The Boston Celtics will introduce four rookies on Monday, including a pair of point guards selected with the team’s second-round picks. It’s probably unfair to assume that either Carsen Edwards (33rd overall) or Tremont Waters (51) will compete for big minutes on next year’s team but, given the uncertainty surrounding the position at the start of the summer, they’re going to get every opportunity to show they’re ready to be on an NBA roster.
The Celtics’ pure point guard depth chart is filled with question marks. Kyrie Irving is frolicking in Japan and keeping Celtics fans plenty confused by captioning photos of him in a forest of green with his most recent jersey number 11. Terry Rozier is getting ready to wade into the uncertain waters of restricted free agency. The Celtics must decide if they want to deliver a $1.6 million qualifying offer to Brad Wanamaker, who appeared in 36 games last season and provided deep depth.
The Celtics do have some certainty among their ball-handlers: Marcus Smart and Gordon Hayward are set to return. Smart already took to social media to suggest he’d be OK with being the first-unit point guard. A healthier Hayward should be back with the starting group and will handle the ball often regardless of who’s on the court.
How will the Celtics fill out their point guard depth chart?
Boston will have roughly $26 million in cap space if Irving and Al Horford depart and they renounce their rights to all their free agents other than Rozier (who the team would deliver a $4.3 million qualifying offer). That number could spike north of $34 million if the team renounces its rights to Rozier (or traded him to a team with cap space without taking back salary).
That cap space makes the Celtics legitimate players in the free-agent and trade markets. Boston could even try to lobby to make a pitch to the likes of Kemba Walker with the space they’ve generated.
Now, Walker has 80 million reasons to stay in Charlotte and he’ll have no shortage of attractive suitors across the league. But the point here is that the Celtics have at least positioned themselves to make a push if there’s a ball-handler that intrigues them. And, unlike many suitors with cap space, there’s a legitimate case that one star could keep the Celtics competitor despite the possible summer defections.
Boston could also make offers on restricted free agents like D’Angelo Russell and Malcolm Brogdon, or consider a lower tier of unrestricted free agent like Ricky Rubio, Derrick Rose, or Patrick Beverley.
Ultimately, the team might simply desire to spend its money to keep Rozier and see how he fares when shifted from the trunk to the driver’s seat. In that instance, the team would be hoping that Rozier could replicate his success from the 2018 playoffs when he starred while starting in place of Irving while playing alongside fellow youngsters Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. In 19 games that postseason, Rozier averaged 16.5 points, 5.7 assists, 5.3 rebounds, and 1.3 steals over 36.6 minutes per game. He still hasn’t watched his stinker of a Game 7 against the Cavaliers in which the Celtics were four minutes away from a trip to the Finals.
Bringing back Rozier might hinge on price tag and just how much the Celtics need the rest of their cap space. There’s a scenario in which Boston could land an impact big man at a modest salary and then negotiate a long-term extension with Rozier. A $12-15 million commitment might seem like a lot for a player that hasn’t proven he can be an everyday starter yet but there’s little risk on Boston’s end.
The Celtics are thin on mid-tier salaries, something that might have hamstrung them a bit in the pursuit of Anthony Davis. Even inking Rozier to a healthy salary increase, he would still have value as a trade asset if the team ultimately decided he wasn’t their long-term solution at point guard.
The other question is, if the Celtics do bring back Rozier, how does the starting lineup shake down? Does Smart come off the bench if the team plans to start some combination of Brown, Tatum, and Hayward? Crunch-time lineups squeeze somebody out.
The good news for Boston is that it has options. And because the restricted free agent market is typically cool at the start of the summer — and because there’s more intriguing restricted options ahead of Rozier at the start of the summer — his situation isn’t a rush to decide. The Celtics can study the market, make a play for anyone that intrigues them, and Rozier will almost certainly still be there.
And don’t expect that whole ESPN scorched-Earth tour to work against Rozier. Danny Ainge has already said he’d welcome Rozier back next season. The absence of Irving changes the entire dynamic.
There’s a lot of question marks for Boston at point guard going into the summer but the team should feel confident in the possibilities. Maybe one of these rookies comes in and shows they have the potential to be the future at that position. Edwards’ scoring ability is going to make him an instant favorite and Waters has a lot of skill.
The Celtics have options. But they also have tough decisions ahead at point guard.
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