By Frank Hughes
February 01, 2010

You could make the argument that there has not been an All-Star like Charlotte forward Gerald Wallace in the last 20 years. And not because he is the first Bobcats player in franchise history to make the team.

Think about it: In the past two decades, how many players have created a balanced résumé -- one solid enough to garner an All-Star nod -- out of scrappiness and hustle? By my count: zero.

You could point out similarities, of course. Dennis Rodman, perhaps. But Rodman was there only because he was such a voracious rebounder and aggressive defender. When Rodman was at the height of his game, he almost disdained scoring.

Another possible comparison is Utah's Andrei Kirilenko, whose game is predicated on defense. But Kirilenko never has posted the type of numbers that Wallace is this year. Wallace is averaging 19.3 points and 11 rebounds in a league-leading 42.1 minutes, good enough for his first All-Star selection.

But let's face it: The All-Star Game is a pageant. It is for the game's beautiful players. The elegance of Kobe Bryant, the power of LeBron James, the deftness of Steve Nash, the physique of Dwight Howard.

Generally speaking, coaches who vote for the reserves are not inclined to include the league's ditch-diggers, though they'd probably all admit to wanting one on their team. It is a testament to a player like Wallace, then, that he has been able to shred his cloak of workingman and rise above the din to be regarded as an elite player.

Watch Wallace on the court and he is a whirling dervish, throwing around his body, flying at the rim, jumping once, twice, three times to continue tipping a ball until there is some sort of resolution to the play.

There is very little grace to his game. There is a reason, after all, he is nicknamed Crash. He doesn't really have a jump shot or a go-to move. Coach Larry Brown is not lining up plays for him. He just seems to run around the court and pile up statistics because his engine always permits him to be near the ball. It sounds simple. But it is an art form.

"That is why he is an All-Star," teammate Stephen Jackson said. "His athleticism is crazy. He goes after every rebound. Sometimes he almost gives me a concussion trying to take my rebound. But that is what he does well. I am happy I am his teammate because it is less rebounds I have to go after."

At only 6-foot-7, Wallace ranks seventh in the NBA in rebounding and third in defensive boards. Of the league's top 38 rebounders, Wallace is the only one under 6-9. He has the body of a shooting guard, but is averaging double-digit rebounds. The last player to accomplish that at that size was Shawn Marion, who made four All-Star teams in his peak years. But it's not an easy thing to sustain for a long duration.

"He has always been a good rebounder," Brown said. "But we are undersized at some positions, so he has taken it upon himself to be great. And most of his rebounds are defensive, so that is even more incredible to me because we are spread out."

It has taken Wallace nine years to earn an All-Star spot, unusual in a league in which the best of the best tend to make it early in their careers and become mainstays. (There have been others who followed a similar arc toward recognition, such as Denver's Chauncey Billups.) From riding on the bench those three years in Sacramento, to being picked as an expansion player by the Bobcats, to working with Bernie Bickerstaff and then Sam Vincent and now Brown, Wallace has toiled and continued to grow his game to the point where he is finally being recognized on a national level for his contributions.

"I feel like I worked for mine," Wallace said. "It was like a growing period for me so I appreciate it a whole lot more. Not saying I appreciate mine more than those guys appreciate theirs, but it is more special for me knowing what I have been through, my situation going through what I had to go through to get where I am now.

"You always think you can be one of the great players in this league. You always think you can accomplish more things with more time in this league. Here in Charlotte, they have given me the opportunity."

Because Wallace's game is designed one way, the Bobcats were not likely to be successful with him as their primary scorer. But when they added Jackson from Golden State -- giving up only Vladimir Radmanovic and the injured Raja Bell in the deal -- it provided the right combination of players to achieve wins: Jackson and Raymond Felton shoot, while Wallace gets out on the fast break, runs, rebounds and gets putbacks.

Since that deal in November, the Bobcats have gone 21-15 and are in sixth place in the Eastern Conference, validating Jackson's early contention that the Bobcats are a playoff team, which seemed laughable at the time.

"It took a lot of pressure off me to worry about scoring," Wallace said. "Defenses have to be focused on more options now with [Jackson] being able to create his own shots. He is a bigger threat and we are able to spread the floor and spread defenses."

Who knows how far the Bobcats can go? They are one game out of the fifth spot in the East, but they are also a half game from being the eighth seed. They are likely not built to compete against Cleveland and Orlando and possibly Atlanta, but Jackson's Warriors were not necessarily constructed to defeat the Mavericks in 2007, yet they pulled off that upset.

At the very least, Charlotte's recent surge of victories and Wallace's choice by the coaches as an All-Star is the next step in the slow process of franchise-building.

"He is just an incredible kid," Brown said. "He brings it every night. God gave him great motivation. Every drill we run, every possession we have, every practice we have -- it's always the same. It is like coaching Eric Snow and George Lynch and Tyrone Hill -- you know what you are going to get every night. It's an incredible feeling as a coach."

From around the league ...

When Stephen Jackson returned to Oakland for the first time since being traded, he could not resist taking a light shot at the Warriors, with whom his relationship became extremely ugly before he was shipped to Charlotte.

"A lot of times, when you aren't a winning organization, it has to be contagious from everybody," Jackson said. "It has to come from the top, from the coaches, from the locker room, from everybody. I don't think everybody had that I-want-to-win or I-am-confident-we-can-win feel from the whole organization. Some people did, some people didn't. In order to win, you have to have [everyone on board]."

It was pointed out to Jackson, however, that Charlotte has not exactly had a winning tradition since owners Robert Johnson and Michael Jordan have been in place.

"Everybody had the I-want-to-win attitude," Jackson said of when he first arrived in Charlotte. "It wasn't happening as much, but it was [headed] in the right direction. Everybody comes to games, everybody comes to practices knowing we can be a good team. That says a lot. That goes a long way."

Dell Curry, a former sharpshooter and the father of Golden State rookie Stephen Curry, is an analyst for Bobcats games. So when Charlotte had a two-day break on its recent road trip and spent the time in the desert, Dell flew from Phoenix to the Bay Area to catch up with his son.

And then he spent Friday night sitting courtside and breaking down his son's game on the broadcast.

"One time I was stretching and I forgot he was sitting there and I looked up and he scared me," said Stephen, who has been invited to participate in the rookie-sophomore challenge at All-Star weekend. "It was good to see him and spend time with him. Now he has to go back out on the road and do his job."

Hornets forward David West recently was sitting in the locker room grousing about how the Grizzlies essentially handed the Lakers their championship by trading them Pau Gasol.

"Pau Gasol for Javaris Crittenton. Damn," West said.

The trade wasn't exactly that one-sided. The Grizzlies also got Kwame Brown, Aaron McKie, the rights to Marc Gasol and two first-round draft picks. But the spirit of what West was saying was understood.

Of course, this came on the heels of New Orleans trading Bobby Brown and Rasual Butler to the Clippers, Devin Brown to Chicago and Hilton Armstrong to Sacramento, all of which was designed to get the Hornets under the luxury-tax threshold.

"As long as you don't ever lose sight of the fact that it's a business, you are OK," West said. "All that other stuff -- feelings, what may or may not work for your team -- you have to understand that it is a business, and the bottom line is the only line."

For that reason, West said he can foresee some superstars changing teams this summer in free agency.

"You got to take care of your business side because teams and organizations are going to do what benefits them," West said. "When it is time for free agency, you have to do what is best for you and not worry about emotions."

Carlos Boozer knows this lesson all too well.

The Kings, the city of Sacramento and the league all recently unveiled their umpteenth plan to get the team a new building to replace Arco Arena, which, while dilapidated, remains one of the best places to see an NBA game. The complex plan will involve private investors and a land swap that will allow an arena to be built closer to downtown.

Stuck in the middle of this story, however, was one item that sources tell me may be its ultimate undoing: The Kings will be required to pay $300 million in a 30-year lease. Ten million dollars a year in rent. That's about a quarter million dollars a game just to open the building.

"That would be on the very high end of what other teams around the league are paying," one league executive said. "I don't see how they would make that work.

The Maloofs already face inherent challenges in the Sacramento market, namely that state government is the key business and there are very few major corporations with the ability to provide sponsorship money. On top of that, getting any arena or stadium built in the state of California right now is a massive challenge.

While Mayor Kevin Johnson's energy and support for a new building should be applauded, I'm skeptical of this deal ever getting off the ground.

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