If Oregon state troopers happen to spot a Hummer speeding down the highway with clouds of smoke billowing out of small cracks in the windows, they can now be reasonably sure that Rasheed Wallace isn’t puffing away inside.
As of late Monday night, he is officially the problem of the state of Georgia, at least until April. The law enforcement community in the Pacific Northwest has one less miscreant to occupy its time. And followers of the Portland Trail Blazers can toss confetti and use their noisemakers, because happy days are here again.
On Monday, the Trail Blazers traded Wallace and Wesley Person to the moribund Atlanta Hawks in exchange for three players – Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Theo Ratliff and Dan Dickau. Abdur-Rahim is a superb player who is also a credit to the planet. Ratliff is a former All-Star center who blocks a lot of shots. Dickau was a phenom while at Gonzaga, but has yet to find his NBA niche.
Wallace will be a free agent after the Hawks’ final game at Boston on April 14. Despite his checkered past, you can be sure some front-office ignoramus will ink him to a hefty contract, forgetting that having Rasheed on your team is like inviting cancer to invade your lymph nodes. If he isn’t getting busted with hippie lettuce in his pockets, he’s getting thrown out of games because of an inability to control his inner demons. Then there was his rant earlier this year about how dimwitted young players are being bamboozled by the NBA establishment. Apparently Wallace’s long-range career goals involve alienating the broadest range of people possible.
Therefore, this is a fabulous deal for the Blazers and a nothing move for Atlanta.
Some people in this world achieve fame and wealth far beyond their meager talents. Then there is Abdur-Rahim, who has endured the opposite curse. He toiled in relative obscurity first for the then-Vancouver Grizzlies, and was eventually traded to the Hawks. He is a magnificent all-around performer who can score and rebound – and serve as a leader by example in the process. He plays hard, he plays with passion and he’s a good citizen. If this were simply a straight-up swap of Rasheed for Shareef, Portland still could boast of getting the big half.
Ratliff helps the Blazers primarily because they now have a defensive presence in the paint. He will challenge shots, and his activity in the lane will spark the rest of the Blazers’ defense. Whatever offense he can muster – he is averaging about eight points a game – will be a bonus. As for Dickau, he is a throw-in who may be playing in Turkey or Brazil in the near future, but maybe a change of scenery and mood will bring out his inner John Stockton.
As for Wesley Person, he is a vagabond swingman now with his fifth team in 10 years who may serve as a capable reserve in Atlanta.
But the crux of the exchange involves Rasheed, because he grew to represent the crime wave that often passes for a typical Trail Blazers season.
Last summer, the Blazers made a promise to their fans that they would rehabilitate the team’s image. The first move came on Dec. 4, when Bonzi Wells was traded to Memphis. Since Rasheed was set to be a free agent, his status was the next issue to be addressed in the renaissance.
After Monday’s trade, Trail Blazers president Steve Patterson trumpeted a plan that would “take character into account with talent, create cap flexibility while continuing to put a competitive team on the court.” Yet that rings a bit hollow if the club indeed presented Rasheed with a contract extension. The Blazers may be taking too much credit for taking the high road, when all they really might have done was move a player who denied their efforts to re-sign him.
Make no mistake. Wallace is a talented player. It’s agonizing for a club to part with one of the premier power forwards in the NBA, somebody who is good for 17 points and seven rebounds per game. But his off-the-court antics have overshadowed any benefits he has produced during work hours on the floor. And he is unrepentant. He is like Mike Tyson at a press conference. You never know what ugliness might erupt at any moment.
And even with Wallace in the lineup, the Blazers were underachieving this year. Zach Randolph has taken over Wallace’s spot, and Wallace has moved over to the pivot. With Abdur-Rahim and Ratliff on the squad, they could now have a frontcourt of Randolph, Shareef and Ratliff. The Blazers are a disappointing 24-25 and currently tied with Utah for ninth in the West. With a new purpose, they could make a run at the No. 8 spot.
As for the Hawks, they get some cap room after the season, since it seems likely Wallace will not want to remain with a wretched franchise going through a rebuilding process during an ownership transition in a town that loves NBA basketball as much as it loves bobsledding.
It was predicted that the Blazers would eventually rid themselves of Rasheed Wallace. Getting Shareef Abdur-Rahim and Theo Ratliff in return is a valentine to Portland fans who grew more frustrated with each entry on the crime blotter.
Now they can either trade Damon Stoudamire to complete the process, or point out to him that there’s nobody left for him to party with.
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