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Ian Thomsen
March 01, 2004
Helping HandAs the team's second-best Wallace, Rasheed is a perfect fit in Detroit
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March 01, 2004

The Nba

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Helping Hand
As the team's second-best Wallace, Rasheed is a perfect fit in Detroit

The trail blazers believed they couldn't win with Rasheed Wallace. The Pistons are convinced that acquiring him in a three-team deal last Thursday has turned them into title contenders. Here's why Detroit's right

Rasheed can't lead. Portland failed to build around Wallace because he didn't want to tell teammates what to do and he didn't want to be the public face of the franchise. Despite his volatility, Wallace is a passive player who would rather fill a supporting role. The Pistons already have leaders in Chauncey Billups and Ben Wallace, which means that Rasheed won't even be the team's most important Wallace. As a complementary player on an already successful team, Rasheed will thrive.

He's now Mr. Popular. Wallace received a standing ovation as he made his Palace debut off the bench last Friday. Expect him to reciprocate with more energy than he showed in Portland. "It was great. It was all love," said Wallace of his reception, hinting that he'd heard—and been affected by—the boos he earned from Blazers fans. "It showed me that they wanted me."

In his mind, he's gone to Carolina. Wallace is close to two of Detroit's assistants, whom he knows from his two seasons at North Carolina: Dave Hanners was an assistant to Dean Smith, and Pat Sullivan was a teammate. Pistons coach Larry Brown, another former Tar Heel, has long coveted Wallace and was recommending him last season for the U.S. Olympic team—until Wallace threatened a referee after a game in Portland.

He's a perfect fit for Detroit's frontcourt. With 6'11" center Mehmet Okur, 6'9" Ben Wallace and the 6'11" Rasheed, who played small forward most of this season in Portland, Detroit becomes the only Eastern team with enough size to match up with the giants out West. All three can block shots, and both Wallaces are superb defenders. "If either of us gets in foul trouble," says Ben, "the other can switch onto the guy who's got the hot hand."

While most G.M.'s assemble their teams around one or two scorers, Joe Dumars has built a winning team without a true go-to guy. Rasheed is ideal for this unselfish system: He will augment one of the NBA's top D's and fill a glaring need for a post-up scorer. "And I didn't tear up my team to do this," says Dumars, who sent backups Bobby Sura and Zeljko Rebraca to the Hawks, for whom Wallace played one game.

Eastern rivals criticized Celtics G.M. Danny Ainge for making the seven-player trade possible by taking on the $4.2 million salary of former Detroit backup point guard Chucky Atkins, which will leave the Pistons with enough cap space this summer to re-sign either Okur or Wallace. Boston also got a No. 1 pick, $3 million and Lindsey Hunter (since put on waivers) from Detroit, while sending Mike James to the Pistons and Chris Mills—and his expiring $6.6 million contract—to Atlanta. "I believed that Rasheed was going to sign with New York or New Jersey this summer, and I didn't want him in my division," says Ainge. "I'd rather see him in Detroit, and I'm hoping that this gives the Pistons a better chance of signing him."

The East may now be decided by a pair of Portland transplants—Rasheed and the Pacers' Jermaine O'Neal. Throw in the revitalized Nets, and the conference is stronger than it's been since Michael Jordan left Chicago six years ago.

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