While many eyes around the NBA might be monitoring Terry Rozier’s situation, the Boston Celtics should be in no rush to move their backup point guard unless a rival is willing to greatly overpay for his services.
Like many on Boston’s roster, Rozier is adjusting to a different role this season. After shining as a leading man while starting in place of Kyrie Irving during the Celtics’ improbable playoff run last year, Rozier has shuffled back to a reserve role where minutes haven’t always been plentiful.
If Rozier has been angered by the downturn in minutes, he’s done a good job of masking it publicly. Even after playing a season-low 15 minutes in Boston’s head-slapping loss to the Orlando Magic last month, Rozier suggested that coach Brad Stevens has the hardest job on the team balancing playing time for a deep roster.
Given Boston’s uneven play out of the gates, it’s not hard to see why there is already overcaffeinated speculation about Rozier’s future (but even November seems absurd for Celtics trade rumors). Rozier is too valuable to the Celtics, both now and further down the road, to make the sort of reactionary move that Danny Ainge has so frequently avoided during his tenure.
The Celtics hold Rozier and his potential in high regard and it’s part of the reason they didn’t rush to deal him this summer despite him using the playoffs as a coming-out party.
Even if Irving is completely healthy and fully committed to re-signing with the Celtics after the season, Rozier provides great insurance given Irving’s injury history. Plus, nothing is certain about Irving’s future until that new contract is officially inked.
While the Celtics most certainly have luxury tax concerns starting this season, the team seems in no rush to finalize the avenues by which it could dip below the tax before season’s end. Boston might very well end up moving a key rotation piece before February’s deadline in order to both alleviate a talent traffic jam and get below the tax, but that does not necessarily have to involve Rozier.
Some will protest that, with Irving set to re-sign and Marcus Smart having inked a big-money extension this past summer, there does not seem to be a path for Rozier to return at a high price tag after this season. Ainge knows that rosters can change quickly, and even with plenty of deep-pocketed suitors awaiting, there are few certainties in restricted free agency.
Even with a healthy Irving, Rozier is a vital part of Boston’s bench and one of the few reserves capable of consistently providing a scoring burst. His shot has defied him a bit in the early going as Rozier has connected on just 16 of his last 51 attempts and the team owns a meager offensive rating of 95.7 during his 227 minutes of total floor time.
Rozier’s defensive tenacity has helped balanced that out. The Celtics own a net rating of plus-4.2 with Rozier on the court, as opponents have an offensive rating of just 91.4 during his floor time.
Some have suggested that Rozier needs starters minutes to play at the level displayed during the postseason, but Rozier’s per-36 minute splits last season were almost identical from when he was a starter and a reserve. And little changed in the postseason.
As a free-agent-to-be, it’s natural that Rozier would want as big of a stage as possible to assert his talents and enhance his potential offseason payday. But he’s also acknowledged that everyone benefits when a team wins.
It seems only a matter of time until the Celtics harness their talents this season. They’re enduring understandable growing pains at the moment. Maybe the preseason should have braced us more for the turbulence they’ve encountered. That trade rumors cropped up before Thanksgiving only hammers home the great expectations surrounding this team.
It also means the Rozier speculation will linger throughout the season. But the Celtics can confidently carry him through the year and know there’s still the potential to recoup value next summer, even if just as a sign-and-trade asset.
At the start of camp, Ainge offered high praise for what Rozier could bring to the team this season.
“Terry was really good last year and Terry’s a winner,” said Ainge. "I expect that Terry’s going to have that swagger that he finished the season with in maybe a lesser role to start the season with everybody healthy. And I think he’ll be dynamic in that role.”
Ainge can often be seen sitting with some of Boston’s top reserves like Rozier or Smart after practices and shootarounds. He’s said he’ll be a sympathetic ear if they have concerns about playing time.
"There were times when I thought I was better than Larry Bird and someone had to talk me off the ledge,” said Ainge. "So I’ll do the same.”
Ainge has never been one to make a move just because things haven’t gone as planned for a short amount of time. It seems a fair bet that no one will have to talk him off a ledge after a 6-4 start.
And nobody on the team is more invested in Rozier than Ainge, who boldly drafted him at No. 16 in the 2015 draft. Ainge knows he found something unique in Rozier and won’t rush into a move — not unless a team makes an offer he can’t refuse.
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