Paul Pierce will play next season either with the Wizards or the Clippers, per reports. With Pierce opting out of his contract with Washington and the Clippers trading away starting small forward Matt Barnes, speculation is that The Truth will join the coach with whom he won his only championship in Los Angeles. While neither option would in any way hurt his legacy and he’s earned the right to go out on his own terms, staying in Washington could prove to be the sounder decision.
On the surface, a move to Los Angeles seems too enticing to pass up. Pierce would get to play where he grew up and on a team with championship aspirations. He’d start next to Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, two of the most talented players in the league. A reunion with Doc Rivers and a deep playoffs run would be the perfect ending to a storied career. A closer look at the situation, however, reveals some potential issues for Pierce with the Clippers.
The first one is money. Pierce has made enough of it in his career that it’s surely not his main motivation, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a factor. With the Clippers, the most Pierce could make is $3.4 million if they offer the taxpayer mid-level exception. Pierce could make $6.3 million with the Wizards, almost twice as much. Cashing in on one last deal is likely not Pierce’s priority, but the difference is substantial enough to make him pause.
Similarly, his role with the Wizards would be more significant. The Clippers had the best offense in the league by putting the ball in Paul’s hands and featuring Griffin as much as possible. Jamal Crawford needs shots off the bench if he doesn’t get traded and Lance Stephenson will need touches. Even J.J. Redick plays a big role by always being an option in the half court thanks to his constant movement. Pierce would likely occupy a role similar to Barnes’s as a spot-up shooter.
That’s not a bad thing, necessarily. Pierce isn’t the creator he once was, and with Washington he played off a dominant ball handler in John Wall. He was still relied on during the regular season to provide more offense than he will in Los Angeles, though, and in the playoffs his presence meant much more for the Wizards than it would for the Clippers. Pierce’s shift to power forward and his clutch scoring were essential in Washington’s run, but wouldn’t likely be of great help on a Los Angeles team that has Paul taking the tough late-game shots and can’t afford to go small with Griffin as its only big man.
Leaving money on the table and a chance to play a significant role would be worthy sacrifices if the chance of winning a title went up exponentially. While the Clippers will have a better team than the Wizards if DeAndre Jordan is re-signed, it’s not easy to see them making the Finals simply because they play in the West.
The Warriors ran roughshod through the league this past season and will bring back every key cog. The Thunder will be finally healthy and hungrier than ever. Depending how their offseason goes, the Rockets could join that upper echelon. If Marc Gasol stays in Memphis and Tim Duncan returns for one more year, the Grizzlies and Spurs will be legitimate contenders. The field is simply much tougher both in the regular season and the postseason. In the East, only LeBron James‘s Cavaliers look like true contenders and the Bulls and maybe the Hawks are teams that could knock the Wizards out of the playoffs.
Pierce could make more money, have a bigger role and arguably the same shot of making a deep postseason run by staying with the Wizards. He’d also finish his career as the wise elder, leading a young team to a new level. In Los Angeles he’d be a ring-chasing veteran playing for lower than his market value while being marginalized on offense. There’s nothing wrong with that, but Pierce’s career deserves a better ending.
Of course, Pierce will make his decision based on his own conclusions and factors that matter only to him. Whatever he chooses to do will be the best for him. Maybe playing in his hometown and under Rivers is all that matter to him. Maybe the Clippers are closer to a title even in the tough West than most think and he goes out with a second ring.
In all likelihood, Pierce will play a small role in his fourth team in four years, win a lot of games but fall short in the playoffs. For anyone that has enjoyed his late-career transformation, that doesn’t sound as appealing as him staying in Washington one more season to deliver daggers and usher Wall into superstardom.