Grade the deal: Paul Pierce gives Clippers needed postseason poise
Doc Rivers has never been hesitant to reach back into the past.
Paul Pierce has reportedly agreed to sign a three-year, $10.6 million contract with the Clippers, according to Yahoo Sports and NBA.com. The deal, which was made possible via L.A.'s tax-payer mid-level exception, reportedly includes a team option on the final year. Although the 37-year-old Pierce will join his fourth team in four seasons, he will also be reuniting with Rivers, who coached him to the 2008 title in Boston, and returning to the city where he earned McDonald's All-American honors at Inglewood High School.
This latest change of scenery comes after Pierce spent one-year stints with Brooklyn in 2013-14 and Washington in 2014-15. The 10-time All-Star forward turned down a $5.5 million player option with the Wizards earlier this summer, entering the off-season at No. 24 on SI.com's "Top 25 Free Agents of 2015" list. Pierce averaged 11.9 points and 4 rebounds in Washington, where he emerged as a key shot-maker in the playoffs. His veteran savvy and poise in late-game situations helped the Wizards sweep the Raptors in the first round, and he nearly hit three game-winners in a second-round series loss to the Hawks. Those successes suggested that Pierce had paced himself a bit: the 2014-15 season saw Pierce post career-lows in scoring, shot attempts, rebounds and Player Efficiency Rating, even though he started 73 games.
Prior to the draft, Rivers traded starting small forward Matt Barnes and reserve center Spencer Hawes to the Hornets in exchange for guard Lance Stephenson. Pierce pencils in as Barnes's replacement at the three, making this agreement about far more than just sentimentality and nostalgia. His career 37.1% three-point shooting will be especially helpful to a high-octane offense that relies on a well-spaced court.
Hamstrung by salary cap rules and a need to re-sign starting center DeAndre Jordan, Rivers openly admitted that his options for upgrading his top-heavy rotation were limited. The tax-payer mid-level was Rivers's most direct avenue for adding outside talent, and he used it to address a clear roster hole. At this stage of his career, however, Pierce might be better suited as a small ball power forward, and he might have trouble keeping up with perimeter players as this deal progresses.
Still, this was a deal worth doing for the Clippers, who need all the help they can get behind their strong core trio of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and Jordan (assuming he re-signs). Pierce arrives at a significant per-year discount, relative to the player option he turned down, and securing a team option at the end of this deal will likely look very wise as Pierce approaches 40. Jordan's return would seal this as a strong addition, as the athletic shot-blocker could help provide defensive cover as Pierce continues to slow down. In an interview with SI.com on Wednesday, Griffin bemoaned the Clippers' "complacency" during their collapse against the Rockets in the second round. A player with Pierce's experience and drive should help ensure that meltdown doesn't have a sequel.