When the Pistons traded for Rasheed Wallace in 2004, I wasn’t too excited. He seemed erratic, temperamental and like a trouble-maker.
But he had an expiring contract. If he flamed out, he’d be gone in half a year. So, I wasn’t too disappointed, either.
I still remember seeing the clip of him going into the Pistons’ locker room for the first time. Darvin Ham went up to him and hugged him. I know it didn’t have much meaning, but that smooth first encounter was a relief.
But I should have seen it coming. I didn’t realize Sheed was such a great teammate (Every time Detroit went to Atlanta, where Sheed played one game between his stints the Trail Blazers and Pistons, there would be interviews of Hawks players raving about Sheed as teammate. One game!)
Soon, I was learning a lot more about Sheed that I didn’t know:
- He’s unselfish and an excellent passer for his size.
- He’s a very smart player.
- His length gives him nearly unstoppable post moves.
- He didn’t want to be the man.
- He had an intense desire to win and his technicals usually raised his level of play.
And I learned how good the Pistons could be with Sheed. He was the perfect fit. Detroit started rolling after acquiring him – all the way to the NBA Finals against the Lakers.
Nobody gave the Pistons a chance against Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, Karl Malone and Gary Payton. But Sheed opened Game One with a 3-pointer. He was so confident and the shot came so quick.
All of a sudden it seemed possible. The Pistons could play on this stage and wouldn’t be intimidated.
Sheed’s confidence was infectious (just like his whining would become). Detroit would have been dead in the water without him. With him, they demolished L.A. in five games.
Detroit returned to the Finals again the next year. But Sheed doubled Manu Ginobili in the closing seconds of Game Five – leaving Robert Horry open for the game-winning 3-pointer. The Spurs eventually won in seven games.
Every year after that, the Pistons’ title hopes centered on Sheed being remotivated or in better shape. But Sheed never regained his form for an entire regular season and playoffs.
He always struck me as someone who wanted to win more than anything but didn’t always know how to do that. But last season, that wasn’t him. He showed minimal desire to win.
Wallace’s tenure in Detroit ended how many feared it would when he first arrived.
- He moped.
- His scoring, field-goal percentage, PER and win shares were the lowest since his rookie year.
- He scored 13 points in the final three games of Cleveland’s first-round sweep of the Pistons, including none in the final game. And he didn’t shoot a free throw all series.
- Most disappointingly, he was noticeably slower on defensive rotations.
At his best, Sheed was fun. He danced before games (and sometimes during and after). He was always joking around on the bench. And he had championship belts made for everyone after the Pistons won the championship.
But he wore out his welcome in Detroit. He’ll be 35 at the beginning of next season, and he doesn’t fit into the rebuilding plan.
I don’t think he’s too old to help a team. I think he got worn down from being in Portland too long. And that happened in Detroit, too.
There were other problems here.
No coach challenged Sheed like Larry Brown, who demanded Sheed play in the post. But Sheed respected Brown and listened to him. Unsurprisingly, Sheed played his best basketball under Brown.
I think Kevin Garnett will get similar results from Sheed. Besides maybe San Antonio, Boston is the best place for Sheed. He wants to win, and he wants to play hard.
But he needs it demanded from him. After Brown left, that never happened in Detroit.
Were his final years wasted in Detroit? Did his physical gifts just wear down while nobody held him accountable?
In Boston, he has the best chance to flourish. There will be no more excuses for his limitations. This is the situation Sheed has talked about for a long time (and one he surely wishes he had his final years in Detroit).
Ball don’t lie.