WALTHAM — Danny Ainge is going to have tough choices to make over the next couple summers thanks to a roster full of young players outplaying their contracts. The true money squeeze won’t hit until the summer of 2019 since the Celtics have nearly its entire core under contract until then, outside of Aron Baynes and Marcus Smart. Both of those free agents should be within an acceptable price range for the Celtics to retain, at least for the 2018-19 season. Things get dicey after that from a payroll perspective (something we’ll cover in greater depth here at Boston Sports Journal in the weeks to come).
In the interim, a season-ending injury to Kyrie Irving has opened the door for plenty of opportunities in the backcourt, and no player across the league has seen his stock skyrocket more over the past two months than Terry Rozier.
The 6-foot-2 guard had been an integral member of Brad Stevens’ rotation this season prior to March, playing 23 minutes per game while providing critical energy, floor spacing and athleticism in his third NBA season during that time. Once Irving and Smart went down with injuries, the keys to the offense were handed to him, out of necessity more than anything else. He rose to the opportunity down the stretch, averaging 15.6 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 5.1 assists as a starter over the final month and a half of the regular season.
That production has only increased this postseason, and Rozier has improved his numbers in nearly every statistical category including points (17.4 per game average), assists (5.6), 3-point shooting (37.4 percent) and turnovers per game (1.2). He ranks fifth in win shares this postseason, just behind James Harden and Al Horford, and ahead of names such as Kevin Durant and Draymond Green.
"He's got a freedom now without Kyrie," Sixers head coach Brett Brown said earlier this month. "He becomes sort of what they needed in Kyrie. He's got a real ability to score. He has a dance with the ball that I think is elite. And there's a freedom that he has [that] sort of partners with his confidence under a pretty impressive skill package, and it's a perfect storm. He provides a heck of a plan B."
With Smart and Jaylen Brown also thriving, and the return of Irving looming, it’s safe to say there is going to be minutes squeeze in the Celtics backcourt next fall. Even with the assumption that the C’s will play more small ball, it’s hard to find a way Stevens will be able to keep everyone happy with their floor time with names like Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum, Marcus Morris, Al Horford and Daniel Theis taking up minutes in the frontcourt as well. A guy like Morris could be moved, but his versatility in the frontcourt has been crucial on the defensive end this postseason.
So will Rozier, making a bargain $3.1 million next season in the final year of his rookie deal, be content to go back to a reserve role? He opened up about the situation in a recent conversation with BostonSportsJournal.com.
“I'm not a selfish guy,” Rozier said. “Obviously, I don't want to be off the bench my whole career. That's the only thing. I'm not trying to push nobody out, I'm not trying to try to put pressure on the organization or anything like that. That's not me.