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A little over 16 years ago this summer, Vince Carter and Paul Pierce entered the NBA as the rare swingmen to build around. Though it would take them over seven months to make their NBA debuts following the 1998 NBA draft, by the second week of the season anyone that was closely following the NBA (to say nothing of the technical – don’t get into that fight with Golden State fans – four teams that passed on Carter and nine teams that passed on Pierce) were wondering why in the world these two weren’t taken first or second overall in that draft.
By 2014, it’s become clear that Dirk Nowitzki was the proper first selection in that draft, but that doesn’t mean Pierce and Carter haven’t enjoyed storied, Hall of Fame-level careers in the NBA. Both endured their fair share of criticism for moping while slogging their way through lottery seasons in Toronto and Boston, but in the years since the duo has rebuilt their reputations, and rightfully earned the ability to stand as coveted free agent pickups even at an age where some ex-superstars consider retirement.
For all their caveats, and issues spread out over the previous decade, both Carter and Pierce earned “ooh, good signing” nods as they agreed to terms with their new teams. For Vince, it means a three-year, $12 million deal as first reported by Sam Amick at USA Today. For Pierce, Marc Stein’s ESPN report of a two-year, $10 million deal was met with the same, “niiiiice” response from those that like the idea of a player doing sound work in his particular winter at a relatively cheap price.
Pierce is coming off of a four-year, $61 million contract, so that’s where the relative notion comes in. Over a year after Brooklyn moved quite a few draft picks and assets in a last chance diner pitch to be the last one standing in June, the team was able to cut just over $20 million in potential luxury tax and payroll savings by not matching Washington’s offer. It seems a borderline anathema to Brooklyn to decline to attempt to keep Pierce in New York, especially at that price – but these prices tend to skyrocket once you’ve become a repeated luxury tax offender.
Paul struggled for a goodly chunk of 2013-14, his first season in 16 away from Boston. Struggling with injuries, a new coach, a different offensive setup and the oddity of being looked upon as a gunner for hire as opposed to a franchise stalwart, it took months for him to roll into focus and shape, shooting well below 40 percent for most of the early term. His point and assist per game numbers were career lows (his assist mark was half of what it was the previous year in Boston, working for a team that wasn’t exactly rife with finishers), and despite some postseason heroics, it was mostly a year to forget.
The 36-year old (37 by the time 2014-15 starts) hopes to change that in Washington, working with the rare “win now” team that is half-filled with young players still years away from their prime. At his best, Pierce’s ability to screen, draw the defense, and make the heady move after a broken play will help a backcourt featuring John Wall and Bradley Beal to better things.
At worst? He’ll break down himself, and miss plenty of minutes for a team that needs help on the wing. And those broken plays? They could result in Pierce (who has a player option to opt out of the second year of this deal next summer) head-faking his way into oblivion as the shot clock blinks into the red.
This is par for Washington’s particular course, though. There is a future there, between Wall and Beal. Beyond those two, unless you consider Otto Porter’s recent Summer League showing a thing to be relied upon (which isn’t out of the realm of the possible), this is a crew that has to make it happen with the Eastern Conference in flux in 2014-15. The Heat were served a shot, nobody knows how Derrick Rose will look next year, Indiana cannot be counted upon, LeBron still needs a while to teach those formidable Cleveland youngsters how to do it, and Atlanta has a ways to go. Washington will be every annoying cable talking heads’ dark horse to come out of the East this fall.
The same can’t be said for Memphis, partially because far too many NBA pundits tend to strangely overlook the Grizzlies, but mostly because the West is so ridiculously deep. Carter knows this, as a member of one of the better eight seeds in NBA history last season, a Dallas Mavericks crew that took the eventual champion, with Carter taking a spectacular ending role in one of those wins.
Dallas is desperate to surround Dirk Nowitzki with a cast that can vault him into the top half of the Western bracket, though, and while the team’s front office, coaching staff and players respected what VC has brought to the table since joining in 2011, the team coveted salary cap flexibility over paying Vince through his mid-30s.
Memphis, just as desperate for help on the wing, had no such cap-freeing options, and it has signed Carter to a more than reasonable contract that won’t act as a millstone even if Vince undercuts his career arc and turns into an end of the bench player. Though Carter’s athleticism has waned significantly over the last half-decade, at least in comparison to the guy that twice put his elbow through the goal, he is still a threat from both long range (40 percent over the last two seasons) and when a play breaks down. His length and touch in the paint make him an expert at loping toward the rim after things go sour.
Things often go sour with Memphis’ middling offense, not terrible in relation to the rest of the league but the worst of the West’s eight 2014 playoff teams. Carter isn’t going to step in to aid these woes in full and coach Dave Joerger may even picture him as more of a sixth man (VC has started just three of 162 games he’s appeared in over the last two full seasons), but he will help.
He’ll come relatively cheap, too. Sam Amick reports that he’s agreed to just a three-year, $12 million contract. The last year, with Carter working at age 40, is only partially guaranteed at half the average price. Such a deal, for all sides.
There has been quite a bit of accurate criticism lobbed both Carter and Pierce’s way in the years since their 1998 introduction to pro ball, but even if we can’t picture Washington as a championship contender and don’t see Memphis leaving the morass that is the Greatest Conference Ever, these are two sound, little deals for what should probably be two future Hall of Famers.
Hard to argue against the approach, for anyone involved.
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