The regular season hasn't yet started, but the Celtics' problems have already begun. Following a 104-89 preseason loss to Minnesota on Sunday, Gerald Wallace -- a hard-working veteran on a rebuilding team -- saw reason to criticize his teammates' general lack of effort. From A. Sherrod Blakely of CSNNE (via PBT):
"Guys are out there being selfish, and their opponents are playing with effort, giving their all regardless of how the night is going," said Wallace who led the Celtics with 16 points. "Tonight we ran into another team that wanted the game more than we did. And they came and played like it. We had some good spurts, but when it came down to it they were determined to win the game and we (weren't)."
...Wallace added, "We're professionals. So our main thing is, you should go out every night and want to win. It shouldn't be a question of the effort. You're going to miss shots. You're going to turn the ball over. Things aren't going to go your way. But it shouldn't be because you're not playing hard, you're not giving your all."
...Said Wallace: "We got what, one more preseason game before this thing really starts up? So if guys think they can wait until the Toronto game (on Oct. 30) and turn the switch on, it's not that easy in this league. You have to start building yourself up, get some momentum going into it. We're not doing that right now."
Wallace hints at a challenging truth here, one that rebuilding teams across the league will face this season. Those teams that begin their season as sure lottery clubs -- the Sixers, Suns, Celtics for example -- lack for that most basic motivation, as a playoff berth is likely out of reach. While those franchises are using this season to build toward better ends, none among them is earnestly looking to maximize its win total. It behooves them to be bad; thoroughly bottoming out can bring a high draft pick and cap flexibility, both of which are invaluable in rebooting a franchise. In many cases, teams must withstand such losing seasons for the sake of a long-term good. That makes plenty of sense over the long run, but it's a hard sell at the beginning of the season.
While the Celtics may ultimately be better off after a year in the basement, that prospect will likely do little to motivate those suiting up for Boston in short order. Wallace will playing hard through the wins and losses both, but some other players on the roster might not be so inclined to put forth their best toward such a dreary cause. There lies the trouble in "building a winning culture." It's hard to keep players engaged when there's so little interest in the team's day-to-day performance. With no pressure come no stakes. Yet that's exactly what first-time NBA head coach Brad Stevens has been called to do in Boston, all while he gets himself up to speed regarding the intricacies of the pro game. There are a handful of veterans on Boston's roster, but none as accomplished as Wallace nor as wholeheartedly committed to the art of hustling. That puts him in a unique position with this particular team at this juncture. Under those circumstances, having a committed pro like Wallace around can only help. He was miserable on the court for Brooklyn last season, and still has three years and $30.3 million remaining on a bloated contract -- the kind which Boston would undoubtedly ship away if given the opportunity. But so long as he's a Celtic, Wallace could be a valuable leader on a team that sorely needs them.