After watching one of their top free-agent targets skip town for a four-year, $32 million deal in Houston, the Wizards made a decent splash of their own by signing 10-time all-star and former Finals MVP Paul Pierce to a two-year deal worth $10.8 million.
The Wizards reportedly offered Trevor Ariza a similar deal to the one he received from the Rockets, but Houston has Dwight Howard and James Harden, in addition to no state income tax and blah, blah, blah.
Now onto The Truth.
- Sorry. That was rude. I wish Ariza all the best in Houston. He was a key cog in the Wizards’ playoff run last season and we’ll all miss him.
- To get the financials out of the way first — the $10.8 million over two seasons for Pierce is worth the full mid-level exception. Despite turning 37 in October, this is a fair price. And even more importantly…
- Because Pierce’s deal is only a two-year contract (the second year being a player option, meaning Pierce ultimately decides whether he wants to stay in DC next season), this keeps the Durant daydream alive. Along with a handful of other teams, the Wizards will have the cap room and flexibility necessary to chase hometown hero and beloved gentleman Kevin Durant in the summer of 2016 when he becomes a free agent. Will it be easy? No way. But there’s a chance. And a lot can change by then too — like John Wall becoming even better, Bradley Beal progressing the way we all believe he will, and additional cap room for other guys who may (believe it or not) take a little less to join a trio of Durant-Beal-Wall in Washington. /sits down, eyes wide, holds forehead.
- Even though Pierce’s numeric age doesn’t give off spring chicken vibes (if there is such a thing), 36 years old doesn’t imply ineffectiveness. In fact, Pierce recorded a higher PER last season (16.8) than our boy Ariza (15.8). And despite playing about seven less minutes per game than Ariza last year, Pierce remained an efficient scorer, averaging 17.3 points per 36 minutes, compared to Ariza’s 14.6.
- In an effort to avoid gushing and drooling over Pierce and his scoring ability, it’s important to note that we’ll miss Ariza’s defense. I don’t think you’d necessarily call Pierce a liability in that department, but he’ll be a noticeable drop-off from what we grew accustomed to last season. And perhaps that’s where Pierce’s age shows up the most, as he now lacks the quickness and agility to stick with the over-athletic wing players. Not to mention, with Ariza serving as a defensive specialist, it was easy to turn to him when the opposition had a player that required a special kind of cover. The Wizards no longer have that defensive ace.
- Back to Pierce as a legitimate scoring threat — he’s a career 37-percent shooter from long range. Remember how well Ariza knocked down those three’s last season after Wall or Beal would draw the defense? Now imagine a better shooter — more touch, more control — spotting up from out there.
- Not that Ariza was forced to create shots for himself last season, but Pierce won’t have to worry about that in Washington either. Pierce’s to-do list from Wizards coaches should be pretty simple — set a good example for our young players, give us effort on defense, and knock down the shots when the ball comes to you.
- Speaking of knocking down shots, Pierce is argued as a valuable clutch player. I say “argued” because sometimes it’s a matter of gut feel (which is what you see, what you remember) and numbers (which is the stuff provided by sites like 82games.com). To me, he’s clutch — and I’m not just saying that because he’s with the good guys now. Although Pierce’s shooting during clutch moments (defined by 82games.com as fourth quarter or overtime, less than five minutes left, neither team ahead by more than 5 points) fluctuates from season to season, he posts respectable numbers overall and his team does well when he’s on the floor in said situations. Additionally — and I feel like this may get lost in most arguments regarding a player’s clutchness — Pierce is disciplined and smart. Low turnover rate, good passes, savvy enough to draw fouls, better than 82 percent from the free-throw line, etc. All that may show up on the stat sheet, but it doesn’t exactly jump out at you during arguments of who’s clutch and who chokes.
- And speaking of what shows up on a stat sheet, Pierce offers more in a category that doesn’t show up at all by way of numbers. Both his veteran leadership and on-floor smarts will help this Wizards team. Locker room, crunch time on the road, playoffs, whatever — Pierce’s 16 years in the NBA and 148 playoff games goes a long way.
- Some will argue that Pierce is washed up, and I would disagree. At least offensively. As mentioned before, the Wizards take a step back defensively if you look at it from the perspective of swapping one player for the other. Offensively, however, the Wizards could improve with Pierce. Ask most NBA fans who they’d want taking the last shot to win a game; or better yet, the guy they’d want taking a majority of their team’s jumpshots if given the choice between Ariza and Pierce. The Truth wins out. And on top of that, if somebody wants to talk about “washed up”, I’d say Ariza (even at the ripe age of 29) was capable of looking “washed up” at times last season. I often referred to them as Arizaisms, but they mostly consisted of frustrating blunders anytime Ariza tried to put the ball on the floor in an attacking manner, or when it would seem he temporarily loose control of his long limbs, just kind of flailing around the floor. I don’t know — maybe that was just me. Bottom line though, the Wizards lose out on the defensive end and gain on the other.
- What does this mean for Otto Porter Jr.? While adding a free agent to your position can sometimes mean bad things, that’s not the case at small forward or for OPJ’s future. Porter is playing well in the Las Vegas summer league, and that remains most important. The dude’s young, he needs a good offseason sans injury, and he’ll continue to develop. Pierce is just as good for a youngster like Porter as he is for the rest of the Wizards team.
- After the Wizards beat out the Nets for the fifth-seed in the playoffs last season, Pierce had this to say:
“They’re good. 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 ballclub. That’s what the Washington Wizards have been waiting on, and you’re seeing it.”
- Fun fact/story/awesome occurrence: I once attended a Wizards-Celtics game at Verizon Center and was fortunate enough to land floor seats. And when I refer to them as floor seats, I don’t mean those seats right behind the bench, or the ones just behind the basket. I mean, like, the seats are literally on the hardwood with absolutely no obstruction in sight, and the ones that are priced way, way, way out of my price zone (I remember face value on them at $760, and this is back when Ricky Davis still played for Boston). Anyway, it still goes down as the greatest sporting event I’ve ever attended. If there was a poll to see what crazily-priced sports tickets are actually worth buying, my vote goes to basketball floor seats. It’s nuts. No other sport gets you that close and into the action. Case in point, Pierce comes to the sideline directly in front of me to inbound the ball — and I mean butt in my face, so-close-I-can-smell-the-mesh kind of close. Throughout the evening, about two rows behind me, these Wizards fans/maniacs were heckling like no other, and especially going after Pierce for obvious reasons (i.e. he was really good). As Pierce goes to receive the ball from the referee in order to inbound, the peanut gallery is letting him have it — curse words, lame jokes, the works. And just before he takes the ball from the ref, Pierce turns around, pulling the mouthpiece from his jaw, and says (addressing us as a group, and even making brief eye contact with yours truly), “Shut the fuck up!” Needless to say, I was blown away. Not because I was just scorned by an NBA master despite not mouthing a single sidecourt diss the entire game, but because Paul Pierce just talked to me (kinda, sorta) and we were as close to face-to-face as one could get with a pro athlete. It was incredible. I loved every minute of it. Paul Pierce and I had a moment, and not many people can say that. Since then, I’ve done two things: 1.) promised myself to buy season-ticket floor seats to Wizards games if I ever become rich and 2.) recognized Paul Pierce as the guy you despise as an opponent, but cherish as a player on your favorite squad.
Be happy about this if you’re a Wizards fan. Or if you’re just a fan of The Truth. Pierce will fit well here offensively, he brings valuable leadership and the desired toughness come playoff time, and he comes at a good price for the Wizards given their current situation and moving forward.