Paul Pierce started his Wednesday on the telephone with the Washington Wizards, his employer of one year, when NBA free agency began at the stroke of midnight. He was the organization’s top priority and listened to the brass’s recruiting pitch one last time before venturing into the job market for the second consecutive year and for what he expects to be the final time as a professional basketball player.
Pierce and his family enjoyed their year in the District. He became a fan favorite with his contagious swagger and bank of postseason heroics. He regularly repeated that the organization’s future was bright with the young core of John Wall, Bradley Beal, and Otto Porter Jr. And the Wizards were willing to pay Pierce $6.6 million next season — more money than any other team could have (unless they were willing to use cap space, which was unlikely) — along with a team option for a second year.
But the package was not enough. Instead, the future Hall of Famer chose to sign a three-year deal worth approximately $10.5 million contract to finish his career with the Los Angeles Clippers.
The decision will make for a homecoming for Pierce, who moved to Los Angeles from Oakland as a child and attended Inglewood High School. It also reunites him with Coach Doc Rivers and assistant coach Sam Cassell. Rivers coached Pierce for nine seasons with the Boston Celtics. They won the championship together in 2008 and advanced to the NBA Finals again two years later. Cassell was a teammate with the Celtics and helped the Wizards recruit Pierce last summer before he left to join the Clippers’ coaching staff.
Los Angeles will pay Pierce the taxpayer mid-level exception of $3.37 million each of the first two seasons and added a team option for the third year. Consequently, Pierce, who turns 38 in October, is slated to play at least until the age of 39, and possibly 40 if the option is picked up. Pierce is expected to start at small forward this season.
Pierce averaged career lows in points (11.9) and minutes (26.2) over 73 regular season games, but those numbers jumped to 14.6 points and 29.8 minutes per game in 10 playoff contests. Pierce also shot 52.4 percent from behind the three-point line in the postseason as he logged more playing time at power forward as a stretch-four.
Pierce’s decision indicates that Los Angeles is also likely to re-sign center DeAndre Jordan, according to a person with knowledge of the situation. With the addition of Pierce and the talented but unstable Lance Stephenson off the bench to complement Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, J.J. Redick, and Jamal Crawford, the Clippers would be among the favorites to compete for a championship out of the loaded Western Conference.
Washington valued Pierce’s on-court production, his off-court leadership, and, perhaps most importantly, the financial flexibility his contract would provide for next summer when Oklahoma City star and D.C. area native Kevin Durant headlines the free-agent class.
The $6.6 million salary the Wizards offered Pierce is 120 percent of the $5.3 million he collected last season and the maximum the team, which has very limited salary cap flexibility, could have granted the 17-year veteran. Pierce could’ve then earned up to a 4.5 percent raise in the second season, which would’ve amounted to $6.9 million.
The Wizards were will now move on without Pierce in search of a stretch-four, defensive versatility, and perimeter bench scoring with the mid-level exception ($5.464 million), biannual exception ($2.139 million), and two trade exceptions ($4.625 million and $2.252 million) at their disposal.
While waiting on Pierce’s decision, the Wizards reached out to various free agents Wednesday, including Indiana Pacers combo guard Rodney Stuckey, Sacramento Kings forward Derrick Williams, Brooklyn Nets swingman Alan Anderson, and Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard Wayne Ellington, according to people familiar with the situation.