Small forward has been the marquee position of free agency this summer, with the futures of LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony dominating the headlines and capturing the attention of fans and personalities around the league. Once LeBron and Melo finally made their decisions to go to Cleveland and stay in New York, respectively, the next tier of free agent forwards, such as Luol Deng and Trevor Ariza, became hot commodities, while players such as Chandler Parsons and Gordon Hayward signed massive offer sheets as restricted free agents. Seemingly lost in the shuffle was Paul Pierce, a 36 year old veteran coming off the heels of a season where he posted career lows in points and player efficiency rating for an underachieving Brooklyn Nets team. Pierce appeared likely to return to Brooklyn alongside old teammate Kevin Garnett, a move that would receive little fanfare or attention. But when the Wizards signed him away with a modest 2-year contract, they made one of the most underrated and potentially impactful moves of the summer, for a number of reasons:
He's affordable – 2-years, $11-million is a reasonable and affordable number that doesn't eat up the rest of the Wizards cap room. After losing out on Ariza, the Wizards were smart to sign a comparable veteran replacement rather than overpay for a younger player. Two years of Pierce for $11 million is a lot easier to swallow than 4 years of Gordon Hayward for $63 million.
He gives them long-term flexibility – A two year deal with a player option after the first year gives the team roster flexibility going into the future and leaves a lot of future cap space open. Rather than sacrifice their future by securing a younger player with a longer and more expensive contract, the Wizards are keeping their future options open. They'll get two good years out of Pierce while biding time until other quality small forwards are available, maybe a certain high-scoring, title-hungry D.C native who becomes a free agent in 2016?
He can play the 4 – Brooklyn experimented with Pierce at power forward last year, a move that paid off and led to Pierce producing at his highest level of the season. Pierce was able to use his shooting and veteran skill to maneuver around bigger but slower defenders. If he can give Washington some minutes as a stretch 4, he'll add another dimension to the team's offense and open up the possibility of more shooting-oriented, 'small ball' style lineups.
He has a wealth of experience – Pierce possesses a wealth of playoff experience, including winning a title with the Boston Celtics in 2008. He's a grizzled veteran who has been through playoff wars before, exactly the type of player that a young team trying to get over the hump like the Wizards can use. He'll show the team what it takes to go deep into the playoffs.
He'll be a mentor - Young players such as John Wall, Bradley Beal, and Otto Porter, Porter in particular, couldn't ask for a better mentor and leader. They'll be able to learn from a respected, high-character veteran who is a future Hall of Famer and an NBA Champion. He'll help Wall and Beal elevate their games to the next level and help teach Porter the ins and outs of NBA life.
He wants to be in DC - Pierce coming to the Wizards rather than a more title-ready team like the Heat or Rockets shows that he believes in the Wizards' talent. He seems excited to play with Wall and Beal and believes that this team is ready to go on a serious title run sooner rather than later.
He can still get it done on the court – Pierce may not be the All-Star level player he once was, but he is still a clutch shooter and willing and versatile defender with plenty of veteran savvy and 'old man game'. He won't have to carry much of the scoring load in Washington, and he should get plenty of open looks courtesy of Wall. If he can provide leadership and intensity while making the clutch shots he's known for, the Wizards will be in great shape.
The value of a veteran like Paul Pierce goes beyond the basketball court. His leadership and intensity will elevate those around him and his presence in the locker room will provide leadership and give players like Porter a role mode and mentor. He's the perfect kind of player for the young Wizards and $11 million well spent.Basketball, Boston Celtics, Brooklyn Nets, NBA, Paul Pierce, Small Forward, Washington, Washington Wizards