The Washington Wizards broke out of prolonged mediocrity in 2013-14, surprising many with their first-round playoff dismissal of the Chicago Bulls, and subsequent hard-fought loss to the Indiana Pacers. Over the summer, they lost integral wingman Trevor Ariza, but replaced him with a legend: Paul Pierce.
The former Boston Celtics star and future Hall of Famer is having an immediate influence on Wizards culture. Asked about his arrival, 21-year-old Washington guard Bradley Beal said, “I think I trash talk a little bit more than I used to. He’s that swagger type of guy that we need.”
Fans who watched Pierce’s preseason debut against the Bulls monday night (an 85-81 Wizards win) should hardly be surprised by this rhetoric. Pierce delivered a questionable open-court foul against Jimmy Butler in the game’s early stages, then got into a scuffle with reigning Defensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah. Pierce ended up poking the wily center in the face:
This sort of behavior is, as you may have suspected, not exactly common in exhibition games. But Pierce is an elder statesman now, and he appears not to be wasting any time bringing a new, harsher edge to this Wizards squad, a team he thinks can reach the NBA Finals. Pierce recently detailed his thought process before joining the Wizards:
“They have one of the best backcourts in basketball. They’re lacking experience, a guy in the locker room and on the court that can help end games. I was like, I probably can fit in. After LeBron said he was going back to Cleveland, the dynamics of the Eastern Conference, with Indiana, I was like, this is a team that could be in the Eastern Conference finals, or possibly the Finals, based on what’s here. And adding me to some of the other veterans they added, I was like, why not?”
— John Wilmes