Re-signing Marcin Gortat and Trevor Ariza were the Washington Wizards’ biggest priorities heading into this off-season. Well, after signing Gortat to a 5-year deal, it looked like they’d soon lock up Ariza as well. Needless to say, that didn’t happen.
Trevor Ariza opted to sign with the Houston Rockets on a 4-year deal, which put the Wizards in a bit of an awkward position. They didn’t have much cap-space and their options were limited. So, what did Wizards general manager Ernie Grunfeld do? He surprised us all by signing future Hall-of-Famer Paul Pierce to the mid-level exception.
Like most Wizards fans, I was extremely excited to find out that Washington managed to acquire Paul Pierce after losing Ariza. I contacted Martin Mihaly (@MartinMihaly), editor of From Russia With Dunk (FanSided’s Brooklyn Nets site), to get more insight on Paul Pierce and his last season with the Nets. Martin was kind enough to answer some questions for us. Enjoy.
Ben Mehic: After losing Trevor Ariza to the Houston Rockets, I honestly thought the Washington Wizards would look to bring on a cheap alternative such as Thabo Sefolosha, but they surprisingly ended up landing future Hall-of-Famer Paul Pierce. Of course, as Wizards fans, we’re excited about landing Pierce, but what will he bring to the table? How much left does he have in the tank?
Martin Mihaly: Although he’s certainly not as good as he once was, at 37 years old (once the season starts), Paul Pierce can still play. There’s no question about that. Last season for the Brooklyn Nets, he averaged 13.5 points on 45.1% shooting. Despite his age and having suffered a broken wrist, Pierce still played 75 regular season games and all 12 playoff games for the Nets. Health is not really an issue for him and never really has been.
It will be interesting to see how many minutes he plays with Washington. In Brooklyn, he played 28 minutes per contest. With the younger Martell Webster and Otto Porter, Jr. playing the same small forward position as him, his minutes may drop slightly further.
Paul Pierce played both forward spots for the Brooklyn Nets last season, but was ultimately more effective as the 4. Why wasn’t he as successful at small forward and how will that translate to Washington, who play more traditional lineups?
By about one-third of the way through last season, Jason Kidd started to run a smaller lineup that created more mismatches. This was due to several factors. Brook Lopez had broken his foot, Deron Williams was constantly battling ankle issues and wasn’t playing at an All-Star level, Joe Johnson and Paul Pierce were unsure of how to play together in a traditional lineup and Shaun Livingston‘s effectiveness under Kidd’s small-ball lineup was a major surprise to the team.
Paul Pierce struggled at the three-spot in part because the Nets team as a whole was struggling to adjust to each other. Throughout his career, Paul Pierce has been the type of player that will beat you by mixing up his athleticism and quickness with his basketball IQ, footwork and positioning when he has the ball, his size and talent. Well, athleticism and quickness typically start to diminish as you get closer to your 40’s. That’s what has happened with Paul Pierce.
He’s never been extremely fast or was known for being an extremely athletic NBA player, but he had more than enough of each to be able to match-up better with the other small forwards in the NBA. Now, he has trouble beating them off the dribble and staying in front of them defensively.
By moving Paul Pierce to the power forward position, this created match-up problems for opponents. The longtime veteran still has the ability to stretch the floor, create his own shot and can sometimes beat power forwards off the dribble. The biggest problem with putting Pierce at the power forward position is that he is still a bit undersized for the position and does not typically play that close to the basket, like a more traditional four. Team’s with bigger forward’s can dominate the boards.
What were your impressions of Paul Pierce overall during his one season in Brooklyn? Did you want the Nets front office to retain him? Did he live up to your expectations?
I liked having Paul Pierce on the Nets roster. He’s still a good offensive talent. He is a smart player. A big reason the Nets brought him in is because of his championship level experience. Something that maybe doesn’t mentioned enough about him is his heart and intensity. He has always cheering for his teammates on the sidelines. No matter how the game may be going, Paul Pierce always plays hard. All the characteristics that you would want a top flight player to have. Simply put, Paul Pierce is a true professional.
When I had found out that the Nets were not retaining him, my initial reaction was extreme disappointment and anger. A large part of that was because the trade last offseason to acquire him, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry from the Celtics turned out to be a complete disaster.
Then, I had heard of the potential money that bringing Pierce back would cost and it started to make sense. If they had brought Pierce back, the team would owe an extra $18 million in luxury tax penalties. So if the Nets had signed him to $11 million for two years, as the Wizards did, the team would essentially be paying $29 million for two years. While he’s still a quality player, he’s not worth that much anymore. I can understand Mikhail Prokhorov’s reluctance.
Paul Pierce’s departure also allows some of the Nets younger players, like Bojan Bogdanovic and Sergey Karasev, to get more playing time and, hopefully, develop.
Brooklyn’s first season after acquiring Pierce and Kevin Garnett from the Boston Celtics started off on a rough note. How did Pierce manage the losing? Was he viewed as a locker room leader, despite it being his first season with the Nets?
Everyone on the team was seemingly miffed at the amount of losing the Nets were doing. There was too much talent and experience for this to be going on. However, the thought among the team remained that they would eventually get it together and things would turn around.
A huge part of the turnaround was Paul Pierce.
There is no question that Pierce was a key leader for the Nets. For his entire career he was a small forward. Now, he had to make one of the biggest adjustments and play power forward as Johnson occupied the other forward position. It’s doubtful that the Nets would have been anywhere near as successful as they were had Pierce not bought in to Kidd’s offensive system and become a malcontent within the locker room.
And finally, give us a summary of what we should expect from Paul Pierce in Washington next season. What were his biggest strengths and weaknesses as a Net?
Paul Pierce’s biggest strength with Nets was his ability to space the floor at the power forward position. His weakness was playing against big, physical forwards who could dominate the boards. He’s also more prone to getting beat by younger, quicker opponents.
It will certainly be interesting to see how Pierce fits with the Wizards lineup. John Wall is their best player. Wall is supremely fast and is at his best when he is racing up and down the court, both scoring by himself and setting up his teammates. Bradley Beal is young but very talented. Beal loves to shoot from the perimeter but can also get out and run. Nene and Marcin Gortat are two physical big men whose presence will keep Pierce from playing the power forward position.
Paul Pierce is smart and can still play at a high level. However, the Wizards speed and size make them a drastically different team than the Nets were last season.
I want to thank Martin for giving us fantastic insight on Paul Pierce. Please check out From Russia With Dunk for everything Nets basketball.