While LeBron James was the biggest and perhaps most important domino to fall thus far in the NBA’s free agency period, the Washington Wizards have made arguably the most waves on the market since it opened on July 1.
The team began by agreeing to a five-year, $60-million contract with center Marcin Gortat on the first day teams could negotiate with players. Then, after seeing Trevor Ariza and Trevor Booker depart for Western Conference teams, Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld moved quickly to fill those vacancies, acquiring Kris Humphries and DeJuan Blair in sign-and-trade deals and agreeing to terms with former NBA Finals MVP Paul Pierce.
The latter move drew praise earlier this week from Jason Kidd, who coached Pierce last year during their lone season with the Brooklyn Nets.
“Washington got better,” Kidd told reporters at the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas earlier this week. “You’ve got a veteran guy who understands what it means to be a professional, comes to work every day and understand what it takes to win a championship. … He won’t have any problems [fitting with the Wizards]. He’ll be fine.”
With Ariza gone and Martell Webster likely to miss the first month of the season, Pierce enters his 17th season as Washington’s probable starter at small forward and, more importantly, as a potential source of wisdom for Otto Porter Jr., who is expected to log heavier minutes following a tough rookie campaign and a strong showing this past week in the summer league.
Upon hearing the news about Pierce on Saturday, Porter expressed his excitement to learn from a veteran with strong playoff experience. And while it remains to be seen how this mix of speed and savvy will mesh for the Wizards, the moves, coupled with the Washington’s run to the Eastern Conference semifinals this past season, have some, including Kidd, labeling the Wizards as a strong contender on the rise.
“It’s just a matter of the process of getting better,” Kidd said about the Wizards’ busy offseason. “You see that with Gortat coming back. The backcourt is very talented. So they lose a player, a piece, but they’re not afraid to go out and get a player that can help them. They’re going to be one of the top teams in the East.”
Both Kidd and Pierce got a first-hand taste of the Wizards’ elevated play last season, when Washington swept Brooklyn in three games, allowing them to slide past the Nets for the No. 5 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.