If you expected Rick Pitino to slip into the shadows following his dismissal as head coach of the Louisville basketball program amid scandal, think again. Between reported NBA coaching aspirations, a new book and The Pitino Post podcast, he is as visible as ever.
That’ll churn the stomach of any Celtics fans 7-10 years or more older than me, able to remember the tenure of the most infamous coach in C’s history. Last week he stirred the pot more, by hosting his show alongside C’s and former Louisville guard Terry Rozier, whom he coached and recruited, then possibly led to Boston?
“That’s not exactly how I remember it,” Danny Ainge said on 98.5 The Sports Hub on Thursday. Pitino claimed that he told Ainge he needed Rozier at No. 16 overall rather than later, and that Ainge remained hesitant to be second guessed in that position. Ainge confirmed conversations with Pitino, but remained adamant that he loved Rozier even before the calls with his college coach.
Leave it to Pitino to draw media attention over Rozier on the same podcast. In the midst of a tumultuous season filled with speculation regarding Rozier’s future in Boston, it also got me thinking about his legacy here in Boston. Rozier silenced any boos that followed his selection in the 2015 draft, but how much will his possibly last season on the C’s determine his legacy with them?
Rozier and the Celtics are in a nearly impossible position. The team retained him despite extending Marcus Smart long term due to value, great expectations following an East Finals run and uncertainty regarding Kyrie Irving’s future. Then Irving announced his desire to re-sign with Boston, before one million factors resulted in a slow start for Boston.
The sequence of events landed a pile of dominos on Rozier: fewer minutes, higher uncertainty about his future, and reduced value while the league watches Boston struggle with an abundance of bodies. Rozier sent out a cryptic tweet, possibly complained about his role, but said he’s happy in Boston.
None of those issues featured prominently on Pitino’s show, except when Rozier repeated twice that he’s “seen a lot in these four years, how much of a business this is. I think I should get everything that I deserve.”
It wasn’t a Brinks truck-level comment, but more of an official stance that all options are open. Unfortunately for Rozier, the option’s bearing on Boston’s future success will partially determine his Celtics legacy and how some fans view him.
Nobody can take his breakout 2017-18 postseason away from him: 16.5 points, 5.3 rebounds, 5.7 assists and 1.3 steals per game all ranking behind the importance of his Game 6 performance in the ECF on the road that almost willed Boston to the NBA Finals. That’s ingrained in his legacy.
Recency bias often prevails in sports consumption though, and Rozier’s effective field goal percentage dipped from roughly 50 percent the entirety of last year to below 45 through 21 games in 2018-19. He isn’t the only player struggling — or the core issue in the team’s slow start — but his contract situation and largest role reduction on the team fixate the microscope on him.
That’s the arc of this Celtics era under Brad Stevens. Rozier arrived without high expectations, much like the team led by Isaiah Thomas. On the show, Rozier remembered watching Stevens draw up timeouts closely despite small playing time and battling with Thomas in practice before doubling his average minutes in Year Two.
He elevated his three-point percentage from 22 to 38 between Years One and Three, then carried the torch into the playoffs in the absence of Irving and Marcus Smart late in his career 2018 season.
The NBA Trade Deadline falls on February 7th at 3 p.m., about 10 weeks away. That time frame could represent the clock on Rozier’s final impression in Boston, which will partly influence what uniform he’s in on Feb. 8. If it’s the Celtics’ then his key date kicks back to July 1 when he becomes a restricted free agent.
Stakes are high on all fronts. The Celtics are expected to be in play for an NBA Finals bid, which would deem a first or second round exit a disappointment. Boston already limited its ability to grab home court advantages with an 11-10 start.
In their recent 2-4 stretch, Rozier averaged fewer than 20 minutes per game, minimizing the opportunity to play his way out of struggles. He was asked about not starting on Pitino’s podcast, but the better question would’ve been what it’s like returning to a role where every minute needs to be maximized.
“It’s not so much about starting. I’m going into my fifth year after this and I’d love to start,” he said. “But that’s not my main focus.”
That’s where Rozier finds himself despite all his contributions to the Celtics. “Drew Bledsoe” and “Scary Terry” will always be part of his legacy, but so will how much he makes of every minute off the bench while Irving and Smart play vital roles in front of him.
It’s a difficult task, but it could be defined as the standard of him being a success with the Celtics. Only time and his next move will tell.