Oh how the times have changed.
It was only a few months ago when yours truly went on the air to defend Boston Celtics’ general manager Danny Ainge on his decision not to move point guard Terry Rozier during the 2016-2017 NBA Trade Deadline. However, Boston’s recent blockbuster deal has certainly altered my view on the matter. The trade, which netted the team four-time All-Star point guard Kyrie Iriving in exchange for their incumbent starter at the position in two-time All-Star Isaiah Thomas, has totally redefined the way Boston should do business moving forward.
Even now I still believe not moving Rozier was the right call for the Celtics at the time. Last February, the Orlando Magic were reportedly willing to send big man Serge Ibaka to Boston for Rozier and a 1st-round pick. On paper Ibaka was a definite talent upgrade over Rozier, and filled a need for the Celtics in potentially helping to boost their lackluster rebounding and rim protection efforts. Yet, Ibaka’s contract, as well as the pacts of the Celts other guards in Thomas, Marcus Smart and Avery Bradley made it a risky transaction.
Ibaka was set to become a free agent following the conclusion of the 2016-2017 NBA season, while Thomas, Bradley, and Smart were all slated to hit the open market after the 2017-2018 league year. Though the Toronto Raptors, the team that eventually traded for the 6-foot-10 power forward’s services, were able to retain him in free agency, Boston would have never been able to do the same. The Celtics simply wouldn’t not have had the cap space to ink Ibaka to the three-year, $65 million pact he got to remain Raptor and pursue Gordon Hayward in free agency this offseason.
Imagine if Boston had pulled the trigger and shipped off Rozier. They get Ibaka for one year and go on to (maybe?) win two games instead of one against Cleveland in the Eastern Conference Finals. Then the 2017-2018 offseason rolls around and the Celtics get blindsided by some rebuilding team over paying for Marcus Smart or Avery Bradley, maybe even both. Boston is left with no depth at point guard, no Serge Ibaka, and are without their own first-round selection in one of the coming years.
Of course, this is all just detailing the worst possible case scenario that will never happen for the Celtics sense they never moved Rozier in the first place. Things are much different now though, as Boston doesn’t have to worry about a new contract for their star point guard for another two years at the earliest when Irving will be able to opt out of his deal. Not having to negotiate a max contract next offseason means the Celtics can pay more attention to locking up Smart. Meanwhile, in the short term the recently added Shane Larkin can be a solid number three guard on his one-year pact. Larkin averaged 13.6 points and 5.3 assists per game for Baskonia of the Euroleauge last year, and has career NBA averages of 5.8 points and 3.2 assists over three seasons in the Association.
This all sets the stage for a Rozier exit, with Boston hopefully netting some mid-tier veteran reinforcements in return. Though the young Louisville product has shown flashes of promise over his two seasons with the Celtics, he’s only managed career averages of 4.3 points, 1.5 assists, and 2.6 rebounds per game. With Irving, Hayward, and Al Horford poised to usher in a new era of Celtics basketball next year, it is time for Boston to sell on a prospect like Rozier. Though he may develop into a solid rotational piece in the next couple years, Danny Ainge simply cannot wait around any longer for that time to come with the roster he has now assembled. If another deal like the Ibaka offer comes down the pipeline, Boston will have to pounce.