Paul Pierce has until the end of June to decide whether he will exercise his $5.5 million player option and return for a second season with the Washington Wizards.
Pierce candidly revealed he wasn’t sure about his basketball future minutes after he heaved a last-gasp three-pointer to extend the Wizards’ season a tick of a second too late. He indicated retiring was a possibility, but a month later Pierce is set on playing next season, according to a person with knowledge of the situation.
The question is where. The 10-time all-star will likely decide between two teams for his 18th campaign: the Wizards and Los Angeles Clippers. Pierce emphasized he loved his year with the Wizards, guiding the Wizards’ young core and getting another crack at the postseason in a more diminished role. And just because he opts out his contract doesn’t mean he won’t stay in the District; Pierce, who turns 38 in October, could sign a one-year deal for more than $5.5 million to stick around, which would also help the Wizards keep the flexibility they desire for the much anticipated summer of 2016.
The Clippers will likely only be able to offer Pierce the mini-midlevel exception of $3.37 million, but they are arguably closer to hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy than the Wizards — even in the tough Western Conference — and provide Pierce two amenities the Wizards cannot: A return home and a reunion with Doc Rivers. Pierce grew up in Los Angeles and Rivers, now the Clippers’ maestro as the organization’s coach and general manager, coached him for nine seasons with the Boston Celtics. They won the title together there in 2008.
Rivers had a chance to nab the future Hall of Famer last summer, but opted to give the Clippers’ full midlevel exception to Spencer Hawes. The decision proved to be catastrophic as Hawes was buried on the Clippers bench for most of the campaign and was traded along with Matt Barnes to the Charlotte Hornets for swingman Lance Stephenson earlier this week.
Like his arrival, Hawes’s departure could have a direct impact on Pierce: In a radio interview Wednesday, Rivers said he prefers Stephenson coming off the bench and will look for a starting small forward elsewhere this summer. ESPN then reported the Clippers are considering Pierce.
So what would the Wizards do if Pierce decides to take a pay cut and return to the City of Angels for one final hurrah?
One thing is almost certain: Otto Porter Jr., who enjoyed a breakout in the playoffs, would start at small forward. But Washington’s depth and scoring would take a hit regardless. Rasual Butler is a 35-year-old free agent. Martell Webster is entering the final guaranteed year of his contract but the 28-year-old was ineffective after his third back surgery in four years. Garrett Temple is a wing option but is better suited as a two-guard and emergency point guard.
Those are all the wing players beyond Porter and Bradley Beal. So the Wizards will have to seek reinforcements through the draft and/or free agency.
FIRST ROUND DRAFT OPTIONS
Pierce could do the Wizards a favor by making his decision before Thursday’s draft at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, but Washington could decide to address the wing with their 19th pick regardless (they also own the 49thh pick but that player is much less likely to make an impact next season). Here are a few names that could be available for Washington at 19:
Justin Anderson, Virginia
Anderson was at Verizon Center Thursday for a workout and could be available for the Wizards at No. 19. He impressed Washington’s brass with his shooting ability Thursday after making 45.2 percent of his three-pointers as a junior last season and is also considered a top-notch defender. The combination is a great fit in today’s NBA: He can space the floor and defend multiple positions with his size (6-foot-6, 230 pounds) and athleticism (43-inch vertical leap).
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Arizona
Like Anderson, the 6-foot-7 Hollis-Jefferson worked out for the Wizards Thursday and is one of the draft’s top wing prospects. Hollis-Jefferson has a 7-foot-2 wingspan and widely considered to be the draft’s best perimeter defender. He should make an instant impact defensively but isn’t much of a threat on offense.
Sam Dekker, Wisconsin
According to mock drafts, Dekker is probably not going to be available for the Wizards at 19 but he would make some sense for Washington if he slides. Dekker hasn’t worked out for the Wizards yet but could visit for one of their final pre-draft sessions Monday or Tuesday. Even if he doesn’t, teams sometimes draft players they don’t bring in for workouts and the athletic 6-foot-9 Dekker would provide versatility on both ends of the floor.
If Pierce decides to continue his career elsewhere, the Wizards will have $64.7 million committed to 10 players next season. The salary cap is projected at $67.1 million and the luxury tax line at $81.6 million. Washington will also have the bi-annual and midlevel exceptions available when free agency begins on July 1.
The Wizards, on paper, would have some wiggle room to commit to a free agent long term this summer, but doing so would hurt their chances to land a superstar in the future and we hear a certain D.C. native is slated to hit the market next year. Pierce’s addition – beyond providing moxie, leadership and another shot-maker – was made with payroll flexibility in mind. Below are a few possibilities that would fit the mold (i.e. second- or third-tier possibilities — not LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler and other high-end free agents):
Mike Dunleavy ($3.3 million salary in 2014-15)
He may not look it but the 6-foot-9 Dunleavy will turn 35 in September and, when healthy, remained a steady contributor for the Chicago Bulls last season (9.4 points in 63 games, all starts). As a 37.6 percent three-point shooter for his career, he would provide spacing with some experience.
Mirza Teletovic ($3.3 million)
The 6-foot-9 Bosnian is probably best as a stretch-four but has played the three in his three-year NBA career with the Brooklyn Nets. A 36.2 percent three-point shooter, Teletovic, 29, was sidelined for four months after he was diagnosed with bilateral pulmonary embolus in January but returned in the playoffs.
Omri Casspi ($1 million)
Casspi is another three-point marksman who can also play some power forward. The 6-foot-9 Israeli averaged 8.9 points and shot a career-best 40.2 percent from three in 67 games for the Sacramento Kings last season. A first-round pick in 2009, the 26-year-old Casspi has never made more than $2.2 million in a season.
Gerald Green ($3.5 million)
One of the final players to enter the league straight out of high school in 2005, the 6-foot-8 Green has become a solid contributor off the bench over eight NBA seasons. Green, 29, has developed into an effective three-point shooter (38 percent over the last two seasons) to complement his astounding athleticism — and the Wizards need both.
Tayshaun Prince ($7.7 million)
A 13-year veteran, the lanky 6-foot-9 Prince could come in and replace Pierce as the veteran in the locker room with championship experience in the final years of his career. Prince, 35, played for the Memphis Grizzlies, Boston Celtics, and Detroit Pistons last season, averaging 7.5 points and shooting 46.3 percent from beyond the three-point line.
Alan Anderson ($1.27 million)
After two seasons as a steady contributor for the Nets, Anderson will decline his $1.33 million player option for next season for more money on the free-agent market. Standing at a sturdy 6-foot-6, the 32-year-old Anderson can play both wing positions. He averaged 7.4 points, shot 34.8 percent from three, and compiled a career-best 56.3 percent true shooting percentage in 74 games last season.
Dorell Wright ($3.1 million)
A first-round pick out of high school in 2004, Wright has established himself as a solid role player. The 6-foot-7 Wright, whose brother Delon is a projected first-round pick next week, spent the previous two seasons with the Trail Blazers. Wright, 31, averaged 4.6 points while shooting 38 percent from three in 12.3 minutes over 48 games.
Marco Belinelli ($2.8 million)
Another sharpshooter, the 6-foot-5 Italian has been an important cog for the San Antonio Spurs the previous two seasons. Belinelli, 28, averaged 9.2 points and shot 37.4 percent in 22.4 minutes over 62 games from three last season.