Looking for trouble

Updated: February 19, 2004, 5:37 PM ET
By Mark Kreidler | Special to ESPN.com

This, of course, makes it official: Larry Brown misses Allen Iverson more than the man could ever bring himself to admit.

Rasheed Wallace
Larry Brown takes one look at Rasheed Wallace on the basketball court and sees a difference-maker.
If Brown didn't miss Iverson with a sore-hearted fury, then Rasheed Wallace maybe gets traded by Atlanta to some team other than the Detroit Pistons bunch that Brown currently coaches. Maybe Wallace doesn't get dealt at all, as other NBA franchises back slowly away from his undeniable talent in the harsh light of his penchant for constantly creating controversy, or at least being located by it.

Instead, Wallace finds himself bound for Detroit, and a coach who has a documented history of not backing away from trouble cases -- not when the tradeoff is some serious game. And clearly, there's a placid calm around that 34-22 Pistons team that just wrecks the dynamic Brown is looking for.

What can you say? The man loves creative tension.

And so he will get it. He'll get Iverson Redux in the person of Wallace, who managed to get himself shipped from a dead-dog franchise to a potential NBA Finalist for the simplest of reasons: There's a coach in Detroit who figures the production is worth the price.

Quick rundown of the price:

Money.

Migraines.

Mountains of potential problems.

Mustard aplenty.

Positively Iversonian, that is. And that's just it: A survey of the 76ers during Brown's era of alternately contentious and fraternal relations with the talented guard would lead one to conclude that, no matter how badly things flame out in the end, this Brown-Wallace pairing has the short-term potential to deliver in huge ways for a Detroit franchise still looking to get all the way through.

Larry Brown and Allen Iverson
After spending six tumultuous seasons with A.I., Larry Brown faces his next great challenge in 'Sheed.
Brown and Iverson nearly took each other apart, but their teams won and won. Brown may have gone slightly insane in dealing with Iverson -- and for Iverson, perhaps, vice versa -- but there's an Eastern Conference title to show for the constant friction. More often than not, the talent won out over the drama.

And sure, there are differences in the situations. Whereas Iverson often appeared (or felt) surrounded by players who were depending almost completely on him to lead the Sixers, Wallace comes to a Detroit franchise that, although lousy lately, won't be asking him to save it.

Ben Wallace, Rip Hamilton, Chauncey Billups -- the Pistons may have recently endured a six-game losing streak, but they're hardly bereft. They've got enough to contend for the Eastern Conference championship, and Brown and the front office know it. This deal doesn't happen otherwise. In Detroit, Rasheed Wallace becomes a part of an ongoing effort, not a newly charted direction.

What Brown and the Pistons get out of the deal couldn't be more obvious. Understand this: On his game, playing with any level of consistency, R. Wallace is one of the dominant big men in the league. He's a power forward who can play center, a center who can go out on the perimeter, a really, really large wingman who can get inside. Throw him in there anyplace you like. Wallace, though hardly flawless, will be fine.

Wallace himself? He gets the golden parachute of all golden parachutes. The man basically bad-acted himself out of Portland and away from a franchise that actively sought to build itself around him, only to endure disappointment after technical after embarrassment. Wallace eventually became the poster child for the Blazers' disintegration from Western Conference finalist to midseason afterthought, amid a pungent, smoke-filled haze.

And he got punished, or so it seemed. Wallace was traded to an Atlanta team that loses twice as many games as it wins, a franchise that has been down for so long you almost forget the Hawks once were the province of Dominique Wilkins and a bunch of fun, high-flying seasons. It would have been the kind of purgatory that might have forced 'Sheed to come to grips with how far his stock had fallen in the NBA because of his chronic inability to simply let his game do the talking.

We see now that that was the naïve view. Of course it was. The naïive view was the one that figured Wallace's behavioral patterns might be held against him on some sort of broad basis. The realistic view hews closer to this basic tenet: Talent almost always wins out.

Rasheed Wallace has talent to burn, the recent problem being that he has burned it so casually. Enter now Larry Brown, veteran of the A.I. Wars. Brown can expect this situation to be at times remarkably trying, at times rewarding, at times so frustrating he'll be ready to quit. What it won't be is unfamiliar, and if that doesn't explain the deal, nothing does.

Mark Kreidler is a columnist with the Sacramento Bee and a regular contributor to ESPN.com.

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