Player Capsules 2012, #355-357: Rasheed Wallace, Zach Randolph, Marcin Gortat

As our summer mainstay, Aaron was writing a 370-part series discussing almost every notable player who was -- as of last season -- getting minutes in the NBA. As the leaves turn frosty, this quixotic quest of a series has happily reached the last full week. Not quite done yet, but close. Today we continue with Rasheed Wallace, Zach Randolph, and Marcin Gortat.

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Follow Rasheed Wallace by yelling "BALL DON'T LIE!" at your next office potluck.

“You know, I say what’s on my mind, speaking my freedom, and I get fined for it. It’s a catch-22 with that (expletive), man. See, they think they can control people with money. Everybody don’t live like that.”

Did Rasheed Wallace care?

When you examine Wallace's game, you find a man whose talents were generational. He had the opportunity at several junctures to be one of the greatest to ever play the game. And don't scoff -- it's true. Rasheed's combination of post dominance, defensive acuity, and outside game were absolutely unfair. He was one of about 3 post defenders in the past decade who could cover Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan one-on-one. When he locked in, he was an excellent rotating defender. He could reign in his errant shooting in a tense playoff situation, and when he actually focused on taking it down low, he was excellent. His only flaws were those of effort -- he never quite seemed to care exactly as much in the regular season as he did in the playoffs, and even in the playoffs, there was a certain devil-may-care attitude that permeated his game and demeanor to the point of sabotaging his public persona. At least to some extent.

There's a reason fans of Portland's Jail Blazer era generally don't love Rasheed as much as everyone else does, and it's certainly not baseless racism. As good as Rasheed Wallace was in his prime, there's this lingering sense that he could've been quite a bit better. It's the same sense people get when they look at Shaquille O'Neal and wonder on how good he could've been if he hadn't eschewed practice and come in out-of-shape every other season, or the same sense people in Toronto get when they look at a player like Hedo Turkoglu or Vince Carter. The allure of unearthed brilliance is great -- there's a deep disappointment to be had when you see a level of play within a player's grasp that they never cared to reach. There's a sad, hollow death knell to a career riddled with those kinds of questions. All careers have a few things the player never finished -- few careers have quite as many unanswered questions as Rasheed or Shaq, and as such, they inspire our lament. But it's a compelling lament. It's one that makes you think, and makes you wonder why exactly he turned out that way. Did he simply not care?

When I examine his personal bent, though, I come to a different conclusion. He cared. Rasheed Wallace is a cult phenomenon for a reason, and it isn't his dominant generational talents. It's the way he composed himself, and specifically, the philosophy behind it. The classic conception is that Rasheed Wallace never cared what you or anyone else thought of him -- on the contrary, I propose he cared a lot. He simply didn't care how you thought of him. He simply cared that he was thought of at all. He cared that he'd be remembered for his larger-than-life personality, no matter what that meant exactly to his reputation. Rasheed Wallace, when all's said and done, didn't want to be Kevin Garnett. He didn't want to be Tim Duncan, Hakeem Olajuwon, or Moses Malone. He wanted his imprint on the league to be distinctly Rasheed-shaped, Pilsbury style. Yes, he could've worked harder and gotten into shape and demanded the ball more. He could've been a better player, certainly. But Rasheed Wallace got his ring. He was the best (or second best) player on years and years of great teams. And you know what? That's enough.

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