The Washington Wizards made a surprisingly big move late Saturday, when they signed veteran forward Paul Pierce after former wing Trevor Ariza decided to sign with the Houston Rockets. NBA Champion Pierce reportedly put his name to a 2-year, $10.8 million deal, which will give Washington their starting small forward as they continue to groom Summer League prospect Otto Porter, Jr.
Ariza shot a career-best 40.7% from behind the three-point arc in 2013-14, crushing his former best which he recorded the year prior (36.4%). Porter, all injury excuses aside, shot a dismal 19.0% from the perimeter in his rookie outing, and despite his 25 points, 7 rebounds performance Saturday in Las Vegas, would not have filled Ariza's three-point shooting role.
Given Trevor's success over the last two years with Washington--and the fact he, reportedly, will make $32 million over 4 years with Houston, less than what Washington was willing to offer--fans and critics alike had a tough time understanding the decision. Regardless, the 9-year pro cleared the air on Twitter.
I want to thank @WashWizards mr. @TedLeonsis and the whole dmv for two great years. I will alway be grateful for you guys. Much love... [link]
To my lil bros @John_Wall and @RealDealBeal23 stay on that grind love y'all boys. #wizkids #respect [link]
Pierce, a 15-year-pro, will offer Washington most of what Ariza could, and for a bargain. He averaged a career-worst 13.5 points in 2013-14 for an out of sync Brooklyn Nets team, but he's a willing passer (3.8 assists, career), can still shoot from three-point (37.3% last season), and he's a decent defender (1.4 steals, career, same as Ariza). But most of all, for Owner Ted Leonsis and the Wizards, Pierce will sell tickets. Washington might be a Playoffs team again, but they're still battling from the bottom third of revenue, and a name like Pierce will keep the Wizards banked even if they fall short of their mark.
Last season's TV ratings were weak at 0.78 on average for games on CSN Mid-Atlantic. It was the second lowest of any NBA team, only the Bobcats were worse. (Forbes, 2014)
The deal will help Washington over the long term, too. By not re-signing Ariza to what would have theoretically been a $36 million over 4 years contract, the Wizards are in a great position to acquire Kevin Durant in 2016. Durant is a D.C. native, and after the return of LeBron James to Cleveland--and the addition of Pierce to Washington's 2014-15 roster--you have to assume "anything is possible." At the least, the Wizards have a flexible future and a promising present with Pierce on board, wherever the franchse might land.