The Trail Blazers believed they couldn't win with Rasheed
Wallace. The Pistons are convinced that acquiring him in a
three-team deal last Thursday has turned them into title
contenders. Here's why Detroit's right.
Rasheed can't lead. Portland failed to build around Wallace
because he didn't want to tell teammates what to do and he didn't
want to be the public face of the franchise. Despite his
volatility, Wallace is a passive player who would rather fill a
supporting role. The Pistons already have leaders in Chauncey
Billups and Ben Wallace, which means that Rasheed won't even be
the team's most important Wallace. As a complementary player on
an already successful team, Rasheed will thrive.
He's now Mr. Popular. Wallace received a standing ovation as he
made his Palace debut off the bench last Friday. Expect him to
reciprocate with more energy than he showed in Portland. "It was
great. It was all love," said Wallace of his reception, hinting
that he'd heard--and been affected by--the boos he earned from
Blazers fans. "It showed me that they wanted me."
In his mind, he's gone to Carolina. Wallace is close to two of
Detroit's assistants, whom he knows from his two seasons at North
Carolina: Dave Hanners was an assistant to Dean Smith, and Pat
Sullivan was a teammate. Pistons coach Larry Brown, another
former Tar Heel, has long coveted Wallace and was recommending
him last season for the U.S. Olympic team--until Wallace
threatened a referee after a game in Portland.
He's a perfect fit for Detroit's frontcourt. With 6'11" center
Mehmet Okur, 6'9" Ben Wallace and the 6'11" Rasheed, who played
small forward most of this season in Portland, Detroit becomes
the only Eastern team with enough size to match up with the
giants out West. All three can block shots, and both Wallaces are
superb defenders. "If either of us gets in foul trouble," says
Ben, "the other can switch onto the guy who's got the hot hand."
While most G.M.'s assemble their teams around one or two scorers,
Joe Dumars has built a winning team without a true go-to guy.
Rasheed is ideal for this unselfish system: He will augment one
of the NBA's top D's and fill a glaring need for a post-up
scorer. "And I didn't tear up my team to do this," says Dumars,
who sent backups Bobby Sura and Zeljko Rebraca to the Hawks, for
whom Wallace played one game.
Eastern rivals criticized Celtics G.M. Danny Ainge for making the
seven-player trade possible by taking on the $4.2 million salary
of former Detroit backup point guard Chucky Atkins, which will
leave the Pistons with enough cap space this summer to re-sign
either Okur or Wallace. Boston also got a No. 1 pick, $3 million
and Lindsey Hunter (since put on waivers) from Detroit, while
sending Mike James to the Pistons and Chris Mills--and his
expiring $6.6 million contract--to Atlanta. "I believed that
Rasheed was going to sign with New York or New Jersey this
summer, and I didn't want him in my division," says Ainge. "I'd
rather see him in Detroit, and I'm hoping that this gives the
Pistons a better chance of signing him."
The East may now be decided by a pair of Portland
transplants--Rasheed and the Pacers' Jermaine O'Neal. Throw in
the revitalized Nets, and the conference is stronger than it's
been since Michael Jordan left Chicago six years ago.