You’d be forgiven if your response to Thursday’s report that Terry Rozier had agreed to a four-year, $97 million contract extension with the Hornets sounded something like, “Wait, what?!?!?” After all, 97 is very close to 100. (Just 3 million away!) At first blush, the notion that Rozier—neither Charlotte’s best all-around player (Gordon Hayward) nor its top guard (LaMelo Ball), and a vet at the same position where it just spent a lottery pick (James Bouknight)—is a $100 million player seems kind of difficult to square.
Of course, contracts aren’t handed out in a vacuum. The Hornets threw every dollar they could at Rozier now—four additional seasons, starting at 120 percent of his 2021-22 salary with an 8 percent raise after the first season, the most lucrative possible extension they were able to offer him under the collective bargaining agreement—for a few reasons. At or near the top of the list: The 2022 free agent class is shaping up to be an absolute yikes festival.
A slew of names that would’ve headlined 2022 free agency—Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Kawhi Leonard, and Jimmy Butler on the unrestricted/player option side; Luka Doncic, Trae Young, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander among restricted types—have already agreed to extensions this summer. Two more, James Harden and Kyrie Irving, are expected to join teammate Durant in inking new max deals that will cement Brooklyn as both next season’s odds-on title favorite and the most expensive contender the NBA has ever seen.
Locking up all that talent wouldn’t leave the market barren, per se. There’s still Bradley Beal, if he decides he wants to opt out of the $37.3 million he’s owed in ’22-23 in pursuit of a longer-term deal, whether with the Wizards or another suitor. There’s Zach LaVine, fresh off his first All-Star berth and Olympic gold, who’s entering the final season of his deal in Chicago and looks poised to cash in come next summer. Some enticing players approaching the end of their rookie-scale contracts—Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges in Phoenix, Michael Porter Jr., Jaren Jackson Jr., Collin Sexton, Kevin Huerter—could wind up hitting the market, provided they don’t reach agreements on extensions before the start of the 2021-22 season in October, but restricted free agency is a crapshoot, and one that heavily favors incumbent teams.
That means that, outside of Beal and LaVine, the list of high-profile players who might actually be available next summer could be limited to names like Russell Westbrook, John Wall, Aaron Gordon, Goran Dragic, Gary Harris, and Dennis Schröder—fine players, all, but few who seem likely to dramatically change a franchise’s fortunes in free agency. And it seems clear that the low likelihood of landing a big-ticket free agent has already informed teams’ decision-making.
Chicago spent big in hopes of building a team good enough to convince LaVine to re-up on a long-term contract next summer. (The Bulls could have used their cap space to prioritize renegotiating LaVine’s contract up to the max for the upcoming season and offering him a multiyear extension off of that; that they chose a different path sets the stakes for an awfully interesting and possibly high-stress season in the Windy City.) The Knicks similarly used their cap space to add talent now rather than roll it over for another summer—although, crucially, New York’s maneuvering included an extension for Julius Randle, removing him from the 2022 free agent pool. The Celtics gave Marcus Smart a four-year, $77 million extension, preferring to hold on to their longtime talisman rather than potentially trying to replace him in a summer without a bumper crop of options.
And now, a Hornets team that might similarly not see much reason to keep its powder dry—the only big-name free agent Charlotte has landed in recent years is Hayward, who came with a seriously checkered medical history and still required a blow-everyone-else-out-of-the-water offer—has ponied up to keep Rozier, Smart’s former Boston backcourt mate, on a deal that makes a bit more sense once you recover from the initial sticker shock.
As eye-popping as the numbers are, the Birkin bag that Scary Terry just secured slots in as only the 19th-largest deal in the NBA among guards, according to Spotrac’s contract data. Put another way: “Terry Rozier’s making $97 million!” sounds a lot wilder and less defensible than “Terry Rozier will be making a little less than CJ McCollum, and a little more than Buddy Hield.” Especially when you consider that, quiet as it’s kept, Rozier has produced in Charlotte at a level commensurate with the new payday.
Rozier’s one of just 24 players to average at least 19 points, four rebounds, and four assists per game over the past two seasons (minimum 100 games played)—a statistical marker that puts him in the company of MVP candidates and All-NBA honorees on the high end, and players like Jamal Murray (five years, $158.3 million), Gilgeous-Alexander (five years, $172.5 million), Julius Randle (four years, $117 million), and Zach LaVine (four years, $78 million, but about to get a whoooooooole lot more than that) on the “low” end. Not bad for a player whose initial three-year, $58 million deal seemed at the time like a disastrous door prize for a Hornets organization desperate to avoid losing franchise cornerstone Kemba Walker for nothing.
He has landed in that company in large part by becoming one of the league’s most dangerous long-distance marksmen. He ranks seventh in the league in made 3-pointers over the past two seasons; of the 36 players who have attempted at least 750 3s in that stretch, he’s tied for 10th in accuracy, draining 39.6 percent of his triple tries. He’s grown into a top-flight spot-up target, excellent at working off the ball to set his defender up, rocket off a screen, and put himself in position to catch and fire on the move; he’s shot a scorching 44.3 percent on catch-and-shoot 3s during his two seasons in Charlotte. That makes the 6-foot-1 Rozier a perfect backcourt fit alongside jumbo wing playmakers like the 6-foot-6 Ball, the ebullient and irrepressible reigning Rookie of the Year, and the 6-foot-7 Hayward, who’d been playing at a near-All-Star level for the surprising Hornets before suffering a right foot sprain that shelved him for the final seven weeks of the season.
Retaining Rozier helps ensure some measure of continuity for the Hornets, who jettisoned Devonte’ Graham, Cody Zeller, and Malik Monk this offseason. In addition, it allows also-extended head coach James Borrego not to have to rely on outsized contributions from rookie Bouknight immediately, and locks in the offensive core of a team that, for what it’s worth, was in fourth place in the East when Hayward joined LaMelo on the injured list last season. (Charlotte went 8-16 the rest of the way, stumbling to the finish line before getting drilled by 27 points by the Pacers in the first round of the play-in tournament.) Maybe a Hayward-Ball-Rozier core, possibly augmented by extensions for Miles Bridges and/or P.J. Washington, isn’t enough to be the basis of a serious contender in an East with some awfully big boys at the top of the mountain. It ought to at least provide a pathway to being competitive and entertaining to watch, though—one that wouldn’t be nearly as available without Rozier to create open looks with the threat of his shooting and finish games as one of the league’s top clutch scorers.
Terry Rozier in the clutch this season:— StatMuse (@statmuse) March 31, 2021
*The best mark by any player with 20+ attempts. pic.twitter.com/Dql4u3eja1
Average out Rozier’s rankings in a variety of catch-all advanced statistical metrics from last season—estimated plus-minus, win shares, value over replacement player, player efficiency rating, box plus-minus, ESPN’s real plus-minus, FiveThirtyEight’s RAPTOR—and you arrive at something just shy of a top-50 player. (In fairness, not every metric was quite so bullish.) Factor in Charlotte buying the cost certainty of keeping him from hitting the open market next summer, the goodwill that comes with retaining one of its own players rather than letting another success story skip town, the flexibility that his larger salary might provide in an upcoming offseason, and the broader state of affairs in a league where there’s seemingly no deal you can’t recover from—shoot, supermax contracts for aging and injured point guards are getting moved every summer now—and maybe Rozier getting the 43rd-largest deal in the NBA isn’t all that scary, after all.