Toward the end of the second quarter of Detroit's summer league game against Boston, I heard a sound from the Pistons' bench that I assumed was forever gone. It was a simple phrase, spoken loudly by a familiar voice, and it hit me like a weak shot swatted into the stands. Ladies, gentlemen, and referees: "Ball Don't Lie!"
Rasheed Wallace was back. I wasn't prepared for this, and while I had carefully studied the rumors of his return, I didn't expect them to bear fruit until training camp. Yet there he was. Rasheed Wallace, as animated as ever, going to work like he had never left. For just a moment, hearing that phrase made me forget about all the troubles this team has faced since he departed. Four years and four coaches were gone in an instant, and all I could remember was that the ball doesn't lie.
Orlando Summer League: Day Two Diary
Detroit's second Orlando Summer League game is already history. I imagine it was as difficult to watch remotely as it was to see in person, but I was lucky not to be locked to the view from the video stream. Detroit was trounced by Boston right out of the gate, so the competitiveness of the game took a back seat to the interest of Rasheed Wallace sitting in as an assistant coach. I had to get a better view of Detroit's bench, so I left my spot next to NBA photographer Fernando Medina (who took one of the NBA's most iconic images)* and switched to the opposite baseline.
Rasheed had always been a controversial figure in Detroit ... or anywhere else he played. Beneath all of the celebrations and criticisms, none could doubt his deeply passionate connection to the game. The idea of Rasheed Wallace as a coach was difficult to take seriously because, well, it can be difficult to take Rasheed seriously. Today in Orlando, however, it was immediately evident what kind of value Rasheed Wallace can have as an assistant coach.
Rasheed the teacher was present on every play. This wasn't the case of a motivating old veteran shouting words of encouragement -- it was a technical mind, revered for his basketball IQ on court, advising technique between possessions. Boston subbed in a new player in the second quarter, and it was either Siva or Lucious that Wallace pulled aside immediately to explain, "He's a lefty, shift to your left when he picks up his dribble." This wasn't your typical "Go hard, D up, make the big shot" empty hype, it was the product of 13 years of NBA intelligence paying dividends in technical leadership.
During timeouts, Wallace was not drawing up plays. Mo Cheeks' fellow OKC assistant Maz Trakh was running the play book, Wallace was teaching. Before and after the huddle, a time in NBA games where Wallace was usually nowhere to be found, Wallace was instead momentarily meeting with a few players giving advice. Walking down the bench, Wallace would explain, "Slava, try doing this when your man slips by you on the right for the rebound." "Tony, you're doing this and giving up space on those J's and that's why they're not falling."
While I loved the idea of Rasheed Wallace the player joining Detroit's coaching staff, it was mostly for sentimental reasons. Seeing him in action with Detroit's youngest, most impressionable players made me a firm, instant believer. I imagine he'll end up picking up the clipboard at some point and adjusting a play or two and perhaps even drawing up some of his own in the near future. If that never happens, and Detroit sees more of what I saw today out of Wallace, our young players will be all the better for it.
Besides, hearing "Ball Don't Lie" from Rasheed Wallace on the Pistons bench is something you can never get tired of. I welcome him back, and it was pure serendipity to be able to do so in person at the 2013 Orlando Summer League.
Summer League Day Two Diary Notes
- As the OKC/Philly game was winding down, I moved to a comfortable seat in the second row behind the baseline to rest my sore tailbone. I had a clear shot as the seat in front of me was empty. While shooting, a guy sat down in the empty seat and met some others who obviously came to Orlando together. He was young, looked to be early 30s. I had to dodge him now to get a good shot during game action, and I was getting a little bugged about my seating choice. Next thing you know, someone walks up to the guy in front of me in yellow and congratulates him on his new job in Boston. Turns out it was Boston's new head coach Brad Stevens. I then got up, switched back to the hardwood in front of him, turned around and snapped a few photos.
- As the Pistons/Celtics game was progressing, Kravtsov picked up 2 quick fouls. The guys behind me, who are either scouts or assistants to Stevens, were celebrating Slava's foul trouble. Stevens corrected them, saying that they don't want Slava in foul trouble, they want him on court guarding Olynyk. It was clear that he has their respect, as they quickly agreed and then changed the subject.
- Before I sat down on the baseline by the Pistons bench, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope had just exited the game and walked toward the end of the bench, clutching his back. He yelled for Mike Abdenour, who walked down and gave him a compress of some sort to wrap around his abdomen. At the time, I thought KCP might be done for the afternoon, but he was able to return to action after halftime. "Pope", as his teammates call him, has struggled since game one and hopefully his back pain explains some of his early struggles.
- Later on, I moved behind the two rows of seats behind the baseline to stand against the wall. Those hardwoods kill your tailbone if you don't bring a custom photographer's seat. This section of seats is where the referees sit and watch the new refs get some experience. Joey Crawford is the head honcho here. During the game, Rasheed was politely suggesting to the active refs that while they may not be aware of it, this is in fact an NBA game and you're supposed to call specific fouls. Okay, maybe in different words. The plain-clothes ref in front of me laughed, I overheard him whisper "talk about a trial by fire" to the referee to his right.
- Greg Monroe was in the building today. I spent most of the second half behind the Pistons bench, sitting directly behind Greg. I was behind Greg who was behind Rasheed, and Drummond was sitting a few seats to the right. It was pretty thrilling to see the past and future of Detroit's frontcourt all in one place. I didn't bother any of them, as I'll need clearance from a PR contact before I can work in an interview, but the fly-on-the-wall approach suited me well, both for anecdotes and photos.
- Less photos today, mostly because there was little new to photograph other than the personalities. The game was tough to watch, and it's not like you can just take a few hundred pictures of Rasheed. Oh wait, YES YOU CAN.
- *Hat tip to Evan Dunlap of SB Nation's OrlandoPinstripedPost for pointing out the award-winning photographer I had been sitting next to and chatting with. I had no idea he was so revered until Evan schooled me on that.