When Paul Pierce watched the Washington Wizards in last season’s playoffs, he saw plenty of talent and potential.
He also saw some mistakes.
The Wizards needed something. Weeks later, he decided they needed … him.
There have been more than 500 transactions involving NBA players since the San Antonio Spurs ended last season hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy. Most of those transactions were barely noticed, hardly creating a ripple in the league’s power structure. But others — like Pierce signing with the Wizards in July — figure to have a significant impact on the 2014-15 season.
“That’s the beauty of our game,” Pierce said. “Any moment, one player can change the whole landscape of your franchise.”
NBA offseasons attract perhaps more attention now than some teams get in the regular season. This summer, LeBron James went home to Cleveland, Kevin Love got traded there to join him, Lance Stephenson moved to Charlotte, Chandler Parsons headed to Dallas, Chris Bosh stayed put in Miami, and Carmelo Anthony remained in New York. Already, there’s a buzz about what the blockbuster-in-waiting summer free-agent period of 2016 will look like.
Players hold more power now than ever. In Pierce’s eyes, that’s what sets the NBA apart from other major U.S. pro leagues — that one player can change a team’s fortunes.
And, thanks in large part to moves like the one he made, the NBA has a different look on the court entering this season than it did when confetti came down in San Antonio four months ago.
“People don’t love the same teams winning all the time,” Pierce said. “They want to see other teams that weren’t in the spotlight before get into the spotlight. When you have constant landscape change, it brings great interest to the league.”
These days, it might as well be called the LeBron Rule.
James left Cleveland for Miami in 2010, the Heat went to four straight NBA Finals, and the Cavaliers became bottom-feeders overnight. He left Miami and returned to Cleveland this summer, and the Cavaliers are instantly the big favorites to win an NBA championship.
Pierce isn’t conceding anything to Cleveland. He’s in Washington looking for a second ring.
He was part of a star-studded group that went to Brooklyn with eyes on a title, but the Nets lost center Brook Lopez early in the year and never realized their potential. Afterward, Pierce weighed his options — stay in Brooklyn? Move to his Los Angeles hometown to join the Clippers? — before deciding he could be the missing piece to Washington’s championship puzzle.
He’s convinced he made the right move.
After watching the Wizards last season, Pierce realized they were rushing everything in the deciding minutes of second-round games against the Indiana Pacers. They were outscored in the final three minutes in every game, something Pierce chalked up to a relative lack of playoff experience.
That’s what he brings to Washington.
“I think we have something here,” Pierce said.
He’s a Wizard now, though deep down, his Celtics roots are still there.
He spent 15 years in Boston, raised eyebrows when he showed up at Fenway Park for Derek Jeter’s final game last month wearing Celtics colors, still speaks highly of that team and that city. But he says the days of seeing stars like Kobe Bryant, Dirk Nowitzki and Tim Duncan spend their entire careers in one place are just about over.
“You’re going to see star players in different places and it’s going to create more balance, it’s going to create interest from teams you normally, probably, don’t have interest from,” Pierce said. “The landscape is constantly going to change. I think people love that. They can’t wait for the NBA Finals but they can’t wait for offseason moves, either.”
His wife and three kids, ages 6, 3 and 1, are settled in Washington. He’s forged a bond with his new team, his new coach, the people around him.
“Already you see the potential, but you see the hunger,” Pierce said. “Each and every day. I’m usually always the first one to the gym, every team I’ve ever played on, but since coming here you see a lot of the young guys, they’re getting here early, it’s like they want to get better. It’s like they want to take the next step from a year ago of not just making the playoffs but doing something really special.”
At 37, Pierce has seen the NBA wildly transform, including the league’s new television deal, to be worth $24 billion over nine years.
“You’re seeing so many changes,” Pierce said. “I mean, the TV deal, you see where that’s going, into the billions. These TV companies are paying billions because they know something, that a lot of these people around the world want to see our game and want to continue to see more of it, more teams. So I think we’re really just scratching the surface.”
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