Terry Rozier has demonstrated he’s a good NBA player, and point guard is the hardest position to fill in the NBA.
The Hornets scrambled over the weekend for a response to Walker leaving for the Boston Celtics. With only one point guard, former second-round pick Devonte Graham, under contract, they had to do something. But is paying Rozier, who started just 30 games in four seasons with the Celtics, this much cost-effective?
He’ll make an average of $19.3 million per season, all guaranteed. A $19 million annual salary is not out of line for a starting point guard. But is Rozier going to be starter quality? Just as importantly, does guaranteeing three years of that salary serve long term for a team that has to get worse before it eventually competes for a playoff spot and maybe win a round?
More of the same?
The Hornets have a pattern of paying complementary players a lot of money for a long time. That Walker was the sixth-highest paid Hornet last season at $12 million speaks to what a bargain he was, but it also speaks to how other contracts (Nic Batum, Bismack Biyombo and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist) haven’t worked out.
Adding Rozier on this contract feels like more of the same: Hoping that a good player (about nine points and three assists per game last season) can turn out really good player, because that is how he’ll be paid.
The excess of good-but-not-really good players on guaranteed salaries is why the Hornets couldn’t offer Walker enough to re-sign him without setting off the luxury tax. Losing Walker to the Celtics should at least be a screaming signal to break old patterns. And yet their reaction was to pay Rozier, a player with flaws and minimal experience as an NBA starter, as much money as Walker and backup Tony Parker made combined last season.
When you take the star point guards out of this free-agent class — Kyrie Irving, Walker and D’Angelo Russell — it’s reasonable to say Rozier belongs in that next tier at the position. But there are flaws.
Shooting is the obvious one: He hasn’t shot 40 percent from the field in any of his prior for NBA seasons. You could say Walker shot similarly his first four NBA seasons. But Walker took apart his 3-pointer that next summer and his shooting skyrocketed. To expect so dramatic an improvement from Rozier seems pretty wishful.
I asked an executive from another NBA team to assess Rozier. He said he’d want Rozier on his team. Then I asked if he’d want Rozier as a starter, and would commit $19 million each of the next three seasons to acquiring him. That raised hesitancy.
This executive’s review of Rozier: A really good competitor. Most effective in transition. Despite 6-foot-1 height, applies himself well enough defensively that he can occasionally guard shooting guards.
Then, I asked about the downside. The executive said Rozier doesn’t make good decisions with the ball consistently on offense, which contributes to his poor shooting. That, the executive said, is why he’s better suited as a backup than a starter.
Hopefully, Rozier proves otherwise. But the key word is hopeful: That’s what has marked the Hornets’ player acquisitions, and often that trait has led to mistakes.