One Big Question … for Terry Rozier

I once heard Abdel Nader ask Terry Rozier what GMB stood for. The letters are tattooed on his left hand. They appear in his Instagram username. They’re on his T-shirts. They’re everywhere.

“I can’t tell you,” Rozier responded. “I could probably get in trouble.”

It is widely believed that GMB stands for Get Money Boys — a favorite hashtag of Rozier’s back in the day — and regardless of the alleged affiliation of those letters, that slogan could become a problem for the Celtics next summer, when Rozier is slated to become a restricted free agent.

Rozier certainly made himself a pile of money over the past year. He rose from promising 2017 playoff reserve to bona fide backup behind Kyrie Irving early this season before turning heads with a triple-double and a career-high 31 points in his first two career starts. His performance in the 2018 postseason — averaging 16.5 points, 5.7 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game for the Eastern Conference finalists — legitimized him as an above-average starting NBA point guard.

I estimated on The Sports Hub during the playoffs that Rozier’s future might be as a starter on a borderline playoff team if he leaves Boston for a franchise willing to pay him like one of its three best players, and while his 0-for-10 effort from distance in Game 7 against Cleveland may have supported that ceiling, there’s really no telling how good he can be. He’s still only 24 years old.

Theoretically, Rozier holds tremendous value. He’s a proven NBA talent who played like a star in playoff series wins over Milwaukee and Philadelphia. He’s owed $3.05 million next season in the final year of his rookie deal and remains under his team’s control in restricted free agency.

The C’s backcourt is coming to a crossroads. Marcus Smart hits the restricted market this year and Rozier follows next summer, when Irving is also a free agent. As deep as the owners’ pockets may be, they won’t pony up for three primary ball-handlers. They can delay a decision until 2019, but it behooves them to answer this question now: What, exactly, is Rozier’s value?

Door No. 1: Keep Terry Rozier and Marcus Smart

Is Rozier better than Smart right now? There’s no surefire answer. Smart can’t shoot, but he’s an elite defensive player whose impact can’t be measured in simple statistics. Rozier shot 38.1 percent on five 3-point attempts per game this season, and while he’s not quite elite defensively, his long arms and athleticism are disruptive on that end. Neither has shown the ability to finish exceptionally well around the rim, but both have improved as playmakers under Brad Stevens.

Regardless, you can’t keep them both beyond next summer, not if you want to sign Irving to a max contract. You’d be tying up half your salary cap at a single position, if that were the case. You can keep them both this summer, because having Rozier and Smart on your roster makes you a better team, and you might as well be at your best when you’re gunning for a title in 2019.

The Celtics can match whatever offer Smart receives in restricted free agency this summer, even if it takes them over the luxury tax, and a starting salary in the ballpark of $12 million would push them right up against it, with Rozier on the roster. That delays the inevitable choice between Rozier and Smart for another year, when the C’s could let the former walk or trade the latter. Keeping Rozier also insures the Celtics against losing Irving in free agency next summer.

This seems like the most sensible choice, unless the C’s get the sense Rozier’s representatives are going to make life difficult for them when he returns to the bench behind Kyrie. Even still, the former 16th overall pick should be motivated to perform in pursuit of his first big NBA contract.

Door No. 2: Let Smart walk and extend Rozier

If you already value Rozier more than Smart, there’s a case to be made for letting Smart walk this summer, offering Rozier an extension in that $12 million range, just to see if his “get money” philosophy requires a cash advance, or simply matching whatever offer sheet he signs next summer. But given the projected salary cap rise in 2019 and Rozier’s desire to be a starter, it’s unlikely he accepts a below-market extension to back up Irving for the foreseeable future.

This seems like the worst possible option, because you get nothing in return for Smart, and if you re-sign Irving, you still face questions about Rozier’s happiness in a reserve role down the line. You don’t want Rozier stewing on the bench, not when you know Smart thrives there.

Door No. 3: Keep Smart and trade Rozier

If you know you value Smart more than Rozier and you’re confident Irving will re-sign in 2019, there’s also a case to be made for testing Rozier’s trade market now, if only to ensure you don’t lose him for nothing next summer. So long as Irving stays healthy, he gives the C’s everything Rozier does, only better, and Smart provides a different look — a guy who injects energy into the game and essentially defends all five positions. That really leaves little room for Rozier.

What can they get in return for Rozier? It’s best to think in terms of the Avery Bradley trade that brought Marcus Morris to Boston on an affordable deal with an additional year on the back end.

Exactly half the league is committed to a starting point guard beyond next year, so acquiring Rozier before his restricted free agency doesn’t make much sense for 15 teams. And here’s where the Celtics would probably start their negotiations on a Rozier trade with the other 15:

Brooklyn: Jarrett Allen or Caris LeVert
Charlotte: Malik Monk or Frank Kaminsky
Cleveland: This year’s No. 8 pick*
Indiana: Myles Turner (also a 2019 restricted free agent)
L.A. Clippers: This year’s No. 12 or No. 13 pick
Miami: Bam Adebayo or Justise Winslow (also a 2019 RFA)
Milwaukee: Thon Maker or this year’s No. 17 pick**
Minnesota: This year’s No. 20 pick
New Orleans: Nothing of value
New York: This year’s No. 9 pick
Orlando: Jonathan Isaac or this year’s No. 6 pick
Phoenix: This year’s No. 16 pick
San Antonio: Dejounte Murray or this year’s No. 18 pick
Utah: This year’s No. 21 pick

*Hilarious and far-fetched, since this is the Brooklyn pick Cleveland got in return for Irving
**Also hilarious, since this would pair Rozier with old friend Eric Bledsoe

There are some intriguing straight-up swap possibilities in there — like LeVert (a 3-and-D wing) — and others that would require the Celtics sending draft compensation in addition to Rozier. The C’s could also package, Rozier, Morris and a pick in deals for mid-level salary players like Lou Williams or Josh Richardson, both of whom are signed to affordable long-term extensions.

I’m just spitballing here, but these are the sort of things the Celtics might consider if they’re looking to move Rozier now for depth elsewhere on the roster or an asset under their financial control well beyond the summer of 2019. If I were calling the shots, and clearly I’m not, I still think I’d run it back with Smart and Rozier, contend next season, and keep your Kyrie insurance.

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