BOSTON — Considering where Gerald Wallace’s mindset was when he arrived in a trade last summer, Saturday should have been the happiest day for him in a long time. His season with the Boston Celtics was finally over, an unbearable rebuilding season mercifully cut short.
Only, Wallace wasn’t thrilled. He wasn’t eager to leave a team wallowing near the bottom of the Eastern Conference. After he goes under the knife for surgery on his left knee and ankle next week, Wallace even plans to stick around for a while.
Speaking at his locker prior to the Celtics’ game against the Indiana Pacers, looking relaxed in a gray suit, Wallace said he enjoyed his time in Boston — and is looking forward to getting back in uniform next season. So, what changed?
“The only thing that changed is what didn’t change,” Wallace said. “I didn’t move. I didn’t get traded. I talked to Danny. I had a great conversation with Danny at the beginning of the season about the role he wanted me to play on this team, things he wanted me to do, the experience and the leadership he wanted me to bring to this locker room.
“Once you get around it and get around these guys, basketball is basketball. It always brings out the fun in you, and these guys make it that much easier.”
Wallace, somewhat surprisingly, got off to a rocky start in Boston. Really, he should have been a fan favorite from the start. Instead, after he was acquired in the trade that sent Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to the Brooklyn Nets, fans perceived Wallace’s decision not to appear for a post-trade press conference as a sign he didn’t want to play for the Celtics. They also saw his outlandish price tag, $10 million per season through 2016, as a salary cap albatross.
Yet Wallace never held any ill will toward the Celtics. He just wasn’t keen on going through another rebuilding job at 31 years old. And he wasn’t going to give any of the money back.
Then a funny thing happened. Wallace began to like it here, and his teammates came to like him — a lot, in fact.
“You’ve got a lot of guys playing hard regardless of who’s out there,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “They want to play hard with him out. We owe that to him.”
In mid-February, just as Wallace began to feel at home — which was reflected in his improved performance — he felt a pain in the back of his left knee that wouldn’t go away. Soreness in his knees is normal, but typically it went away when he started playing. This pain didn’t. The All-Star break gave him a chance to rest and he came back with only a little bit of back stiffness, which he jokingly admitted was caused by drinking too many “sodas.”
After five games, though, the knee pain returned. When an MRI was scheduled to look at his left ankle, to make sure the bone chips he had been playing through weren’t causing damage, he asked them to look at his knee, too. The discovery: a torn meniscus. Season over.
Some time next week, possibly Tuesday, Wallace will undergo surgery for the first time in his career. (That’s borderline shocking, considering his all-out style of play.) Doctors told him he would need 2-4 months of recovery time, he said, after which he will hit the gym hard to prepare for next season.
And there will be a next season. Depending on how this offseason plays out, Wallace’s return may or may not come with the Celtics. He won’t mind if it does. As shaky as his tenure in Boston started, another season in green doesn’t sound so bad to him after this one, win-loss record aside.
“It’s been great,” Wallace said. “The experience has been fun. Losing sucks, but I feel we’re a lot better than our record shows. We’ve had some ups and downs, not only from the players but also from the coaching staff as well. Everybody was learning, everybody made adjustments, but I thought, for the most part, it’s been a great season.”