After all of the changes — most of them disappointing — that Terry Rozier went through this season, the scoring point guard finds himself back in a situation extremely similar to where he was last April.
Just as Kyrie Irving’s knee surgery set Rozier up for the greatest stretch of his career in last year’s NBA playoffs, Marcus Smart’s torn oblique is about to free up additional minutes again.
Fresh opportunity is something craved by Rozier after a season-long struggle attempting to re-adapt to a bench role.
“Yeah, this is definitely a fresh start for me, regardless,” Rozier said this week as he prepares for Sunday’s playoff opener against Indiana.
“Even if it came with more opportunity like I’m having now with Smart being out, I would treat this like a fresh start anyway,” he said. “I’ve been ready for it. This is a time where I can prove myself even more. It’s like a whole new season when the playoffs start.”
As Rozier admitted without anyone asking following Tuesday’s season-ending win in Washington, 2018-19 wasn’t a fun time for him. With restricted free agency looming and Irving back in his starring role, Rozier had trouble finding the balance between his own offense and energizing the team in all of the varied ways he had become known for in the 2018 playoffs.
Asked last week whether he felt pressured by his contractual situation, Rozier said, “Just the opportunity I was getting was lower than I was used to.”
It was also a situation Rozier chose, after turning down a multi-year offer from the Celtics last fall that would have paid him an annual figure similar to the $12.5 million average of Smart’s new four-year contract.
Rozier chose to take his chances this summer and watched his prospects fade with this season’s performance. There was little reciprocation from the game he loves.
Danny Ainge, certainly aware of Rozier’s malaise, concluded his comments this week on players making up the difference for Smart’s loss by saying, “Maybe Terry will have some fun now.”
Part of his goal during negotiations, Ainge later said, was to offer a contract that would take pressure off Rozier, but “they didn’t want that.”
Ainge now hopes that Rozier simply “chooses” to enjoy the game.
“I always tell Terry that you make a choice of whether you want to enjoy it or not,” Ainge said. “He’s choosing to not have fun. You make that choice every day, deciding if you’re going to have fun or look at it as if you’re getting gypped.
“You don’t always get what you want, but you do make a choice,” he said. “Terry and I talked a lot before the season started about the fact that he was going to have a lesser role this year. Experience and adversity can be great teachers and Terry will be a better player for what he’s gone through.
“With Marcus out he’s going to be relied upon more. Thirty-five minutes (per game) isn’t going to happen again, but this opens up more of an opportunity for him.”
And with this fresh start, Rozier can finally file away this forgettable season.
“Answers I don’t really know” he said when asked what went wrong. “I feel like you have a bunch of guys that can get a lot of things done, can do a lot of special things, and we have to find a way to put things together on a more positive note than we have all year.”
As Rozier readily admits, this advice applies to him most of all.
“I’m going to go out there and play my game. I’m not going to try to imitate nobody else or be nobody else, be somebody that I’m not,” he said. “It’s tough making up for a guy like Smart, the things he’s capable of doing out there, but we’ve got to move on, we’ve got to figure out a way and I feel — like I said when I first started talking — I feel like I’m more needed in this series now.
“It’s a whole new time now,” Rozier said. “I feel like I’m super ready, just letting go of everything that happened this whole season and just moving on, and I’ll be ready for it. I can’t wait until the playoffs start. Game is Sunday, so I’m happy for it.”