It's only been 35 games, but Paul Pierce has already made a significant impact on the Wizards in his short time in Washington. He's still putting up fantastic numbers, even though he's playing less this season. He's currently averaging 17.1 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.8 assists per 36 minutes and has a true shooting percentage of 57.8 percent.
And of course, his leadership has been a big part of why the Wizards have jumped out to a great start this season as well. It's not a coincidence the Wizards are playing the way you'd expect a legitimate contender to play. They're beating teams they wouldn't have been able to beat last season, like the Clippers and the Rockets, and they're putting away lesser teams they would have struggled to shake at this time last year.
That's why it's a bit unsettling to see this tidbit from Steve Bulpett's piece on Paul Pierce for the Boston Herald:
Pierce's minutes per game are at a career-low, slightly behind last year's pace, and he was even given a game off for rest last week. Accordingly, his scoring numbers are a bit off as well, though, accounting for the drop in playing time, he's actually being more productive per minute than in his one season with the Nets. And his efficiency is improved.
All of which leads to the question about Pierce's future. He has a player option for next season, and it's likely that even if he wants to stay with Washington he will terminate to sign at better than the $5.5 million he's due for 2015-16.
Pierce has said he will discuss with his family whether to keep playing - and, if so, where - after this season.
It's early in the process, and lots could happen between now and this summer that affects whether or not opting out would make sense for Pierce. But let's go ahead and talk about the potential ramifications of Paul Pierce opting out of his deal.
Most of the Wizards are locked in through next season, but there are some deals coming off the books and the cap is expected to rise next season, so the Wizards would have some wiggle room to sign Pierce to a slightly bigger deal if need be.
Certainly, the Wizards would prefer to keep Pierce's contract as is, but giving him more to keep him might be their best option given the team's future plans. It would be difficult for the team to find a someone who can replace Pierce's production on a one year deal. And as we all know, the Wizards simply can't commit money to a small forward beyond the 2015-16 season without hurting their chances of signing Kevin Durant in free agency. In hindsight, getting the player option on the second year of Pierce's deal may have been one of the slyest moves of the summer, because he's put himself in a position where he could squeeze some extra money out of the Wizards to keep their options for 2016 open.
If the Wizards have spend extra money on Pierce, that also likely means they'll have less money to address retaining or replacing Andre Miller, Rasual Butler and Kevin Seraphin, who are all set to become free agents this summer. As we've seen before, finding dependable back up point guards and centers isn't easy, and having less money to spend on replacements could hamper the Wizards as they head into an important season.
Before everyone starts panicking, it's important to remember this is all speculation at this point. Lots can change between now and June. But before you assume that the 2015 off-season will be the calm before the storm of 2016, remember Paul Pierce's player option still has the potential to create some waves.