- The Washington Times - Monday, December 28, 2015

The shots and talk are the lasting marks of Paul Pierce’s one season in Washington. The big 3-pointers he made in the playoffs, the puffed-up chest approach he used around a young team. Those things returned with Pierce, who arrived Monday night with the Los Angeles Clippers to face the Washington Wizards after signing with Los Angeles in the offseason.

“I had a lot of fun, truthfully, just being around the young guys and teaching them every day,” Pierce said. “This was one of my funnest years. Even though it was for one year, I had a lot of fun being around these guys. They welcomed me with open arms, I embraced the city, they embraced me back. I really enjoyed my time here.”

The Wizards wanted Pierce back for this season, but playing in his hometown for the stacked Clippers was enough to lure him back to Los Angeles. Having former Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers in charge of the Clippers, and longtime friend Sam Cassell — who was partly responsible for Pierce joining Washington — as an assistant in Los Angeles were heavy factors. The Clippers had also tried to sign Pierce the previous season.

“It was basically a family decision,” Pierce said. “Doc definitely made it easier, being able to have Doc there as a coach. Being at home around my mother and having my kids be around their cousins and uncles and grandmas, especially at this point in my career where this could be the last year, who knows, re-evaluate after the season, just start finally getting them in a school system where they’re probably going to live.

“Also, the opportunity, I looked at the team and I thought that we, you know, had a chance to win a championship with me and being around family. It was a combination of things. If it wasn’t for that, then I definitely would have been back [in Washington].”

Pierce, 38, said he is in year-by-year mode. One of his archrivals, Kobe Bryant, announced that this would be his last season. Pierce is not sure yet. He said each offseason, he considers what his heart, head and family tell him. On May 15, Pierce stood in the Wizards‘ locker room with wet eyes. He wasn’t sure if he would play for any team the following season. Pierce was sore, tired and short of his goal of again making it to the NBA Finals. His final shot with the Wizards, a corner 3-pointer, went in a tick late, and the Wizards‘ season slammed to a close. Yet, he opted for another 82-game grind.

“Seeing where my heart is, my mind is, how motivated I am,” Pierce said. “You put that all in perspective and you try to see where you at with that. That’s pretty much how I made the decision.”

Pierce had started in all 17 of his previous seasons. With the Wizards, he played small forward before being moved to power forward in the playoffs. Washington used the small-ball approach, a radical change from past seasons, to sweep the Toronto Raptors in the first round of the playoffs and joust with the top-seeded Atlanta Hawks in the conference semifinals.

Wizards coach Randy Wittman said last season that the team did not move Pierce to power forward earlier in the year because it wanted to curtail his minutes before the playoffs. Rivers is going through a similar process in Los Angeles with Pierce. The Clippers have a glut of small forwards, plus Blake Griffin, before he injured a quad last week, to play power forward. That has forced Pierce to come off the bench for much of the season. He started on Monday night because of Griffin’s injury, receiving a muffled response when announced with the other starters.

When Rivers was with Pierce in Boston for a decade, he would repeatedly send Pierce to the elbow and run isolation plays for him there.

“He still has some of that, but he just can’t do it over and over again,” Rivers said. “We would give it to him until someone stopped him. That could be nine plays in a row. I don’t know if he can or can’t, but I know he doesn’t want to.”

At this stage, Pierce prefers to come off screens, move the ball and pop into open space. He has basically become a 3-point shooter: 63.6 percent of his attempts this season are from behind the 3-point line.

He’s also seen a decline across the board. His minutes, field-goal percentage and 3-point percentages are all down significantly. Pierce is averaging just 4.6 points and 2.3 rebounds per game.

He still has belief in the waffling Wizards, who entered the night with a .500 record following a four-game winning streak.

“I keep up with them when I’m not playing,” Pierce said. “I’m still good friends with a lot of the guys on the team; we chat on the text. I just think they’re dealing with a lot of injuries, kind of got off to a slow start. I think once they get healthy, you’re going to have to watch out for them. They got a lot of depth when they’re healthy. A guy like Alan Anderson can definitely be a positive for them as far as their wing depth. Obviously, they’re missing a lot of their big men.

“Once they get healthy, if they get healthy at the right time, they can make a real good run.”

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