Paul Pierce is a productive veteran who’s basically done and seen it all in his 16 years of playing professional basketball. Now, entering year 17, the future Hall of Famer has another task on hand as he’s set to join the Washington Wizards, his third team in three years.
Pierce won’t be one of the three best players on his team next season; he’s arguably the fourth or fifth. But his mentorship role to John Wall and Bradley Beal (the NBA’s backcourt of tomorrow) is incredibly important.
Wall will be 24 years old next season, and Beal will be 21. They share six years of NBA experience, and last year's playoff run stands as their entire catalogue of postseason success (and struggle).
These two are incredibly talented but have plenty of growing pains to go through, and having a living basketball legend in their locker room, on their practice court and in their huddle next season will do wonders.
Out of all active players in the NBA, only a tiny handful can hold a candle to Pierce’s career achievements, knowledge and experience. He’s an NBA champion, an iconic Finals MVP.
In just his fourth season, Pierce scored 2144 points, more than everybody else. The following year, he led the league in both made and attempted free-throws. Only four players in NBA history have made more three-pointers and only 22 have logged more minutes.
Now 36 years old (37 in October), Pierce is a 10-time All-Star who’s also been named to four All-NBA teams.
He’s also stone tough and the utmost professional, constantly tweaking and developing his game every summer so that, come fall, he contributes in a fresh way, as age and general wear and tear takes their toll.
As a teammate, few compare. Pierce just wants to win and is willing to do just about anything to make that happen, whether it’s sliding up a weight class and playing power forward or coming off the bench. He’d battle centers in the pivot if that's what his coach wanted.
Here’s Pierce and his former coach Jason Kidd talking to ESPNNewYork’s Mike Mazzeo last season:
Brooklyn Nets small forward Paul Pierce came off the bench for just the fourth time in his career Tuesday night, but says he's open to being a reserve going forward if it's what's best for the team. 'It's all a mental approach and how you approach the game…If you approach the game looking at the big picture and it's all about the team and it's about winning, if that's what's best for the team, then so be it. I'm willing to do whatever.'
Nets coach Jason Kidd plans to talk to Pierce about the possibility of being a full-time reserve, but hasn't committed to it just yet. Pierce, 36, has started 1,114 of the 1,118 regular season games he's played in during his 16-year career. He had not come off the bench since the 2006-07 campaign. 'I liked what I saw,' Kidd said. 'I liked him being a leader of that second group. Will I stay that way? I don't know. We'll look at the video tomorrow as a team and coaches, but I'll talk to Paul and see what his comfort level is.'
Aside from his on-court contributions as a versatile wing who can still score off the dribble, take a heart-stopping fourth quarter over in the final two minutes, space the floor, knock down threes in transition and rebound like someone 10 years younger, how else can he help the Wizards?
Pierce’s influence on Wall and Beal is the unquantifiable factor that makes his addition all the more valuable. When the young duo have questions dealing with just about anything the NBA has to offer, Pierce will have an answer. He’ll show them how to watch film, study opponents, prepare for games and act like a professional when cameras aren’t rolling.
Few players of his stature know more about sacrifice, and the level of individual statistical forfeiture necessary to create team success on a consistent basis. He’s made the playoffs 11 times, knows what it takes to get there and why more times than not things don’t go as planned. He's been on winners and losers.
Pierce is one of the best resources Wall and Beal could ever have, and next season he’ll be available everywhere they go.
Pierce won't be around for too much longer, but his impact on Wall and Beal—two players whose main weakness right now is simply inexperience—should positively change the trajectory of their already limitless careers.
Michael Pina covers the NBA for Bleacher Report, Sports on Earth, Fox Sports, ESPN, Grantland and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelVPina.