- Chris Forsberg, Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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BOSTON -- Boston Celtics veteran swingman Gerald Wallace sat at his locker before Wednesday's game against the Atlanta Hawks wearing a white surgical glove and smeared Flexall 454 all over his knees. For a man nicknamed "Crash," this simply seemed like the cost of business after 13 bump-filled seasons in the NBA.
The 31-year-old Wallace learned a day later that lingering soreness in his left knee was actually the result of a torn meniscus that will require season-ending surgery.
This is, impossibly, his first trip under the knife.
Wallace's first season in Boston neither started nor finished quite the way he desired, but Wallace made the most of his 58 appearances and maybe even won over some fans in the process with his style of play.
Wallace, traded for the third time in 30 months this past summer, struggled initially with the idea of being dealt to a Celtics team entering a rebuild. He holed up in his native Alabama throughout the summer and didn't emerge until just before the start of training camp at the end of September.
Even still, Wallace's gritty style and versatility quickly endeared him to first-year Celtics coach Brad Stevens, who leaned on him in a variety of positions and roles. In his final game of the season on Wednesday, Wallace was asked to play minutes at the power forward position with Boston's frontcourt decimated by injuries, and the veteran responded with a 12-point, 10-rebound effort in a win over the Hawks.
Lounging in a chair in front of his locker before Saturday's visit from the Indiana Pacers and addressing the abrupt end to his season, Wallace said the 2013-14 campaign had been more enjoyable than he expected.
"The experience has been fun," Wallace said. "Losing sucks. It always does. I feel like we're a lot better than what our record shows. We've had some ups and downs, some learning curves, not only from the players, but from the coaching staff as well. Everybody learning everybody was an adjustment. But I think, for the most part, it's been a great season."
Wallace was asked if he thought he had won over fans with his style of play.
"I hope I did," he said. "I just hope the fans didn't take offense to me saying I didn't want to be here [or take it] as me not wanting to be a part of the organization. My main thing was the rebuilding process. I didn't want to go through a whole rebuilding process where you have to start all over 13 years into my career."
Wallace immediately gravitated to a role as veteran leader on this team. Sure, his postgame rants rubbed some the wrong way as he questioned the effort level of a young and flawed team early in the season, but he eased up a bit as the season progressed. His unfiltered thoughts still made him a go-to presence for Celtics media.
Make no mistake: Wallace's contract is an albatross. The Celtics took on the remaining three years and $30.3 million in order to facilitate the summer blockbuster that delivered Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to Brooklyn in exchange for three future unprotected first-round draft picks.
As the Celtics navigate this transition process, they must eventually shed Wallace's contract, which runs through 2015-16, but until then, his teammates genuinely enjoy Wallace's company and look up to him.
Team captain Rajon Rondo, who joked last month that he's stopped calling Wallace "old" with only 3½ years' difference in age between the two, thought his play was infectious.
"He's another guy that's scrappy, plays hard every possession, gives himself up for the team," Rondo said. "We'll miss him a lot."
Season-ending knee injury be damned. Before Saturday's game, a street-clothed Wallace engaged in his typical pregame sideline routine in which Boston reserve players huddle on the sideline before tipoff and briefly lift Wallace into the air as he smiles and kicks his legs like a child.
Wallace plans to undergo surgery as early as Tuesday to clean out bone spurs in his ankle and repair the torn meniscus. He's likely to bunker down in Alabama again this summer and rehab but hopes to be back to 100 percent for training camp in September.
Wallace admitted in the locker room after Saturday's game that he brought a suit on the team's recent road trip out west for the potential that he might be traded. He's been caught without appropriate trade attire in the past. He also joked how, one time, he was awoken from his sleep to find out he had been surprisingly dealt. Nothing surprises him any more.
But maybe this season in Boston did.
When the Celtics acquired Wallace over the summer, some wondered if he'd ever play a minute here. Now, it's hard to imagine this season's locker room without him. After meeting with reporters before Saturday's game, Wallace was playfully asked if he'd still be available to field questions after games.
"Oh sure. I'll still give postgame reports," Wallace said before playfully adding, "And talk about all the bad shots Brandon [Bass] is taking."
Bass, sitting a few locker stalls down, looked up with a smile and just shook his head. Jeff Green crumpled up a piece of paper and lobbed it across the room at Wallace.
Yes, Wallace most certainly enjoyed this season. Far more than he ever expected.
Gerald Wallace made the most of a tough first year in Boston.