To many, the New York Knicks' recent signing of Rasheed Wallace has invoked curiosity, confusion, and somewhat hysteria about the direction of the franchise. With Amare Stoudemire, Marcus Camby, and Kurt Thomas already in the fold (and the option of Melo sliding over to the 4 if need-be), the team's hole at power forward was probably smaller than the patch on Rasheed's head.
He's a volatile personality, a historic "bad boy" that could potentially poison the already inflated egos and supposed tough guys in the Knicks locker room. And his age doesn't exactly dismiss the notion that the Knicks are a dinosaur-filled roster chasing grandiose, "win-now" championship dreams. Sheed last played in the NBA during the 2010 NBA finals for the Boston Celtics.
He was apparently out of shape and out of place for much of what now seems to have been his penultimate basketball season, a shell of the former player that led the Detroit Pistons to the NBA title in 2004. He didn't put up terrible numbers in 2010 -- 9 ppg and 4 rpg in 79 appearances is nothing to brush off for a bench player -- but he's now 38, an insurance policy for players that are 38 (Camby), 40 (Thomas), and an injury-prone former all-star who has, like Wallace, let his anger get the best of him in the past. Just ask Amare Stoudemire's left hand.
I like the Sheed signing. Why not? He's played in multiple finals, and would give the team a person with championship experience. Sure, the Knicks are just padding their front-court with a collection of players that would have looked more impressive in 2002 than in 2012.
But Camby put up fine numbers for a bench player last season (around 5 ppg and 9 rbg while playing for both Portland and Houston), and Camby and Wallace should theoretically shore up the Knicks' defensive presence in the post. Key word: theoretically. I acknowledge the pitfalls of signing a player who is likely to be an old, overweight hothead who has been out of the league for two years. But Wallace reportedly signed for the vet. minimum, so it's a low-risk, low-reward situation.
If he doesn't pan out in training camp, then the Knicks can cut ties before the start of the season and go after more expensive forwards like Kenyon Martin (not exactly a great alternative, and a former teammate of Melo and J.R. in Denver). If it does, then the Knicks have another bruiser down in the post who will hopefully accumulate more blocks per game than technical fouls.
I think the Sheed signing scares Knicks fans for another reason, an underlying issue that has permeated the New York fan base this entire season. The Knicks are attempting to, in the worst way possible, be a team comprised of "bad-asses." They signed (Jason Kidd) and re-signed (J.R. Smith) players who were in legal hot water this offseason. They reacquired Kurt "Crazy Eyes" Thomas, whose epic staredowns make even the most confident referees quiver.
Tyson Chandler, the reigning NBA Defensive Player of the Year, was tied for the 3rd most technical fouls in 2011-2012 with Blake Griffin, Josh Smith...and Carmelo Anthony. Tied for 9th on the list? Amare Stoudemire. I'm pretty sure Steve Novak has a dark side, too. Have you seen the passion on his face after he makes a three and Discount Double Check's the sh*t out of an opponent? Ultimtely, can the 2011-2012 Knicks recreate the same passion and grittiness of New York teams from the early '90s, while also winning in the process?
The Knicks have the look of a mean team, one aspiring for physical ruggedness and toughness. They don't want to just shutup Mikhail Prokhorov; they want to silence every ESPN critic and everyone else that has written them off. If the Knicks are to have an image this season, they want it to be one of "don't mess with us." What better way to beef up that persona than signing Rasheed Wallace?
Yet, fans are worried that the team's talent cannot sustain this "bad-boy" mentality, that the players' penchants for technical fouls and emotional play won't correlate to victories. It's one thing to be an intimidating physical presence that wears a heart on a sleeve; it's another to have the mental toughness and patience required to close out games. And maybe that's what Knicks fans miss the most about Jeremy Lin going into this season: not his tendency to turn the ball over, but the calmness he displayed in big games and big spots, like his 38 point performance against the Lakers or his game-winner against the Raptors.
Fans are frustrated that the Knicks have perhaps sacrificed talent for toughness; they have replaced players like Lin with athletes that might be more imposing yet have lower ceilings.
The Knicks' "bad boys" aren't exactly in their primes, most of them playing in their final career contracts. And even the younger ones, we are unsure about. We know that J.R. Smith can't drive in the real world, but can he effectively drive to the lane this season in a Knicks offense that still revolves, for better or worse, around Carmelo Anthony?
If the Knicks are going to be a group of old, aging, underachieving, me-first players -- as many people perceive them to be -- then at least they are going to play ball with a sense of passion and anger. Last year, their identity going into the lockout-shortened season was a team with a formidable "Big Three" and a kind of big hole at point guard.
This year, it's which 35+ year old player can grit out 35+ minutes without breaking down first? If the Knicks are going to succeed, it is with players that were on the team long before Sheed came -- those without squeaky clean reputations, and whose knees might fold throughout the course of a season. Don't blame Rasheed Wallace if the Knicks suck in 2012-2013. The move would have been only indicative of a bigger, failed strategy.