While the rest of the basketball universe, particularly in Los Angeles, was glued to Twitter last week in anticipation of two-time NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard’s free agency decision, Tyrone Wallace played a different kind of waiting game.
The wait was short-lived, and it eventually led the former Bakersfield High standout to sign with the Minnesota Timberwolves after two seasons with the Clippers.
“I was waiting to see whether the team wanted to pick up my option or decline it and let me know,” said Wallace, who played limited minutes for the Clippers last year after starting 19 games for L.A. his rookie season in 2017-18. “So I knew there was a possibility, but I didn’t know one way or the other.”
Would the Clippers pick up the former Bakersfield High standout’s option for another year or would they waive him?
“I didn’t know how (Leonard signing) would affect me,” Wallace said “I play point guard and they don’t really play my position. The team only had one other point guard with Pat (Beverly), so I didn’t really know what to expect.”
As it turned out, Leonard’s decision to sign with the Clippers, and the ensuing deal that brought All-Star Paul George from the Thunder, were linked to Wallace’s fate.
To make room for Leonard and George, the Clippers waived Wallace on Saturday, giving other teams 48 hours to pick him up with the remaining 1-year deal he signed with Los Angeles prior to last season.
Fortunately, Wallace didn’t have to wait long. He was picked up by the Timberwolves on Monday.
“Initially I was just happy that I’d have a job and that I knew where I’d be at,” said Wallace, who was the BVarsity All-Area Boys Basketball Player of the Year in 2010-11. “It always feels good to find a new home and to find someone that thinks you’re a good enough player to add to their team. I’m extremely thankful for that.”
After a four-year career at Cal, the Utah Jazz selected Wallace with the final pick of the 2016 NBA Draft. He was released the following season and signed a two-way contract with the Clippers, enabling him to split time with the team’s Agua Caliente NBA G League affiliate based in Ontario.
During an injury-plagued 2017-18 season, the Clippers were forced to rely on several of their younger players. And Wallace made the most of it.
The 6-foot-5 point guard averaged 9.7 points, 3.5 rebounds and 2.4 assists a game in 30 games, including 19 starts.
The New Orleans Pelicans signed Wallace to a two-year offer sheet following the season, but the Clippers matched their offer, locking down Wallace with a two-year deal.
But minutes were hard to come by for Wallace last season.
“What I would say is, the first year we had a lot of injuries and they gave me a real opportunity to come in and play, and play a lot,” Wallace said. “I was able to play my game; carefree. I was playing well and I was playing a lot of minutes.
“Last year, there wasn’t a lot of opportunities for me there. I felt like we brought a lot of new players in, so that’s kind of the way it went. We had a lot of guards that I had to compete with. But I came from the G League, and guys like me, more times than not, don’t even get that opportunity.”
Now that opportunity will have to come in Minnesota.
“I’ve always been one of those guys that has had to work for everything,” Wallace said “From college to being drafted with the last pick, to playing in the G League, to working my way up to the NBA. I’ve always worked for everything I’ve done. I’m just excited to go in there and do the work and get better.”