A Talent Too Tempting
Despite his latest screwup, many teams still covet Rasheed Wallace
IS RASHEED WALLACE a lost cause? The answer from many G.M.'s is a resounding no. Though he was in the midst of a seven-game suspension last week for allegedly threatening referee Tim Donaghy—the longest suspension the league has ever handed out for a case not involving violence or drugs—that hasn't soured too many executives on the Trail Blazers' 6'11" power forward. Says one Western Conference G.M., "There'll always be somebody who will covet him because of his talent."
Wallace's suspension began only seven weeks after he and Portland point guard Damon Stoudamire were cited for misdemeanor possession of mari-juana. (Both players pleaded not guilty and a court hearing has been postponed until Feb. 18.) His run-in with Donaghy on Jan. 15 came after Wallace had apparently reined in his temper—five technical fouls through 37 games, down from 27 last season—and after a Portland victory over the Grizzlies in which he'd scored a season-high 38 points on l6-of-20 shooting. Still, Wallace confronted Donaghy, who had given him a T, on the Rose Garden's loading docks. Eyewitnesses say Wallace cocked his fist and, when the ref recoiled, said, "You better flinch, you
motherf------ punk.... I am going to kick your f------ ass." (Wallace denies that he threatened Donaghy with his fist, and the players' union plans to appeal his suspension, which, if it stands, will cost him $1.26 million in salary.)
Wallace's suspension left the Blazers without their leading scorer (17.4 points per game) and rebounder (8.1) at a time when the team was surging. He currently makes $16.2 million, and his contract will provide $17 million in salary-cap relief when it expires after next season. There would be many takers if Blazers G.M. Bob Whitsitt were willing to unload Wallace, but Trader Bob (who did not return calls from SI) does not do fire sales. Nor does Wallace want to be dealt, according to a close friend, who notes that Wallace lives year-round in Portland because he and his wife feel it is the best place to raise their three children.
Some rivals believe that Wallace would be helped greatly if he moved to a franchise that provided him more guidance. They point to Dennis Rodman as a player who won five championships when demands were made on him but bombed when he was allowed to do as he pleased. "Rasheed needs structure," says a rival team executive who believes Whitsitt doesn't take enough of a hands-on approach with his players. "He needs to know what's at stake and that people [he works for] are there with him."
Some believe even that wouldn't help. When asked if he'd want Wallace, one Western Conference general manager said, "Probably not. It would be difficult for our guys to put up with. They would feel he was putting himself ahead of the team." Another G.M. concurs, saying, "There's enough poison in this league."
But those two represent the minority view. It shouldn't be surprising that many teams would look past a player's bad behavior if they thought he could improve their fortunes on the court (see Latrell Sprewell). At 28, Wallace has the rare ability to score in the half-court or on the run, on the block or from the three-point line. He is unselfish almost to a fault, not caring how many points he scores or even whether he starts or comes off the bench. "Believe it or not," says one of Wallace's former NBA coaches, "he is more likely to be upset by injustices to other people than to himself."
Hawks at the Trade Deadline
Waiting to Explode
For the second time in three seasons, Hawks G.M. Pete Babcock is hoping to make a major move before the Feb. 20 midseason trade deadline. If he can't pull the trigger, though, he might be forced to blow his team up and start over. "There's nobody more aggressive than we are," says Babcock, who in 2001 sent Dikembe Mutombo to the 76ers in a six-player deal that netted Theo Ratliff, Toni Kukoc and Nazr Mohammed.
No one can accuse Babcock of sitting on his hands: Since the Mutombo deal he has traded for forwards Shareef Abdur-Rahim and Glenn Robinson, and on Dec. 26 he replaced coach Lon Kruger with assistant Terry Stotts. Yet Atlanta was 16-28 at week's end (5-12 under Stotts) and ranked 28th in attendance (11,858 per game). The Hawks were averaging 17.5 turnovers, fourth-worst in the league, and almost half of them were coming from their front line of former All-Stars: Robinson (3.7 per game), Abdur-Rahim (2.8) and Ratliff (1.8). "We often get the ball to our big men out on the three-point line, and they wind up putting the ball on the floor more than we'd like," says Babcock, who is trying to acquire a complementary ball handler to take pressure off point guard Jason Terry and settle down the offense.