.