Gordon Hayward arrived to his introductory presser in the greenest suit jacket ever produced. Kyrie Irving enamored him with smiles. They reminisced about when Irving recruited Hayward to Cleveland, before LeBron James returned. The new duo sat in the foreground of a green backdrop, matching the Gatorades, with the entire Cs front office present. Brad Stevens sat nearby, equipped with more weapons than ever.
“It’s about to be crazy, G,” Irving proclaimed. It would be, in the worst way imaginable.
Craziness, it seems for the Celtics, is losing two point guards and still receiving top-notch production from the third. Depth has salvaged Boston this season and presents a convincing argument for keeping Rozier in the future. After Irving and Marcus Smart posted +5.2 and +6.6 differentials respectively, Boston still maintains a +1.8 net rating with Rozier on the floor since March 11th.
Rozier served up a 25-game double-figure scoring streak, consistently producing through 12 starts and in his usual role behind both Irving and Smart. He joined only six other Celtics since 2010 in accomplishing that feat. That was the depth boost that could have propelled the team to the NBA Finals, instead it became necessity to court a team that could even resemble its former self.
While the Celtics’ vision of winning the East evaporated with Irving — cast away with hundreds of “what-ifs” in sports history — Rozier averaged 15.7 points per game in the proceeding 11 games with his foundation set in 38.8 percent three-point shooting. That’s sustained this team through this rash of injuries, with a 105 offensive rating.
Rozier could start on several teams in the NBA and many will be looking to fill their point guard void this summer. However, on the Celtics, he’ll most likely be a bench piece when training camp opens up in October. While some conventional wisdom might suggest that Danny Ainge should sell high on Rozier, there’s an argument to be made to run it back with more or less the same roster from this season when everybody’s healthy next year.
The Celtics currently have championship aspirations and it’s nearly impossible to contend for a title without entering the luxury tax. Bringing back the whole roster may require it if Smart re-signs for over $10-million per year, the amount Boston sits below the current tax line. There are concerns over the repeater tax, which initiates after spending three of four seasons in the tax. Irving’s due a max contract after 2019 concludes, and Rozier’s played himself into a place where he’ll receive substantial interest in restricted free agency. While Smart is the first big decision for Ainge when it comes to keeping this team together, Rozier is not far behind.
Alex Kungu argues that since the team likely won’t retain Rozier past 2019 — or pay well over $45-million in tax — now’s the time to act. I disagree.
Look at the TV ratings and how many Irving jerseys you see kids wearing across the country. Boston’s hit a marketing high and the money’s flowing. Rozier and Smart can both return next year, and they should.
Rozier wants to start. He’s become a vocal figure in Boston’s locker room and off the floor, he’s a central subject of Weird Celtics Twitter’s jokes. On the court, he’s finished at the rim over six points more efficiently than last year. He’s averaged less than two turnovers per night while leading the team in ball time by almost two minutes (seven per game since March 11th), a remarkable accomplishment.
It’s time for his glow-up, but greater glory arrives through being involved in a title-contender in 2019. The Celtics could get ahead on cashing in on his value, so not to be hoodwinked when he hits the market, but the Thunder took that approach with James Harden. That yielded Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb and Steven Adams (via draft pick). That’d be a disappointing return for Rozier now, never mind a player who’d become a perennial MVP candidate.
Oklahoma City was on the verge of luxury tax payments, in a championship window and 16 months away from Harden’s free agency. Even though they failed to defer tax payments through an extension, and ended up paying it anyway (Enes Kanter), they traded Harden.
It’d cost them double, watching Harden take the Rockets to the top, and learned that it takes an abundance of depth and wide range of contributions to win your conference, let alone a title. OKC lost to the Warriors in the 2016 playoffs, then watched Kevin Durant walk. Injuries hobbled them through the era, but personnel mistakes defined the greatest “what if” team in NBA history. The Celtics don’t want to become that.
Consider that next year Golden State will still have Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Durant. That doesn’t factor in the continued advancement of Jordan Bell and Kevon Looney. While six players on the Celts posted player efficiency ratings above 15 this year, nine on the Warriors did so. That supersedes any team, even the top-ranked Rockets (5).
James is also a free agent. With no certainty about where he’ll go, the 76ers have cap room.
The door’s open for the Celts to win a title next year, but it could close at a moment’s notice. More than ever you need as many quality players as possible to win a championship in the super-team era. As much as the Celtics need Hayward, Irving and Horford to thrive, players like Rozier, Smart and Theis are crucial simply to compete with Golden State.
All of Stevens’ options need to be on the table. If there’s a chance to consolidate talent like in a hypothetical Anthony Davis or Kawhi Leonard trade, that’s when you package Rozier. History tells us cashing on equal value rarely yields success.
Everything could go right for the Celtics and they could still fall short of a championship. That’s how high the bar is.