Charlotte Hornets

Will Terry Rozier fill Hornets’ leadership gap, with Kemba Walker gone to Boston?

Charlotte Hornets coach James Borrego and general manager Mitch Kupchak flew to Ohio last week for a sit-down with point guard Terry Rozier.

The subject: Your ball, your team.

“He walks in our door with leadership qualities,” Borrego told the Observer of what attraction Rozier holds. “We’re going to push him to lead this group in a competitive way: Bring a spirit to every practice and game.”

They sure need that. With Kemba Walker leaving for the Boston Celtics, Rozier’s old team, there is a void not only at point guard, but in alpha male. Rozier isn’t nearly as accomplished as Walker, a three-time All-Star. But he brings an energy and an edge to a roster that is hurting for any buzz.

The question is how Rozier will adjust to being an everyday starter. In four NBA seasons, Rozier always played behind a star in Isaiah Thomas or Kyrie Irving. He totaled 30 starts in his tenure in Boston.

The Hornets are betting $58 million over the next three years that Rozier has that much more impact than he’s shown. That whatever limitations his statistics suggest will improve with a banquet of playing time.

Rozier’s reaction: Time to gorge

“I know that every game that I started, I didn’t have to worry about when I was coming in and going out,” Rozier said in a conference call with Charlotte media. “It was just easier to be myself and play my game.

“The opportunity was there when I started. I could be me.”

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Who’s Terry Rozier?

Who is that player Rozier describes? He is best offensively attacking in transition. He is a good enough defender that opposing coaches say he can guard points and shooting guards, despite his 6-foot-1 height. He is certainly not the shooter Walker was, ending each of his four Celtics seasons under 40 percent from the field.

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Boston Celtics’ Terry Rozier in action during an NBA basketball game against the Philadelphia 76ers, Wednesday, March 20, 2019, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum) Matt Slocum AP

And he’s not used up. That’s one of the things that attracted Borrego once the Hornets learned definitively they would have to replace Walker: Rozier wouldn’t be an aging retread whose best days at point guard would be over before the Hornets could assemble and develop enough talent around him to compete.

“He’s young (25), lightly used, with still a lot of room for growth,” Borrego said. “He’s a guy who is motivated, hungry and ready for the next step.

“I think he’s part of the culture we’re trying to establish of competing at both ends of the floor. A guy who can get downhill, get to the rim.”

Rozier’s contract is now the Hornets’ top financial commitment, topping the $52 million they owe Nic Batum over the next two years. General manager Mitch Kupchak said the $19 million or so per season Rozier will make is reasonable, considering what a premium there is on starting point guards.

“It’s a big task, but this is something I’ve always prepared myself for,” Rozier said of finally being installed as a NBA starter. “I’ve prepared for this for four years. Who doesn’t want to be a starter? Who doesn’t want to be a leader?”

‘Crazy’

Rozier describes the hours right after free agency began the evening of June 30 as “crazy.”

For the first time in the NBA, he had a degree of control over where he played and with whom he played. Of course the money was a major factor, but it was also about plotting the rest of his career. There is no assurance Rozier will be in demand when his contract expires in the summer of 2022. So picking a team — the New York Knicks and Phoenix Suns were both reportedly interested, too — was as big a decision as any in his professional life.

“It’s a huge step,” Rozier said. “Those 12 hours (leading up to a decision) were very crazy. I was all over the place: You’ve got to consider family, you’ve got to consider the money, you’ve got to consider where you will (live). It wasn’t easy at all.”

So what distinguished the Hornets?

“Them believing in me. They didn’t just want me to come over there, they wanted me to be the leader. That’s big to me.”

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