The Washington Wizards had to act fast in the wake of Trevor Ariza's departure, and they did. Ariza signed with the Houston Rockets earlier on Saturday, per USA Today's Sam Amick, and the market for small forwards was drying up quickly.
But it had yet to part with Paul Pierce—until now.
ESPN.com's Marc Stein first got the scoop:
ESPN has learned that Pierce will sign a two-year deal with the Wizards at the mid-level exception with a player option entering Year 2— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) July 13, 2014
Or in Pierce's tweeted words:
Obama , J Wall here I come— Paul Pierce (@paulpierce34) July 13, 2014
According to Stein's report, "The contract, sources said, has a player option after this season that will allow Pierce, 36, to return to free agency next summer if he chooses."
The first thing you like about this deal is that it's affordable. Even if you aren't sold that Pierce has a ton left in the tank, he has to be worth more than $6 million per year. That's a bargain for this guy's basketball IQ alone.
It certainly doesn't hurt that it's also short-term. Stein adds:
The short-term nature of the deal, meanwhile, could help Washington preserve some flexibility for its dream scenario of pursuing DC native Kevin Durant when the current Oklahoma City Thunder star is scheduled to be a free agent in the summer of 2016.
It might be wishful thinking, but we've all recently seen what the power of "home" can do.
But of course, Pierce is far more than just a nice contract.
His game is still worthy of praise—and a fair amount of caution. Be warned: Paul Pierce will not give you All-Star production any longer.
Pro Basketball Talk's Brett Pollakoff notes, "Pierce’s numbers dipped significantly with the Nets, due to a combination of playing less minutes and having a reduction in responsibility with Joe Johnson taking on the role of the team’s primary offensive option."
He averaged 13.5 points, 4.6 rebounds and 2.4 assists in 28 minutes per contest last season. He made those minutes count, too, turning out a 16.81 player efficiency rating and accounting for an estimated 6.6 added wins, good for 11th among small forwards.
Though the 36-year-old doesn't take over games like he used to, he's still a capable complementary piece who can perform—so long as your expectations are realistic.
He's still a strong, smart defender, and he remains versatile—capable of making plays, guarding a range of forwards and spacing the floor with his three-point shot. On paper, Pierce will do many of the things that Ariza did a season ago.
The Wizards will lose a little something defensively on the perimeter, but they'll also have more offensive variety thanks to Pierce's court vision and ability to facilitate. It's something of a tradeoff, but it shouldn't become a liability for Washington. This will still be a strong defensive team.
In the end, however, this deal had as much to do with leadership and acquiring some veteran stability as anything else.
The Wizards know what kind of teammate they're getting.
I would like welcome Paul Pierce to The Wizards family. Were going to have a great run.— Marcin Gortat (@MGortat) July 13, 2014
And Pierce knows what kind of team he's getting.
“They’re good,” Pierce said of the Wizards. “They’re coming into their own. They’re growing up right before our eyes" http://t.co/tSLURlVtRY— Dan Steinberg (@dcsportsbog) July 13, 2014
Pierce said that after losing to the Wizards during the regular season when he was still a member of the Nets.
It's a good match. Pierce has a lot to teach at this point in his career, and second-year forward Otto Porter has a lot to learn. The mentoring relationship seems like a natural consequence of bringing Pierce aboard, and it couldn't come at a better time. Porter struggled to see any action last season, but he's poised to take on an increasing role.
Porter isn't the only youngster.
Point guard John Wall is 23, and shooting guard Bradley Beal is just 21. Pierce's years of experience, poise and infectious intensity could yield serious dividends for that young duo as Washington begins pushing for postseason success on an annual basis.
As NJ.com's Eliot Shorr-Parks puts it, "The addition of Pierce gives the Wizards some veteran playoff experience, something they could have used last season during their surprising playoff run."
So while Pierce's on-court production may not be responsible for taking the team to another level, the intangibles just might. While it's easy to overstate Washington's youth given the veteran presences of Nene Hilario and Marcin Gortat, there's no question this roster could use Pierce's leadership and pedigree.
And at times, the Wizards will just need him to make a big shot or two.
That's what he's done his entire career, and he's proved that timely baskets are a part of his makeup.
Or, as Pierce put it in April:
Pierce had that confident lean this morning: "(Being clutch) is in my DNA. There's nothing I can do to let it go."— Stefan Bondy (@NYDNInterNets) April 22, 2014
Maybe there's something to that. Washington's offense showed lapses of execution in the playoffs, and that's something with which Pierce can certainly help. His new teammates will need to feed off his composure in late-game moments. That's the real value of having a guy like Pierce around.
It's hard to argue that Pierce makes Washington significantly better on paper, but it's not entirely clear this team needed to get much better on paper. The difference between the lottery version of the Oklahoma City Thunder and the contender version is that young stars like Durant and Russell Westbrook grew up, evolving into superstars.
That could be the next step for Wall and Beal.
The notion that the Wizards needed to add something assumes the rotation is incomplete. That may not be the case. It may just be in need of some additional polish, the kind of thing Pierce can help with. Throw an improved Porter into the mix, and again—in-house development will be the big difference between this season's Wizards and the previous iteration.
This club will be a year wiser in its own right. And much wiser on account of adding Pierce.