THE NEED FOR ‘SHEED AS THE PLAYOFFS OPEN

So now we enter ‘Sheed’s world.

Looking for a ‘Ship.

He’ll collect his T’s. He’ll play his D.

He’ll grab his ‘bounds. Hit his 3’s.

He loves those W’s. He hates an L.

And you know he’ll ‘xplode.

But what the ‘ell?

It’s an apostrophe world, the Rasheed Wallace universe, where a ‘Ship for the ‘Stons is the ultimate goal. But there is no shortcutting this reality: The Pistons will go as far as Wallace takes ’em, and as far as he lets ’em.

He is their most important piece. Their most influential force. There is great talent on the Detroit roster. But there is only one Wallace. You can argue he is the team’s best player, but you won’t be arguing with knowledgeable people. They’ll tell you first. His coach. His GM. His teammates.

He is also their most combustible player. Their most perplexing player. Their most unpredictable player.

And these playoffs he’ll be their most scrutinized player. Wallace is in the next-to-last year of his contract. Which means he will never be more tradable than this summer.

Depending on how these playoffs go, he could be the face of the Pistons for the rest of his career – one last contract, perhaps three or four more seasons.

Or we might never see him again.

Getting bored at times

“You can love him, you can hate him, and you can love and hate him in the same game and on the same play,” says his coach, Flip Saunders. “He’s a very instinctive player, he’s a very emotional player. … He is so talented that sometimes he gets bored.”

Bored?

Well, boredom shouldn’t be a problem in the playoffs. Especially not against Philadelphia in the first round, which begins Sunday. Wallace is a Philly kid, won three high school city championships there, has family and friends there, but still will get booed there because Philly fans know who to worry about, and you worry about Rasheed if you are the opponent.

You also worry about him if you’re his home team. And that is the Wallace conundrum. Boredom is not the only issue. There are the occasional wild shots. The tendency to play outside versus inside. The uncertainty of his intensity from night to night. And the unselfishness when you’d like him to be, well, selfish.

But Wallace, on a team known for its defense, is still its best defensive player, and, on a team known for its basketball intelligence, is its smartest player as well. He is rarely out of position. He anticipates the ball and the play. His fundamentals are sound enough to draw on a clinic blackboard.

And he actually enjoys doing the hard stuff – like taking on the opposing big guy one-on-one.

“Everybody can make a lay-up, but everybody can’t play D,” he recently told a reporter.

You love that if you’re running this team.

The many sides of Rasheed

On the other hand, there’s the temper. The explosiveness. The antagonizing of the refs. And the arm’s distance he keeps from coaches. You don’t love that, because it can backfire. It can pull your team down.

‘Sheed, who was actually thrown out of a McDonald’s High School All-America game, has cooled his ‘sheednanigans somewhat this year. (He did NOT lead the league in technical fouls.) “I had a referee the other day where ‘Sheed saw the guy and said, ‘Yeah, I fouled him,’ and the ref said, ‘I think that’s the first time he’s ever admitted he’s fouled anybody,’ ” Saunders said, laughing.

But he will never be mellow, and you don’t want him that way. His passion is his playing card. And beneath it, there is much to admire about Wallace. He may carry a fire in the belly, but you do not hear about him getting in off-court trouble, not here in Detroit. His charity work is laudable. He is, by most accounts, fiercely devoted to his family. He doesn’t like individual attention – in a league where it is most coveted. And his teammates adore him.

Yes, he can be abrupt, rude, and no, there’s not much point in interviewing him, because he decided long ago not to reveal anything important to scribes. But his play speaks for itself. And he does occasionally toss off a pretty funny line.

Still, in the end, these playoffs likely will determine how many more the 33-year-old will see in Detroit. Which means a bumpy ride – but maybe a great one. Buckle up. Lock it down.

It’s ‘Sheed’s world now.

We’re all just living ‘n ‘t.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or malbom@freepress.com. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).

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