BOSTON — One of the biggest storylines coming into the 2018-19 season centered on how the Boston Celtics' reserves would react to potentially diminished roles this season, especially those shifting from starting gigs during last year’s postseason run to backup minutes with the return of All-Stars Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward.
Throughout the preseason, second-unit players, affectionately dubbed the, “Bench With Attitude” by leader Marcus Morris, said all the right things. But still the question lingered: What will happen at the first instance of turbulence?
We got our answer on Tuesday. The day after logging a mere 15 minutes in Boston’s head-shaking loss to the visiting Orlando Magic, Terry Rozier was asked about the difficulty of embracing a fluid role this season. He offered a honest response.
“It’s not the easiest. Me being a competitor and me being who I am, I wake up every day and want to be the best I can be, want to win and everything,” said Rozier. "It’s tough when I don’t get the minutes that I may want. [Monday] night, for example, I didn’t play that many minutes.”
But just as quickly as reporters' ears started to perk up, Rozier quickly expounded on his unique situation, stressing that he very much understands the predicament that head coach Brad Stevens is in.
"Coach does not have the easiest job. He has the toughest job out of all of us,” said Rozier. "And I can respect that. I control what I control. I still come in every day and I bust my butt because I know it may be different on Thursday.
"I just have to stay ready. And it’s tough because, like I said, I’m competitive. But [Stevens] has a tough job.”
That’s an incredibly mature outlook from a 24-year-old guard who is essentially in a contract year. Rozier hadn’t played less than 20 minutes in a game since Feb. 26, a couple weeks before Irving’s knee balked and forced him to sit out the remainder of the 2017-18 season. Remember, too, that 64 of Rozier’s 80 appearances last season were in a reserve role and he still only played less than 17 minutes just one time in that span.
Stevens trotted out 12 different players on Monday night, clearly looking to see if anyone on Boston’s roster could shake this team from its early season malaise. And he’s routinely stressed to his players that roles will change night-to-night based on who can consistently impact winning.
"A lot of our guys know it may not be their night one night, and the next night they’re going to finish the game and play 30 minutes,” said Stevens. "That’s the reality of our team. And until we’re playing really well, we’ve got to figure out who [deserves big minutes], and I think that’s another reality of our team.”
Added Stevens: "It’s about how you play when you get those minutes, and that’s hard. Having been a guy at a very low [college] level that played a lot and then sat the bench a lot, it’s really hard. So I’m empathetic toward that for sure. But it is reality that we can only play five at a time and we just have to find groups that play well together.”
As Stevens hunts for those best lineups, Rozier can probably expect an uptick in minutes, considering the team has played some of its best basketball when he’s on the court. Boston owns a net rating of plus-14.3 points per 100 possessions during Rozier’s 88 minutes of floor time. What’s more, that flips to a team-worst minus-9.3 rating in his 104 minutes off the court.
Rozier set a quality example for his BWA brethren Tuesday. It’d be easy for him or any of the other bench players to squawk about playing time and suggest that Boston’s struggles were somehow tied to their lack of action.
Instead, Rozier maintained peace at a time when the Celtics need no other distractions. It only solidifies the idea that players are all in on the notion that individual benefits will come with team success.
But, make no mistake, Rozier is as frustrated as anyone that the team is struggling out of the gates. Even there, he remains positive that brighter days are ahead.
“It’s just like, it’s four games in but we want to be good right now,” said Rozier. "So when we have losses like [Monday] night -- and it’s understandable, we’re in the NBA, anybody can beat anybody, blah, blah, blah, all that. But we feel like we’re the best team. So just to have that happen, things like that, and then you start getting criticized and stuff, it’s just tough. But like I said, we’ll get it together.”
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