GREENBURGH, N.Y. – Under the basket was Rasheed Wallace. With his new Knicks teammates Amar’e Stoudemire and Marcus Camby to his right and left going through post move drills, Wallace was grinning above his signature ungroomed beard. His wore his practice jersey backward so you could see his No. 36 below his face. His sweat pants were cut at his shins.
Inside the Knicks’ practice facility Wednesday, Wallace, 38, was still the same quirky and charismatic player that he was for 15 N.B.A. seasons. Wallace made his return to the league – after a two-year retirement – by signing what is probably a one-year veteran’s minimum deal for around $1.7 million.
Wallace, who received offers from multiple N.B.A. teams the last two years, said he wanted to play for only one coach: Mike Woodson. It was Woodson, perhaps with perfect timing, who called Wallace in May. That was the same month the Knicks removed his interim title.”He asked me if I still wanted to play,” Wallace said of Woodson, who coached him as an assistant in Detroit. “It meant a lot that Coach Woodson still has that feeling that I can be a positive influence on this team.”
Still, the Knicks already have a crowded frontcourt. Wallace also represents a continuation of the Knicks’ emphasis this off-season on acquiring more experienced players. According to Stats L.L.C., the average age of 13 Knicks players under contract is 32 years 240 days. That makes them the oldest team in league history. Wallace is the fourth-oldest player on the team behind Jason Kidd (39), Kurt Thomas (39) and Camby (38).
The Knicks are taking a gamble that Wallace will stay healthy, not be the volatile player who led the league in technical fouls and not disrupt the team’s chemistry (the Knicks already have J. R. Smith, who is also known as being unpredictable and temperamental).
Because he was not cleared to practice Wednesday, Wallace shagged rebounds – which the Knicks hope he can do during the season – for Stoudemire, Camby and Thomas. Wallace said he was pleased to already have relationships with his teammates.
“I’ve played against darn near everybody on the team,” he said.
Whether Wallace can perform at a high enough level to help the Knicks remains a question. Woodson believes he will have an answer after the preseason.
“I don’t know if he still has it until he gets out here and starts playing,” Woodson said. “Training camp and six exhibition games is enough time to evaluate him.”
Woodson said it felt great to give Wallace an opportunity. When Wallace talked about his coach, he did an impression of Woodson.
Wallace remembers well the history the two developed in Detroit. Wallace played at his best when the Pistons defeated the Los Angeles Lakers for the N.B.A. title in 2004. Woodson was an assistant that year with the Pistons. The respect Woodson had for his players and his demeanor impressed Wallace.
“You know with myself being a hothead and with Ben Wallace, the way he was, Coach Woodson kept us calm,” Wallace said. “He was the one that quieted the storm.”
Once Woodson made the offer, Wallace did not have to struggle with what he should do.
“Rasheed and Mike had a number of talks,” Wallace’s agent, Bill Strickland, said. “He decided this was something he wanted to do.”
The last game Wallace played in the league was Game 7 of the 2010 finals as a member of the Boston Celtics. The Celtics fell to the Lakers, but Wallace had 11 points and 8 rebounds. He retired for personal reasons and to help take care of his mother. Since then, he has played in North Carolina Pro-Am games during the summer.
Wallace knows another year in the N.B.A. will be a challenge. But he is ready to help Woodson and the Knicks try to win a title.
“We’re trying to go after that golden ball,” he said. “We have the opportunity to do that. If Coach needs me for two minutes, then I’m out there for those two minutes going hard.”
This is a more complete version of the story than the one that appeared in print.
PHOTO: Rasheed Wallace in 2006. Now 38, he has not played in the N.B.A. since 2010. (PHOTOGRAPH BY PAUL SANCYA/ASSOCIATED PRESS)