Marty Burns
Thursday January 20th, 2005

Earlier in these playoffs, Detroit Pistons forward Rasheed Wallace downplayed his role as team savior by declaring, "I'm not Jesus."

No, he's clearly not -- although that beard he's been sporting lately does give him something of a biblical look.

But will the 6-foot-11 Wallace at least prove himself to be more than a disciple? That's the intriguing sidebar to Thursday night's Game 7 between the Pistons and Nets. With Wallace a free agent after the season, the Pistons will get a great opportunity to find out if he's worth a godly $9 million to $10 million-per-year investment.

To this point, Wallace hasn't exactly played like a superstar against the Nets. Bothered by a sore foot, he is averaging just 11.8 points and 5.3 rebounds over the series. He was a non-factor in Games 3 and 4, both Pistons losses, because of foul trouble. He did, however, contribute 14 points and four blocks in Detroit's Game 6 win at New Jersey.

Detroit president Joe Dumars says he wants to re-sign Wallace, but the Pistons will probably have only about $10 million of cap space. If they use it on Wallace, they won't have it to match a likely offer for restricted free agent, and Dumars favorite, Mehmut Okur. Thus, Thursday night's Game 7 promises to be a defining moment in Wallace's career.

The Pistons don't expect Rasheed to take over the game and score 40 points. That's unrealistic. As talented as he is, Wallace has always been more comfortable as a complementary player. Also, he has clearly been affected by the plantar fasciitis in his left foot, an ailment that, at times, has left him limping around the court. Coach Larry Brown would probably be thrilled if Wallace provided 10 to 15 points, eight rebounds, a few assists and his usual tag-team defense with Big Ben Wallace down low.

But no matter the numbers, Wallace needs to play with force and focus. He needs to body up Kenyon Martin, protect the paint, and be active defending the pick-and-roll. And he needs to at least take an aggressive approach on offense to help lessen the pressure on Chauncey Billups and Rip Hamilton.

We know Wallace is unselfish on the court. We know he shuns the role of go-to guy. We know Brown and others will downplay Wallace's role as a scorer and credit him for playing hurt. Still, nobody forced Wallace to sign a contract that pays him $13 million this season. And with that sum comes a level of obligation. As an NBA "superstar," this is his time to produce. He has the talent, and his team needs him. Is Sheed worth another big investment by the Pistons? We'll find out tonight.

Once again the Sacramento Kings have nobody to blame but themselves. They blew a golden chance to jump on a jittery Minnesota Timberwolves team early in Game 7 and stumbed their way through a host of missed layups and free throws (missing 9 of 17 attempts).

Meanwhile, Marge Gunderson from the Fargo police department has been called in to locate the missing Peja Stojakovic, don't you know.

Still, it's hard not to feel sorry for Sacramento. As bad as the Kings played for most of Game 7, they hung in there until the end and had a chance to win. The fact that Chris Webber's game-tying 3-point attempt rimmed in and out only added to the misery quotient.

It seems like Sacramento has had nothing but bad luck in recent years. Sure, they choked to the Lakers in Game 7 in 2002, but it probably never would have come to that if Robert Horry's miracle shot hadn't gone down in Game 4. Last year, they lost Webber to a fluke knee injury in the conference semifinals against Dallas, leading to another premature exit from the playoffs. And this year they were one of the best teams all season until Webber came back and seemingly polluted their chemistry, which didn't improve after Bobby Jackson got hurt.

Kings fans can only hope that all of the disappointments serve as motivation in the offseason. Vlade Divac is the team's only major free agent, so Sacramento should have most of its key pieces back. With a couple minor personnel additions, they could still make one more NBA title run next season before their window of opportunity slams shut.

Veteran coach John MacLeod interviewed for the vacant Atlanta Hawks coaching position Wednesday. He met for four hours with GM Billy Knight and CEO Bernie Mullin. The Hawks already have talked to Mavs assistant Del Harris and reportedly plan to interview Sonics assistant Dwane Casey.

MacLeod, 66, is hoping to ride the success of other recent old-timers who've been hired for top coaching jobs. Though he hasn't been an NBA head coach since '91, he ranks 14th on the league's all-time victory list (707). He led the Suns to the NBA Finals in '76, and has spent the past two years as an associate head coach in Denver. "I've got a lot of juice. Sixty-six is just a number," MacLeod told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "How's [Federal Reserve Chairman] Alan Greenspan doing? All right? What about [Florida Marlins coach] Jack McKeon? [Kansas City Chiefs coach] Dick Vermeil? [Dallas Cowboys coach] Bill Parcells? Age is a state of mind. They want a veteran, experienced coach with a proven track record, and I've got that." Apparently, MacLeod felt he didn't even have to mention the one other noted old guy who did pretty well after a long layoff from the head coaching ranks: NBA Coach of the Year Hubie Brown.

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