Nations: Wizards making right moves
So this is what it feels like to be a player in the off-season free-agent market.
True, the Washington Wizards didn’t land the big name — and there never really seemed to be much chance that LeBron James was interested in taking his talents to D.C., anyway — but Saturday’s signing of veteran swingman Paul Pierce still should energize the burgeoning fan base.
Pierce is a known quantity, for one, a proven weapon who will help the Wizards for the next two seasons. Washington needed an answer after losing standout swingman Trevor Ariza to the Houston Rockets via free agency earlier Saturday, and their solution might well be an upgrade at the position. That would be remarkable, considering the career year Ariza produced in helping Washington reach the NBA’s Eastern Conference semifinals last season.
Pierce has more than a little mileage — he’ll be 37 in October — but as evidenced by his production last season with the Brooklyn Nets (13.5 points, 45.1 percent of his field-goal attempts), Pierce is still a highly productive player capable of providing another legitimate scoring option. The Wizards can use that. Beyond star point guard John Wall and breakout shooting guard Bradley Beal, Washington would have been relying on another career season from big man Marcin Gortat and the emergence of second-year small forward Otto Porter Jr.
Now coach Randy Wittman, a bit more secure with a new contract extension of his own, has the luxury of getting significant minutes from a future Hall of Famer in Pierce while keeping him fresh by moving Porter into a more consistent role in the rotation. Porter was a first-round pick, and having a year in the league should only help his production next season.
Bringing back Gortat on a five-year, $60 million deal also helps maintain roster stability while keeping a popular and energetic player in Washington for what should be a decent playoff window.
There appears to be more good news on the horizon, as well. The Wizards are reportedly in talks with the Dallas Mavericks to acquire veteran forward/center DeJuan Blair, a 6-7, 270-pound presence in the paint. Blair, rumored to be headed Washington’s way as a sign-and-trade deal, would further shore up the Wizards’ frontcourt with added physicality and toughness.
Of course, the real prize for the Wizards could come in the 2015 offseason when they’re expected to make a determined run at landing Oklahoma City Thunder superstar forward Kevin Durant when he hits free agency. If Washington produces a season like last year, or even improves upon it this upcoming season, then bringing D.C. native Durant to the Verizon Center is a very real and exciting prospect for the Wizards.
Add Durant to Wall, Beal, Pierce and Gortat, and suddenly the Wizards could be the newest dynasty in the league.
Washington took a significant step toward making that happen by bringing in Pierce, who knows a thing or two about dynasties from his long tenure as a star with the Boston Celtics. Pierce had options, too, but chose to become part of an exciting roster in Washington. Signing a player of Pierce’s caliber, while he can still actually play at a high level, is a rarity in Washington.
The Wizards are still up-and-coming, and adding Pierce will only continue that positive momentum next season. No doubt about it — this is an excellent time to be a Washington Wizards fan.
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org