"Sheed is going to be Sheed no matter what. And that can go either way,'' Chauncey Billups said.
They won a championship together in 2004. They nearly won another in 2005 and were teammates for five years in Detroit. Billups had mostly positive things to say about Rasheed Wallace in the wake of yet another underwhelming performance by the Celtics' prize free agent of 2009 (2 points, 3 rebounds, 4 fouls in 15 minutes in the Celtics' 113-99 victory over the Denver Nuggets).
But, Billups also knows we have not seen anything close to what we had hoped to see from No. 30. Let's just put it this way: Wallace need not worry about saving space on the trophy shelf for the NBA Sixth Man Award this season.
"He's not the player athletically that he was in '04 or even in '05 or '06,'' Billups said. "Mentally, he's always been a smart player and I don't think he's lost that. But this is kind of how he was last year in Detroit [when he basically packed it in]. I don't know what you all were expecting."
I don't know. Maybe a big game every once in a while?
To say that Wallace has been uninspiring is to state the obvious. The Celtics won't admit to that publicly, of course. Doc Rivers said Wallace has been about "50-50,'' which means you never, ever want to go to Vegas with the Celtics coach. President of basketball operations Danny Ainge at first refused to talk about Wallace, then conceded that Wallace's shooting hasn't been as good as he'd hoped (40 percent from the field, 28 percent from 3-point land) while lauding Wallace for his interior defense.
But that's where it stopped. There was no mention of Wallace's preference for the outside shot versus the inside shot. He has attempted 570 field goals, 266 of which have been 3-pointers. There was no mention of Wallace's inability to defend the pick-and-roll, his tendency to treat every opponent who drives to the basket as if he were a priceless artifact, or the fact Wallace has not been close to the impact player the Celtics thought they'd signed.
Hey, everyone liked the Wallace signing. I did. I thought it was a great addition. The combination of Wallace's intelligence, experience and, well, talent (or so we thought) made this one a no-brainer. But after 71 games, Wallace has been inconsequential. His one big game of the season (29 points against Toronto on Jan. 10) was followed by a three-game absence due to a sore foot.
Since then? There have been a lot of efforts like the Denver game, where there might as well have been an impostor wearing his uniform. (Then again, the Celtics didn't need him.) He watched Anthony Carter blow by him for a layup, then came down on the next possession and missed a trey. He watched Nene pick the ball off the floor in a scramble and lay it in. Wasn't his defense supposed to be one of his strengths?
"It's clear he isn't in shape,'' offered ESPN analyst Jon Barry. "And why he doesn't spend more time down low, where he can be unstoppable, is a mystery to me."
It's a mystery to all of us, JB. Watching Wallace line up a 3-pointer is such a painful sight that it almost makes you yearn for the days of Antoine Walker. Almost.
Rivers said he thinks Wallace is finally getting into shape (after 71 games, that is encouraging) and added, "For the first time in his career, he is coming off the bench and that is a huge adjustment after you've started for so many years. Before, he could ease into things. Now, he has do it in less minutes and that's not easy."
We can buy that for November, December and even January. But it's nearing April and it's still a struggle for the guy?
Rivers said, "He's had some great games for us. And he's had some games where we'd have liked him to play better. But the bad games are starting to be less and less and the good games are starting to be more and more."
That's Doc's story and he's sticking to it.
But April also brings out the playoffs, and that is where the Celtics hope Wallace will make it all worthwhile and make everyone forget the uninspiring regular season. As Billups noted, "Sheed is a winner. He's all about winning. He doesn't care if he scores two points or 22 points as long as the team wins.
"He knows the importance of certain games and he is usually locked in more for the playoffs,'' Billups went on. Then he paused, and added, "But the older you get, the tougher it is to turn on that switch. Not just for Sheed, but for all of us."
Longtime Celtics reporter Peter May is a contributor to ESPNBoston.com.