Paul Pierce, like a stud freshman college basketball player, was one-and-done with the Wizards. He may have bolted in free agency for his hometown Los Angeles Clippers to end what will be a Hall-of-Fame career, but his former teammates aren't trying to forget him. They're forever grateful for his teachings -- more by example than taking any particular player under his wing -- en route to an Eastern Conference semifinals appearance that was filled with memories that will never fade.
"Just confidence," Otto Porter, who is expected to succeed Pierce as the starting small forward, said on what he takes away from the experience. "Always keep that. That’s one thing I learned."
Pierce never was in short supply. He will be 38 when the season starts and will save his body, much like he did in Washington, for the postseason. He talked the talk before the Wizards played the Toronto Raptors in the first round, went in their house and made every big shot down the stretch as the Wizards swept them in four games after struggling against them in the regular season. Pierce hit the winning shot at the buzzer in Game 3 vs. the Hawks. His desperation, final shot in the elimination Game 6 went in and appeared to send it into overtime but came a fraction of a second too late.
“Professional. I mean that in all aspects. As a father off the court, as a lead by example guy, leading vocally. He did it all," said Martell Webster, who mostly watched from the bench but marveled at Pierce's stage presence. "He’s one bad man as he showed. His last shot here went in. … I took a lot from him. He’s a man that approached the game with the most professionalism. I’m happy for him. Everybody asks me, ‘Isn’t it messed up Paul left?’ I’m like, ‘No. It’s not. When do you get to end your career in your hometown on a championship contending team?' I’m happy for him. He’s straight chilling. There’s not a lot of pressure on him at all."
Marcin Gortat was giddy when Pierce joined the Wizards last season. He appeared heartbroken when he left.
“We definitely lost a great leader, a great basketball mind. A great finisher in the fourth quarter," Gortat said. "You got to give it up to him. He was making a lot of big-time shots."
So what did Gortat learn? His anecdotes, as expected, were amusing.
"You’re not allowed to wear LeBron James shoes to practice. You have to be two hours before practice to lift. To warm up you got to do jump rope. If Paul Pierce does 10 reps in the bench press, you’ve got to do 11. … I wish to learn the trash talk in a game but I don’t have the bling-bling on my finger so I can’t do it. He’s special. There’s not to many persons in this league who got over 20,000 points.
"‘Pass the ball to me, even if you have a dunk. I scored 20,000-plus points in this league so you know where the ball has to go.’ So I’ll remember that. I learned a lot. Thirty-eight years old, he was here two hours before practice, jumping rope, staying on the treadmill, doing everything. Incredible work ethic. Incredible basketball IQ. It was fun to play with him."
Bradley Beal quickly responded "trash-talking" when asked about Pierce's impact on him. After a quick laugh, he turned serious.
"His work ethic. I think the biggest thing he has that I want to get was his killer instinct, his swagger. He feels to this day he’s the best player on the floor. That’s what you have to have to be an elite two guard in the league, or an elite player period," said Beal, entering his fourth season and hoping to finally emerge as an All-Star if he can stay healthy. "He’s always the first one in the gym, the last one to leave. He’s in his 17th, 18th year and he’s still doing it."
It was Beal who fed Pierce in that Game 3 vs. the Hawks. Pierce waved him off and stepped back to bank in the shot over a double-team. Who will take that responsibility with Pierce gone?
“Me," Beal said. "For sure.”