Terry Rozier said he felt like he went from the passenger seat to the trunk this past season. The question now is, will someone actually throw him the keys to their car?
Rozier is set to wade into the often murky and unforgiving waters of restricted free agency this summer. If the Celtics extend a $4.3 million qualifying offer next month, they’ll have the ability to match any contract offer that Rozier receives.
Rozier has made it abundantly clear he prefers the Celtics not match, as he desires a fresh start with a team that could give him a chance to step back into the “Scary Terry” spotlight that dimmed after Kyrie Irving returned from injury this season.
Just minutes after Boston’s Game 5 loss in Milwaukee, Rozier offered a telling “no comment” when asked about the possibility of Boston matching offers this summer. He then showed up at ESPN a week later and did a tour of shows where he repeated those messages and reaffirmed how frustrating the season was for him.
Here’s the thing: Everyone already knew how frustrating the season was for Rozier. No one expected him to produce the “Scary Terry” stat lines from the 2018 playoffs once the Celtics were back to full health. But instead of simply embracing the backup role and recognizing that his biggest summer payday would have come by simply being a key cog in a title-contending team, Rozier contributed to Boston’s frustrations, even as the team gave him every opportunity to work through his struggles.
And while other young players like Jaylen Brown fought through early adversity to emerge as impact talent, Rozier never quite seemed willing to figure it out.
Rozier certainly savored his opportunities with the first unit. In 14 games as a starter, Rozier averaged 13.1 points, 5.2 rebounds, 5 assists, and 1.7 steals over just 30.1 minutes per game while shooting 42.9 percent overall and 40.5 percent beyond the 3-point arc. Those are the sort of numbers that will leave teams intrigued by his talent this summer.
Alas, over 65 games in his more familiar reserve role, Rozier averaged 8.1 points, 3.6 rebounds, 2.5 assists, and just 0.7 steals over 21.1 minutes per game. He shot 37.5 percent overall and 33.7 percent from beyond the arc.
The Celtics owned a negative net rating whenever Rozier was on the court, regardless of his role. Even when he struggled most, the Celtics stuck with him. Only once did he play less than 15 minutes, and he logged at least 20 minutes on 53 occasions.
Rozier rewarded Boston’s faith by going on First Take and throwing his coach under the bus while suggesting that what the team did in practice didn’t always happen in games, and suggesting the team catered to Irving and Gordon Hayward.
It wasn’t a great look and we’re not certain Rozier helped his cause this summer. He certainly put himself on the national radar — and any press is good press when you’re a free agent — but it’s fair to wonder if teams interested in his service will operate with a bit more caution, maybe wondering how Rozier will react if he or his team struggle again in future seasons.
What’s even more wild is that there is always the chance that Rozier will be back in Boston next season. If Irving departs in free agency, the Celtics would have an obvious void at point guard and Rozier, given his success with the 2018 core that would remain, might make sense to promote to a starting role.
Listen: It’s understandable that Rozier yearns for more. He got a taste of being a superstar in those 2018 playoffs and made "Scary Terry" a household name. But as good as Rozier’s stats were that postseason, he still struggled with consistency (particularly on the road) and produced a Game 7 dud against the Cleveland Cavaliers that he admitted he still hasn’t watched.
Rozier’s talents are obvious but his attitude needs to change. He needs to be better at embracing what’s in front of him, and not lament what’s not. It’s hard to get a gauge on his upcoming free agent market because of how much change there will be around the league, but there’s a cluster of intriguing ball-handlers near the top of the draft — guys like Ja Morant and Darius Garland — who some rebuilding teams in the league might snatch up and further diminish the number of squads looking for a young ball-handler like Rozier.
League observers seem pretty confident that there will be a market for Rozier but maybe not one that can offer even the amount the Celtics had offered in extension talks before the season.
And, while it’s unlikely, there is always the chance that Rozier is underwhelmed by his offers and must consider signing the qualifying offer in the hopes of finding a better payday in unrestricted free agency next summer. Now that’s scary.
If Rozier does move on, the Celtics will try to engage his next employer on potential sign-and-trade options. If a team plans to sign Rozier into cap space, the Celtics might not be able to get anything in return for him, but sign-and-trade options — while more difficult for a team like Boston — could open opportunities for the Celtics to recoup value. And given the uncertain direction of the team moving forward, every asset helps.
Rozier is going to have to be patient. A lot of dominoes will likely fall before teams decide if he’s the type of player they wish to hitch their wagon to. Rozier didn’t help his cause this season with his attitude, especially because he didn’t realize that the trunk was never locked and he could have gotten himself out.
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