Wallace a positive force despite adversity

Updated: April 19, 2004, 6:56 PM ET
Associated Press

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- With the shot clock winding down, the ball was knocked out of Rasheed Wallace's hands. He grabbed it and hoisted an off-balance 3-pointer that went in.

Just like that, the Milwaukee Bucks learned what plenty of NBA teams already knew: The Detroit Pistons are even tougher to beat now that they have Wallace.

The 6-foot-11 power forward has made one of the NBA's top defenses one of the best in league history. He's turned an average offense into a good one. And the Pistons have become a title contender since they traded for him two months ago.

Wallace has even kept his infamous temper in check.

"'Sheed is a terrific teammate and has been a great person for us," Pistons president of basketball operations Joe Dumars said Monday. "He's the most unselfish player I've seen in years.

"We have made it very clear that we would like to re-sign Rasheed, and we will do what it takes."

Wallace is in the final year of a contract that pays him $17 million this season, but he has refused to speculate on his future.

"I'm not even thinking about that," he said.

Detroit picked up Wallace in a three-team deal just before the trading deadline after he played one game for Atlanta, which acquired him from Portland a week earlier. He joined a team 12 games over .500, and helped it win 21 of its last 25 games, including Sunday's Game 1 of the first-round playoff series against the Bucks.

Milwaukee's last regular-season game against Detroit was Feb. 18, the day before the Pistons got Wallace. He had 17 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks in Detroit's 108-82 victory Sunday.

"He does it on both ends of the floor for them," Milwaukee's Joe Smith said. "He can do it in the post, he can take you outside to 3-point range. And defensively, that's another long body that you have to worry about."

The Pistons said they were not worried about Wallace's checkered past when they traded for him.

Wallace, who broke his own NBA record with 41 technical fouls during the 2000-01 season, was suspended for seven games last season for threatening an official after a game. That was the league's longest suspension for something that didn't involve physical contact or substance abuse.

Last season, he and former teammate Damon Stoudamire were cited on marijuana charges while returning from a game in Seattle.

Wallace's new teammates and coaches rave about him as a player and person, but past transgressions have shaped his public image.

"My teammates and coaches know me better because I open up more to them," Wallace said. "As far as the media, if it was up to me, I wouldn't answer none of these ... questions."

And Wallace has reined himself in, averaging 19 technicals a season over the past three seasons, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. With the Pistons, he is averaging one T every six games.

Pistons coach Larry Brown said it's unfortunate that Wallace has the reputation he does.

"Instead of people talking about what a good teammate he is, how coachable he is and what a good family man he is with his wife and four kids, they focus on the other stuff," Brown said. "Sometimes all of his technicals are focused on, instead of the improvements he's made in that regard."

The two-time All-Star has averaged 16 points and 6.7 rebounds during his nine-season career. His scoring is down in Detroit, but his contribution is not. With him, the Pistons gave up fewer points, scored more and had more assists, steals and blocks.

Also, the Pistons have a newfound swagger thanks to Wallace's demonstrative ways -- even while he's on the bench.

"He's real vocal and emotional," guard Chauncey Billups said. "I'm not all that vocal and emotional, Ben [Wallace] is not, Rip [Hamilton] is not, and Tayshaun [Prince] is not.

"We were already an elite team before he got here, but we're definitely better and we have more credibility with Rasheed."


Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press

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