The Wizards have agreed to sign unrestricted free agent forward Paul Pierce to a two-year contract worth $10 million, SI.com's Chris Mannix has confirmed. The agreement includes a 2015-16 player option.
ESPN.com first reported the signing, which will be executed using the Wizards' mid-level exception.
Pierce, 36, will be joining the third team of his 16-year career after spending just one season in Brooklyn. Although many suspected he would re-sign with the Nets or perhaps rejoin his former Celtics coach Doc Rivers with the Clippers, Pierce instead will step into the roster hole created by Trevor Ariza's departure. Word of Pierce's mid-level contract surfaced just hours after Ariza, Washington's 2013-14 starting small forward, reportedly agreed to a four-year, $32 million contract with the Rockets.
The Celtics traded Pierce and Kevin Garnett to the Nets in a blockbuster move that began a rebuilding effort. Brooklyn advanced to the Eastern Conference semifinals, thanks in part to Pierce's first-round heroics against Toronto, but they were quickly dispatched by Miami in the second round.
Pierce averaged a career-low 13.5 points, 4.6 rebounds and 2.4 assists in a career-low 28 minutes per game in 2013-14, which marked the final season of a four-year, $61 million deal he signed in Boston. His move to Washington further depletes Brooklyn's roster, which previously lost Shaun Livingston to Golden State. Former Nets coach Jason Kidd also departed to coach the Bucks, although Brooklyn moved quickly to hire veteran coach Lionel Hollins as his replacement.
SI.com ranked Pierce at No. 19 on our "Top 25 Free Agents of 2014" list, citing his series-clinching block and famous "That's why they brought me here" clutch jumper against the Raptors.
The price and timing are both right, leaving the basketball fit as the biggest open question.
Washington found itself in need of a small forward after Trevor Ariza took the money and ran to Houston, and Pierce was one of the better C-list small forward options on this summer's market. The Wizards surely entered the offseason with the understanding that re-signing Marcin Gortat would limit them to mid-level spending on a three if Ariza did walk, and Pierce is a better player than many of the other options in this per-year range. There's little doubt that Washington would prefer Pierce over the likes of Caron Butler, Ben Gordon, C.J. Miles and Jodie Meeks.
Not known as a popular destination for free agents, Washington likely feels thrilled that they were able to get a player of Pierce's stature, even if he's in decline, without breaking the bank. That they were able to do it while plugging their biggest roster hole makes it that much sweeter. Adding Pierce keeps the pressure off 2013 lottery pick Otto Porter, who struggled through a rough rookie season, and it should stave off any possibility of a backslide after the Wizards made the playoffs in 2014 for the first time in years.
There are rough edges that need some sanding, though. Ariza was a better three-point shooter than Pierce last season, and he also used a smaller percentage of his team's possessions. With stars in the making John Wall and Bradley Beal requiring the rock, Pierce will need to fully accept a complementary role and keep the ball-stopping to a minimum. On the other end, Pierce's age and miles make him a defensive downgrade compared to Ariza, which could wind up being an issue if Washington advances deep into the playoffs.
Pierce's playoff experience paid dividends in Brooklyn in 2014, though, and Washington is clearly in winning mode after decades of mediocrity. Combined with Gortat's return and the additions of Kris Humphries and DeJuan Blair, the Pierce acquisition just might help the Wizards move into the East's top four.