Paul Pierce sent a typical braggadocio-based social media post Wednesday night. In a photo, Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers was leaning over Clippers flip-flopper and center DeAndre Jordan, who was signing paperwork to remain with the Clippers. Pierce’s caption: “That’s why they brought me here. LOL.”
That Pierce will be playing in his hometown next season created a hole for the Wizards. Washington hoped to have Pierce return — and could offer him more money than other places — but the veteran decided to play for his old Boston Celtics boss, Doc Rivers, and be at home for less.
Seeing Pierce at times drag his 37-year-old body across the locker room last season doesn’t make the choice a surprise. This season could be his last, though he signed a three-year deal. He’ll be able to play true home games for the first time.
“If you’re around long enough, you’re never surprised,” Wizards coach Randy Wittman said. “I think you could probably ask [Dallas Mavericks owner] Mark Cuban that. Disappointed a little bit just because who Paul is and what he is. But, you know what? He’s at the end of his career. I know he’s got his mom there, and his family there and he grew up there. I know what that’s all about.
“I was able to play for my hometown team at the end of my career. I know what the thought process is there. You’ve just got to move on. You can’t dwell on it. You’ve got plans. You’ve got contingency things with everybody, whether it’s Paul, a draft pick or somebody else you’re looking at in free agency, that, if it doesn’t happen, you’ve got to be ready to move on to the next step and I think we’ve done a good job of that. Real excited with what we’ve been able to do and the additions.”
Once Pierce left, the Wizards pivoted to find another veteran “stretch four” option. So, they traded a protected 2020 second-round pick to the Milwaukee Bucks for Jared Dudley. He fits the NBA’s move to “3 and D” guys who can play power forward. Dudley is a career 39.6 percent 3-point shooter, despite shooting 22 percent his rookie season. Moving to his fifth team since being drafted 22nd overall in 2007, Dudley knows he’s a role player. He’s also comfortable with that.
“This was a place I was thinking about going possibly in free agency, but decided to opt back in,” Dudley Friday said of spending last season with the Milwaukee Bucks. “I knew this could be a possibility once Paul Pierce left.”
Dudley’s graduation to a power forward with range first came because of playing with Steve Nash in Phoenix. Dudley benefited from Nash’s ability to create easy shots on the perimeter for his teammates. Once Jabari Parker was injured in Milwaukee last season, the Bucks decided to swing Dudley into the power forward spot.
Parker played 25 games before an torn ACL in his left knee ended his season in mid-December. Dudley’s minutes and production rose in December, January and February after the change. His play dipped during the 19 games after the all-star break, when he shot just 20 percent from behind the 3-point line. Prior, he shot 44.2 percent, a mark that would have led the Wizards.
Dudley lives in San Diego and will find a new place for the season in Washington in late August. The NBA will ship his belongings from Milwaukee to his new home. After the trade, he heard from Marcin Gortat, his former teammate in Phoenix, when it was 4 a.m. in Poland. Three years ago, Dudley was flown to Gortat’s popular basketball camp in the Polish center’s home country.
“It’s one of the most professional camps,” Dudley said. “If you know Gortat, that’s saying something. He had press conferences before. He does a celebrity game at the end of the camp over at the arena, where it holds about 14,000 and it’s sold out. I don’t know how Gortat can sell out an arena. It sounds crazy, but it’s true.”
Dudley and Bradley Beal have the same agent. He works out with new Wizard Alan Anderson in the offseason. Dudley also said he has a good relationship with John Wall.
After spending last season truncating Pierce’s regular-season minutes, the Wizards are better suited to use a smaller player at power forward more often this coming season. Dudley and the return of Drew Gooden will provide them with more flexibility. Nene can still play as a post force and occasionally slide to center. The Wizards are taking a risk by not having a third big man behind Nene and Gortat. Though he dealt with multiple minor injuries throughout last season, Nene played 67 games and started 58. Both totals were personal highs since he joined the Wizards in 2011.
“Unlike most teams, we have two capable bigs that can finish dropoffs, that can post up,” Dudley said. “That’s where the advantage comes with Washington. Gortat and Nene.”
Another advantage may now be depth. Progressively the Wizards have built their bench around a starting foursome of Wall, Beal, Nene and Gortat. The Wizards were 15th in bench scoring last season. With Dudley, Gary Neal, Anderson, Kris Humphries, Gooden and Kelly Oubre Jr. all available to be dispatched in place of the starters, that number should rise. Which is why the Wizards brought Dudley here.