Celtics

Terry Rozier: Stevens has 'toughest job' of all

Terry Rozier: Stevens has 'toughest job' of all

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.

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"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.”

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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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Could blowing a 28-point lead deliver a first-round pick to Boston?

Could blowing a 28-point lead deliver a first-round pick to Boston?

Could the so-called worst loss of the Brad Stevens era actually help deliver a first-round pick to Boston in June?

The Los Angeles Clippers, who roared back from a 28-point deficit to stun the Celtics here earlier this month, are set to send their 2019 first-round pick to Boston if it lands outside the lottery. That means Los Angeles would have to make the playoffs, which seemed unlikely after the Clippers dealt Tobias Harris to Philadelphia before the trade deadline.

But as the race for the final Western Conference playoff spots begins to take shape, the Clippers find themselves with pole position next to fellow hopefuls Sacramento Kings and Los Angeles Lakers. What’s more, the Athletic reported Friday that Clippers owner Steve Ballmer prefers the team make a playoff push this season. 

On the surface, it sounds counterproductive for the Clippers considering a lottery pick could be beneficial to the team’s rebuilding process, even as they prepare to chase max-contract free agents this summer. But let the Celtics stand as a model of how even a small taste of the postseason can help a young core, especially right before the team adds top-end talent. The Isaiah Thomas-led Celtics got a couple small bites of the playoffs a few years back and, as soon as the team added Al Horford in the summer of 2016, it rocketed the team to the conference finals.

The Clippers won on the road over the Grizzlies on Friday night to improve to 33-27 on the season and now sit 2 games ahead of the Kings and 3 ahead of the Lakers.

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Entering Friday’s action, projections heavily favored the Clippers making the postseason. ESPN’s Basketball Power Index gave the team a whopping 80.6 percent chance to make the playoffs based on the team’s performance throughout the season, with the Lakers (9.2 percent) and Kings (8.6 percent) lagging well behind.

Even FiveThirtyEight's NBA projections, which factor in roster and lineup changes, important considering the Clippers’ trade, had the team at 62 percent to make the playoffs, a comfortable distance ahead of the Lakers (28 percent) and Kings (9 percent).

The Celtics would benefit from both the Clippers making the playoffs and the Kings missing out. Boston will collect Sacramento’s first-round pick, so long as it doesn’t vault to No. 1 in the lottery.

Entering Friday’s action, draft-tracking website Tankathon had Boston set to collect picks No. 14 (via Kings), 18 (via Clippers), and 23 (its own). Ranking teams by total pick value, the Celtics projected to have more 2019 draft capital than, say, the Knicks if they landed the No. 2 pick.

That’s important given the Anthony Davis pursuit that could loom this summer. The team that emerges with the No. 1 pick could dangle that selection — more commonly referred to as “the chance to draft Zion Williamson” — and put themselves in the running for Davis’ services. But the Celtics can make a very intriguing package with both picks and proven young talent.

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Even though the Celtics can’t formally deal for Davis until July 1, the parameters of a deal could be in place with the Pelicans and Boston would simply draft for them with any 2019 picks that are set to be swapped.

The Clippers' pick is lottery protected again next season before morphing into a 2022 second-round pick if not conveyed by 2020. Given the Clippers’ hopes of adding max-contract talent this summer, there’s a strong chance that pick might simply deliver next June in the event the Clippers fade this season.

But if the Clippers pick delivers, and especially if it ultimately is flipped as part of a deal to acquire a talent like Davis, then maybe just maybe the Celtics coughing up a 28-point lead won’t be as bad as it seemed in the moment.

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ESPN panel favors Celtics to land Anthony Davis, Kyrie Irving

ESPN panel favors Celtics to land Anthony Davis, Kyrie Irving

For the better part of the 2018-19 NBA season, the Boston Celtics have been surrounded by rumors regarding Kyrie Irving and Anthony Davis. Irving is set to be a free agent after this season while Davis will almost certainly be traded by the New Orleans Pelicans during the 2019 offseason. It's unclear exactly what the future has in store for both players, but both could be in different uniforms next year.

However, a recent ESPN panel predicted where the NBA's superstars would be playing next season. According to the panel, the Celtics are the favorites to land both Davis and Irving.

The Celtics earned 61.1 percent of the panel's vote when looking at Davis' move. The reasoning for this is simple. Davis has to be traded on a one-year deal and the Celtics are one of the few teams in the league that can offer the Pelicans an enticing trade offer for the franchise star. Thanks to their glut of young assets including Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and several first-round draft picks, many believe that the team will swing the deal, even if they don't have a guarantee that Davis will re-sign with them in the 2020 offseason.

The Celtics have previously indicated that all options are on the table in trade Davis trade talks. It also helps that Davis has recently stated that the Celtics are on his list, as that will give the team a better chance of signing him to a long-term extension

Meanwhile, the panel's projections of Irving are a bit more split. The Celtics received 52.8 percent of the vote for Irving while the New York Knicks got 30.6 percent. It makes sense that Irving's numbers would be lower than that of Davis, as Irving is a free agent and has no hurdles to dodge when considering signing with another team.

It would stand to reason that if the Celtics do trade for Davis, it would incentive Irving to stay. After all, the two are good friends and the Celtics could sell the duo on the idea of playing for a title together with a strong supporting cast.

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