MILTON, Mass. -- Back in July, when the Boston Celtics formally introduced the players acquired from the Brooklyn Nets as part of this summer’s nine-player blockbuster swap, small forward Gerald Wallace was absent, excused from the press conference to attend the start of his youth basketball camp in his native Alabama.
Seventy-three days later, with training camp less than a week away, the former All-Star still hasn’t made an appearance at his new basketball home. So when a reporter noted to Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge on Tuesday that Wallace remains an intriguing figure because he hasn’t spoken to the media, Ainge smiled and offered, “I’m right there with you. I’m anxious to meet Gerald.”
The two crossed paths briefly a lifetime ago, when Wallace was a fresh-faced rookie in Sacramento and Ainge was doing TV work. Now, Ainge is presiding over his second Boston rebuild and 31-year-old Wallace is the heftiest contract on his books (three years, $30.3 million).
“I haven’t had much conversation with him. He’s really the only one,” said Ainge. “He’ll be in town, I think, next week.”
The Celtics open camp in Newport, R.I. on Oct. 1. Media day, when all players are typically available to reporters, is one day earlier at the team’s training facility in Waltham.
Now, don’t misconstrue. This doesn’t appear to be any sort of holdout situation. Ainge said it’s often difficult to track down players in the offseason, particularly veterans, noting, “It’s a nightmare trying to get ahold of the players in the summertime. I was the same way when I was a player.”
But with just about everyone else on Boston’s roster dropping by the team’s practice facility in recent weeks and others returning early for informal workouts, Ainge is most certainly eager to sit down with a player that’s due to earn $10.1 million next season.
It’s not an understatement to say that the speed at which the Celtics will navigate this rebuild/transition process hinges a great deal on Wallace. Boston needs him to play well, regardless of whether he spends three years here or not.
For his part, Ainge seems hopeful the Celtics can help rekindle Wallace’s game.
“I, obviously, have watched him play a lot of basketball,” said Ainge. “It’s interesting, Gerald was a guy that got a good contract in Charlotte, was their best player when they went to the playoffs [during the 2009-10 season], and that led to a big payday for him. He was traded for two first-round picks to Portland [and] played very well in Portland, to the point where New Jersey wanted to give away [the No. 3 pick] Damian Lillard to get him. And then New Jersey wanted him back enough to pay him a very lucrative contract.
“It seems that, everywhere he’s been, he’s been well-liked and well compensated. He’s a good player. It wasn’t a great fit for him in [Brooklyn] last year, but we’ll try to make it a better fit for us.”
Entering his 13th season in the league, the 6-foot-7 Wallace will be the most experienced player on Boston’s roster. The man nicknamed “Crash” is coming off the worst season of his pro career, his production crashing (7.7 points, 4.6 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.4 steals, 11.6 PER) as his minutes were slashed (30.1). For perspective, from 2004-2012, Wallace averaged 16.1 points, 7.4 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.8 assists over 36.7 minutes per game and was an All-Star in 2010 (a season in which he was among the league leaders in rebounding and minutes played).
So what happened? It’s hard to tell, because Wallace has changed addresses so frequently the past few seasons, traded three times in the span of 29 months.
The Celtics are hoping this change of scenery, and a chance to thrive on a young team free from high expectations, could reinvigorate Wallace, maybe even drive up his trade value. He’s still relatively young by NBA standards, even if his early entry to the league and full-throttle style of play make him seem older.
Advanced stats from last season don’t reflect well on Wallace. He averaged only 0.798 points per play, ranking in the 23rd percentile among all NBA players, according to Synergy Sports data. Among those with at least 600 offensive plays, he was 174th out of 178 players (one spot ahead of season-shortened Rajon Rondo and two spots ahead of Michael Beasley). A gritty wing defender, Wallace allowed 0.853 points per play, ranking in just the 56th percentile.
Boston must determine his role here. Is he a starter in a small lineup as the Celtics look to restore his confidence, or does he come off the bench to spell Jeff Green at the swingman spot?
From his dust-ups with Kevin Garnett last season, we know that Wallace is an instigator and those types of guys are generally endeared here. But it was his monster contract that left folks a bit leery of the Nets deal.
In a training camp with plenty of intrigue, Wallace will be under the spotlight he’s managed to avoid for much of the summer.
(Chris Forsberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ESPNForsberg. Hop HERE to submit a question for his Celtics Mailbag.)