The Boston Celtics are going to have to make some interesting decisions this summer, given the possibility that Kyrie Irving, Al Horford and Aron Baynes could each opt out of their deals and become free agents and Terry Rozier is set to become a restricted free agent.
The Celtics likely won't be able to retain all four players, meaning they may have to make a decision about the future of Rozier ahead of this season's NBA trade deadline on February 7 or risk him signing an offer sheet they cannot match. And NBA teams are waiting in the wings.
According to Shams Charania of Stadium and The Athletic: "Quietly, at least seven teams have been monitoring Rozier's status this season, league sources told The Athletic, waiting to see if the Celtics could begin to field trade calls. The Phoenix Suns have aggressively pursued Rozier, even before firing Ryan McDonough as general manager, league sources said."
The question for Boston becomes whether it wants to chase an NBA title this year with Rozier coming off the bench—which gives the team amazing depth—or if it wants to add assets by trading Rozier knowing it likely won't be able to sign him this offseason.
If the Celtics re-sign Irving, he'll be making over $30 million next year on a max contract. Gordon Hayward is due $32.7 million, while Horford will likely opt into his $30.1 million option for next season. That's over $90 million for just three players, before even considering the $12 million Marcus Smart is due, the $7.8 million for Jayson Tatum or the $6.5 million heading Jaylen Brown's way.
Before even considering Rozier, the Celtics will be firmly in the luxury tax. Plus, they'll want to keep some cap flexibility for the future to offer Brown and Tatum lucrative extensions in the coming years.
On the other hand, keeping Rozier provides the Celtics with some insurance if Irving decides to sign elsewhere next summer. Losing Irving would be a major blow, though Rozier proved in last year's playoffs that he's more than capable of holding down a starting gig by averaging 16.5 points and 5.7 assists per game.
That's probably the only scenario for Rozier returning to Boston, barring Horford deciding to opt out over the summer and signing elsewhere, thereby freeing up space for extensions to both Irving and Rozier. Given that he's the key to the team's defense and a matchup nightmare for most bigs, however, Boston won't want to lose Horford.
And even in that scenario, is Boston really going to pay Rozier top-end money to be Irving's backup? Unlikely.
Still, the Celtics may simply value the presence of Rozier this year and the insurance he brings in the event of an Irving departure more than they value getting assets back in a trade. Any way you slice it, the Celtics are going to lose an impactful player before next season.
It just remains to be seen when it will happen and whether Rozier will be the one to go.