The Washington Wizards 2013-14 season was among the most successful the franchise has had in quite sometime. There is a lot of momentum from last season to build off of and general manager Ernie Grunfeld had a task ahead of him going into the off-season. Continuity was the main goal and for the most part they succeeded.
Priority number one for the organization was bringing back center Marcin Gortat. Washington acquired the Polish center from the Phoenix Suns in a trade last off-season and a first round pick was part of the price. Gortat had one of the best years of his career averaging 13 points, nearly 10 rebounds and had 37 double-doubles.
Gortat was a big difference maker for the Wizards last year and they could not afford for him to walk. He helped elevate the franchise to a playoff contender and giving up a first rounder for Gortat made him nonexpendable. The front office took care of priority number one by signing the Polish center to a five year $60 million deal.
The second priority for Grunfeld was bringing back starting small forward Trevor Ariza. The 10-year veteran had one of the better seasons in his career averaging 14 points and shooting 40% from the three-point line. Ariza also brought a great defensive presence and should have gotten recognized for his defensive skills on one of the All-NBA defensive teams.
Ariza wanted the big contract, as he was most likely entering his last big free agency period of his career. Wanting long-term financial security, this was his best time to get that.
Washington did not want to overspend for the services of Ariza, but they expressed interest in bringing him back. Unfortunately, they were unable to come to an agreement and Ariza chose to sign with the Houston Rockets for a four-year deal worth $32 million.
The loss of Ariza at first left a large hole for the former third overall selection Otto Porter to fill, but Grunfeld made a big move.
Former Brooklyn Net Paul Pierce signed on the dotted line and was officially a Washington Wizard. This move came as a bit of a surprise to many, but it is a move that had to happen. There are several different opinions about Pierce at this point in his career, but this was an outstanding addition to the roster.
Entering his 17th season, Pierce played a career low last year in terms of minutes per game. He might have some age to him, but Pierce brings qualities to this team they desperately need.
When Ariza left for Houston, a lot of experience within this team was lost. Trevor Ariza won a championship with the Lakers and brought that championship experience to a team that was so young and not full of playoff experience. The Wizards now get that back with Pierce, who has won a championship with Boston and was once awarded Finals MVP.
Washington was able to close games in their first round series against the Chicago Bulls, but found difficulty in closing out games against the Indiana Pacers. Bradley Beal was that guy first round, but Paul George made it tough for him second round to do so. Nobody else was able to step up in that role and Paul Pierce brings that ability with him.
The Truth is known as one of the more clutch players in the NBA and is one of the best closers. With the experience he brings to the lineup, no stage is too big for him and it will rub off on the rest of the squad.
Otto Porter is due to get an increased workload this year and right now the Pierce signing does not limit that. Pierce will be great for Porter from a mentor standpoint and he is not killing a severe amount of playing time for the second year player. With Pierce only getting about 28 minutes a game last season, Porter will still get plenty of minutes to gain experience.
This situation could get a little tricky over a month into the season once Martell Webster gets back onto the floor. For now, the signing of Pierce is a huge addition for the Wizards due to the experience he brings and the ability to close out in the big moments.
Washington has other needs to address this off-season such as providing better depth in the front-court and adding another guard to the mix. The Wizards made several trades in the past few days to add to the depth in the front-court.
Kris Humphries and DeJuan Blair were added to the roster through sign and trade deals. Humphries is a solid shooter from mid range much like Nene, except he is not as physical and defensively sound as Nene. Blair appears undersized at 6’7 for the low post, but he is a physical player able to rebound and score inside well.
With Drew Gooden set to return as well, the Wizards front court depth is much better heading into the season than they were last year. The roster is almost set nearing the 15-player maximum and Washington has flexibility with that last spot.
Ernie Grunfeld has done a tremendous job of building a contender in the Eastern conference. He has done a great job of setting up the team for success now, but also the future as well. Many of the new acquisitions have short-term deals with player options in the mix. These contracts give an opportunity for the front office to clear up a good amount of cap space.
This flexibility with the roster and the salary cap already is raising discussions on whether the Wizards are positioning themselves to make a run for Kevin Durant in 2016. With the LeBron returning home story just happening, eyes are already gazing upon Durant to potentially make a return home to DC.
Landing Durant is a possibility with an attractive roster to surround himself with and the cap room to get a big deal. It also bodes well for Washington when they chose to hire Durant’s former high school coach David Adkins. The pieces are falling into place for the potential signing, but that time is out on the horizon.
The Wizards took a big step as a franchise last season winning their first playoff series since 2005. With playoff experience gained and good pieces added to the roster, Grunfeld has the Wizards set to be a big-time contender in the Eastern Conference.