LAS VEGAS – They’re signing Paul Pierce but thinking Kevin Durant.
If the Washington Wizards’ decision to budgetarily hold the line on Trevor Ariza Saturday didn’t tip their hand on Durant ambitions in the summer of 2016, their move to land Pierce in free agency later in the day sure did.
Signing Pierce to a two-year, $10 million deal, a move reported by multiple outlets, looks like a potentially perfect maneuver to plug the hole in Washington’s starting lineup opened up by Ariza’s departure for the Houston Rockets. The longtime Celtics and one-year Nets star might not have a lot left in the tank – he averaged 13.5 points, 4.6 rebounds and 28 minutes for Brooklyn – but he might not be asked to do too much for the Wizards.
That club’s backcourt, John Wall and Bradley Beal, drive the offense and second-year forward Otto Porter already is being counted on to pick up much of Ariza’s slack. Pierce can ease Porter’s transition – the No. 3 pick in 2013, Porter played sparingly as a rookie – while providing leadership among the youngish team.
The Wizards want Porter to flourish, but that doesn’t mean they won’t keep their options open should Durant decide to weigh his options beyond Oklahoma City in two years. Given LeBron James‘ decision announced Friday to return to Cleveland, fans in Washington and team management might try to pitch Durant – a DC native – on a similar homecoming. As laid out by CSNWashington.com:
But make no mistake, this isn’t conjecture anymore. It’s real. The hiring of David Adkins, who coached Durant in high school, from the University of Maryland’s women’s team as assistant coach to player development for the Wizards this past week isn’t a coincidence.
The building blocks are being put in place now. Ariza is off the books and Porter, who is playing on a rookie scale contract, is a much cheaper option. Nene, who will make $26 million for the next two seasons, will be off the books as well.
So what had been whispered or at least kept to a low roar evolved into some full-blown rumbling Saturday.