Refusing to stagger after the stunning defection of Trevor Ariza to the Houston Rockets, the Washington Wizards shook off the disappointment and made a shocking deal of their own by landing Paul Pierce.
Pierce, a 10-time all-star and likely Hall of Famer, agreed to sign a two-year deal for the full mid-level exception worth $10.8 million, according to a multiple people with knowledge of the situation. He has a player option for the second year.
The 36-year-old Pierce spent the first 15 years of his career with the Boston Celtics, winning a championship in 2008, and his former teammate and current Wizards assistant Sam Cassell played a huge role in recruiting him to Washington. He averaged a career-low 13.5 points last season in Brooklyn but gives the Wizards a proven big-game performer and another veteran mentor to help expedite the progression of franchise building blocks John Wall and Bradley Beal.
Pierce announced his arrival on Twitter by stating, “Obama , J Wall here I come.”
The Wizards didn’t want to take any steps back after advancing to the second round for the first time in nine years and quickly found an answer at the small forward position after Ariza spurned them to rejoin the Rockets. Pierce has averaged 21.3 and 5.9 rebounds over a 16-year career. Adding a player with his track record proves how much the organization has grown into a relevant destination.
When they failed to make a selection in the 2014 draft, the Wizards intended to add veterans who know how to win. Pierce has made the playoffs in each of the past six seasons, including two NBA Finals appearances. He was Finals MVP in 2008 and is one of three players to score more than 20,000 points while wearing a Celtics uniform; Larry Bird and John Havlicek are the others.
Pierce won’t be looked upon as a primary scorer but he is certainly capable of creating his own shot and can help 21-year-old Otto Porter Jr. ease into his transition as a rotation player after playing sparingly last season. The Wizards do not expect his presence to stunt Porter’s development in any way. Coach Randy Wittman could also use Pierce as a small ball power forward, a position in which he was able to thrive last season with the Nets.
Ariza’s departure was a blow because of his contributions on both ends of the floor. Wittman will no longer have the luxury of putting Ariza on the opposing team’s best perimeter scorer. But they were only able to offer a four-year, $32 million to Ariza, who took the same deal in Houston. The difference, however, is that Texas doesn’t have state income taxes, which will allow Ariza to pocket a considerable amount more.
But while Ariza spoiled the Wizards’ plans of maintaining continuity, the addition of Pierce allows them to stay competitive while having financial flexibility going forward. The Wizards have budgeted for the summer of 2016, when reigning league most valuable player Kevin Durant will become a free agent.
Washington only has four players under contract beyond the 2015-16 season – Wall, Marcin Gortat, Webster and Porter – and will also be looking to sign Beal, who will be a restricted free agent. That will likely change as the Wizards look to bring back free agents Trevor Booker, Kevin Seraphin, Drew Gooden and Garrett Temple. They can go over the salary cap to bring back their own players and were quickly on the phone with Booker’s representatives after getting a commitment from Pierce, according to people with knowledge of the situation.
Before leaving for Houston, Ariza said, “Free agents would be crazy not to come” to Washington. Pierce actually took him up on it.
The Los Angeles Clippers were expected to be a possible landing spot for Pierce given his relationship with Coach and President Doc Rivers but they had already used the mid-level exception to sign big man Spencer Hawes. Returning to the Nets was also an option. A person with knowledge of the discussions said the Wizards became a serious contender for his services after he started to consider the potential of Wall and Beal.
After a Nets loss in Washington last season, Pierce commented on how he impressed he was with the talent on the roster and, in particular, Wall’s improvement. “They’re good,” Pierce said back then. “They’re coming into their own. They’re growing up right before our eyes. You’ve seen their struggles over the years, and John Wall has matured as a player, obviously, becoming an All-Star this year and taking on more responsibilities and becoming a leader for this ball club. That’s what the Washington Wizards have been waiting on, and you’re seeing it.”
ESPN.com first reported the deal.