The Washington Wizards lost Paul Pierce to the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday, where he will sign a three-year deal with at least $6.6 million guaranteed, the same amount that Washington reportedly offered him for next season.
I loved seeing Pierce in the lineup last season. It was surreal seeing a player of his caliber on the Wizards, but I also appreciated that he truly embraced being an important part of the team. He immediately got into the Wizards' rivalry with the Bulls by trash-talking Jimmy Butler and subsequently booping Joakim Noah in the head, IN THE PRESEASON!
Even though Pierce's buzzer-beating shot in Game 6 of the Hawks series was a tenth of a second too late, let's face it: Pierce took a game-tying or a game-winning shot in each of the Wizards' last four games of that series. He made three of those shots -- okay, just two of them because the Game 6 shot was just too late. Still, that is just unbelievable. That's why we brought him here!
I was cautiously optimistic that Pierce would come back for one more season after the season ended, even though his now exit-interview sounded otherwise. At the same time, his departure can actually be a good thing for the Wizards, not only for other small forwards but for the team's younger core as a whole.
First, let's talk about the other small forwards on the roster. With Pierce gone, the starting position in 2015-16 should be Otto Porter's to lose. Sure, Pierce showed his clutch shot-making ability in each of the Wizards' last four games against the Hawks. And apparently the Wizards are open to signing other swingmen like Rodney Stuckey to take his place. I personally don't want to see this happen unless Porter is all but guaranteed a starting spot last season.
Yes, Porter may have averaged only 6 points and 3 rebounds a game in the regular season but those numbers went up to 10 points and 8 rebounds in the playoffs. On top of that, Porter's postseason defense was nothing short of outstanding, especially against DeMar DeRozan when the Wizards faced the Raptors in the first round of the playoffs.
Pierce's departure should also indirectly allow Kelly Oubre, the Wizards' first-round pick in the 2015 NBA Draft to get some additional playing time. Oubre may not be expected to contribute as a starter right away -- and there are questions as to how well he can play the game as a basketball player rather than as an athlete -- but he would probably not receive much playing time at all if Pierce stayed this upcoming season. Now, Oubre will likely have some more opportunities to show what he can do, even though he won't be expected to be a consistent contributor right away.
Second, let's talk about how Pierce's departure can accelerate the development of all of the team's younger players, especially the star backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal. Pierce was known as a veteran presence in the locker room last season and served as a mentor to both Wall and Beal Sure, the House of Guards' members aren't in their primes just yet. But they aren't simply young and inexperienced players anymore.
Wall is now entering his sixth NBA season. Beal is entering the last season of his rookie contract. Both of them have multiple years of playoff experience under their belts, which most younger NBA stars don't have. Nearly every Wizards fan expected that both members of the House of Guards will be the undisputed veteran leaders of this Wizards team at some point. That "some point" starts today.
When Paul Pierce announced that he was coming to Washington to help the Wizards develop into a stronger team, we were excited to see him do just that. It isn't too often when a future Hall of Fame player decides to play for the Washington Wizards when they are a team on the rise, even if it's just for one season. Pierce's presence last season was something that helped this team develop a stronger identity. Next season, his absence could very well do the same because of the impact he left behind.