BOSTON - The Celtics have until the eve of their season-opener next week to ink fourth-year guard Terry Rozier to an extension of his rookie pact. The deadline will almost certainly pass with no deal, not because there isn’t genuine interest from both sides in extending this partnership, it’s simply hard to envision a deal that meets the goals of both parties.
But what the impending deadline will do is put a spotlight on Rozier’s fascinating situation. The 24-year-old asserted himself as a starter-level guard on the playoff stage last year and Rozier will now be asked to stomach a smaller role in a season that could dictate the size of his first big NBA payday.
Rozier should have little interest in settling for a team-friendly extension. He averaged 16.5 points, 5.7 assists, and 5.3 rebounds over 36.6 minutes while starting 19 playoff games in place of injured Kyrie Irving last season. The Celtics surged to the cusp of the NBA Finals, all while Rozier and his “Scary Terry” brand became a household name in part because of Rozier’s personality (and some help from Drew Bledsoe).
Everybody seems to want a slice of Rozier now and he’s got a sneaker deal with Puma and new media partnerships to prove it. He should have no shortage of interested basketball suitors next summer when a horde of teams with cap space will ponder his services.
Sure, there is no certainty in the restricted free agency waters that Rozier will wade. But remember that another of Boston’s backup guards, Marcus Smart, found a cool market for his services last summer and still walked away with a robust four-year, $52 million extension.
Rozier should find a much more lucrative marketplace, if for no other reason than his offensive skills will be more attractive to teams. Remember that Zach LaVine, whose regular-season stat line (16.7 points, 3.9 rebounds, 3 assists) in limited appearances for Chicago last season was comparable to Rozier’s playoff line, emerged with a four-year, $78 million pact when the Bulls matched a Kings offer sheet.
By signing an extension now, Rozier would almost certainly be sacrificing money and would do so for a team that cannot guarantee him the sort of role he undoubtedly desires moving forward. With Irving having surprisingly expressed his intentions to re-sign with Boston next summer, the Celtics are set to commit roughly $45 million to Irving and Smart, all while a potential big-money deal looms further down the road for current starting 2-guard Jaylen Brown.
What’s more, a potential team-friendly extension would only make Rozier a more attractive trade option, leaving him vulnerable should the Celtics find themselves with a logjam of talent and a desire to shed salary given looming luxury tax concerns.
Fortunately for the Celtics, Rozier seems to be approaching his unique situation with a positive disposition. Rozier knows that, even in a reduced role, his value will continue to soar if he’s a contributor on a team with title aspirations.
Celtics coach Brad Stevens has praised Rozier, one of Boston’s best players in an underwhelming preseason, and suggested its on the coach to find as many minutes as possible for him.
Even in the absence of an extension, this season will give the Celtics more clarity about how to best allocate their resources. If it’s clear that there’s simply not enough guard minutes to go around, Smart or Rozier could be moved to allow the Celtics to dip below the tax line and recoup future assets. If both emerge as key contributors for a winning team, Boston can carry them both through the season and reexamine the cost to retain Rozier over the summer while letting the market dictate his price tag.
The Celtics simply have to hope that Rozier — and the rest of Boston’s bench brigade — continue to embrace their roles throughout the season. Injuries, as they almost always do, will present increased opportunities at various times throughout the season. And Stevens has pledged to give minutes to those players that most impact winning.
Rozier likely won’t have an extension but he’ll have plenty of motivation. And that could be just as valuable for the Celtics this season.
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1 September 2018
1 September 2018