WASHINGTON — Despite organizational confidence heading into free agency, the Washington Wizards were reportedly never close to retaining veteran forward Paul Pierce, who signed with his hometown Los Angeles Clippers on July 10.
Heading into NBA free agency, the Wizards and Clippers were considered front-runners, with the Boston Celtics making a late push to bring back their aging franchise star after two seasons away.
According to Clippers head coach Doc Rivers, who returned to Boston with Pierce for a community event earlier this week, Pierce’s decision boiled down to Boston vs. Los Angeles.
“I think [Pierce] wanted to go one of two places,” Rivers told the Boston media. “He wanted to come back here or he wanted to finish his career at home where he grew up, and I think it’s really cool for me that I can be a part of that.”
No mention of the Wizards, which could be intentional or an unintended omission.
As his long-time coach, Rivers is likely to be dialed in to Pierce’s decision-making, giving the report credibility. His reasoning suggests that Pierce made his decision based on more than X’s and O’s, opting for the nostalgia of Boston or his dream of playing at home in southern California.
The Wizards reached the Eastern Conference semifinals in Pierce’s first season with the team. Washington went 46-36, the franchise’s most victories since 1978-79, then swept the Toronto Raptors in the first round of the playoffs before losing to the Atlanta Hawks in six games.
Pierce starred during the postseason with several clutch moments, including a jumper at the buzzer to beat the Hawks in Game 3. He appeared to have made a game-tying 3-pointer in the final second of Game 6, but replay revealed the shot came after the buzzer.
Pierce averaged 11.9 points and 4.0 rebounds in 73 starts during the regular season.
Since his departure, the Wizards have signed veterans Gary Neal and Alan Anderson, acquiring Jared Dudley from the Milwaukee Bucks. His leadership for young stars John Wall and Bradley Beal has been widely documented, but the team has made moves to replace his role in the lineup.