Charlotte Hornets, The Whiteboard

The Whiteboard: The Hornets must really like Terry Rozier

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The frantic rush of free-agent signings from the beginning of this month has given way to a steady progression of major contract extensions. Earlier this week Joel Embiid and Marcus Smart inked massive new deals and this morning, Shams Charania reported that the Hornets had signed Terry Rozier to a four-year, $97 million max extension.

If you’re thinking that sounds like a lot of money for Terry Rozier, you’re not the only one. It’s larger than the extension Smart just signed and will pay him a higher yearly salary than Malcolm Brogdon, Fred VanVleet, Lonzo Ball or Mike Conley for the 2022-23 season when it kicks in. But it’s worth remembering just how good Rozier was last season, a career-year best year that was largely overshadowed by the LaMelo Ball hype.

Will the new Terry Rozier contract extension be a good value for the Hornets?

Rozier averaged 20.4 points, 4.4 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 1.3 steals per game last season, setting new career-highs in both 2-point and effective field goal percentage. He’s also become a very reliable outside shooter, making 39.6 percent of 994 3-point attempts across his two seasons in Charlotte. By the estimates of ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus, he’s a significant net positive at both ends of the floor and he thrived next to LaMelo Ball.

Some people may point to his overlap with Ball as a reason to be skeptical of this deal. Rozier’s effective field goal percentage was 58.6 last season when he was on the floor with Ball. When he was on the court without Ball, it was just 52.3 percent, about the same as his season-long number the season before. But the fact that he plays so well with Ball is a reason this contract makes sense. Teams don’t give players contracts based on their abstract generalized value (at least they shouldn’t). They pay for how they expect a player to perform within the context of the rest of the roster. Why does it matter if Rozier is worse when he plays without Ball if the Hornets can just keep their minutes linked for maximum value?

The Hornets outscored opponents by an average of 8.3 points per 100 possessions last season when Rozier, Ball, Gordon Hayward and P.J. Washington were on the floor together last season. As a passer and connective piece at center, Mason Plumlee is probably an upgrade over Cody Zeller and the additions of Kelly Oubre Jr. and Ish Smith just add experience and versatility of Miles Bridges on the second unit.

And while, Rozier’s cap hit seems large it doesn’t necessarily wipe away cap flexibility for the Hornets. The team is now committed to him for the next five years but three years into that stretch, Gordon Hayward’s roughly $30 million contract will come off the books. The roughly $21 million they have tied up in Plumee and Oubre comes off the books after two more seasons and they have three more years of Ball before his hypothetical rookie extension would kick in. There is room for additional moves, even if they have to tie up Bridges and Washington to pricier extensions as their rookie deals expire.

The bottom line is Rozier is a player whose production probably exceeds his reputation at this point and he’s a perfect fit and solid value for the Hornets.

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This week on The Long Two, the Grizzlies take low-risk fliers on two potential reclamation projects and Joel Embiid continues a superstar trend.

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