ESPN knew when to give Terry Rozier some valuable minutes
Celtics guard Terry Rozier did himself no favors Tuesday when he made the rounds on various ESPN programs, detailing his personal frustrations with the team’s bummer of a season.
Rozier’s frustrations, which he often revealed using a grating third-person voice that is barely tolerable even when it comes from a superstar, basically came down to two main points.
Terry Rozier didn’t play enough.
Terry Rozier didn’t get the ball enough when he did play.
But his airing of grievances did work out quite favorably for ESPN, which got entertaining television and an afternoon’s worth of valuable buzz out of the self-indicting words of a marginal player.
“It’s always a surprise when you can get any athlete beyond the coach-speak or looking ahead to the next game,’’ said Antoine Lewis, coordinating producer for “First Take,’’ the debate show on which Rozier made the majority of his eyebrow-raising comments. “Those candid conversations are what people really want.”
His comments were in response to direct and pointed questions from Stephen A. Smith, the gregarious, over-the-top star of “First Take”, whose journalism background occasionally pokes through the lucrative bluster.
“What exactly is it that you did sacrifice, in your words?’’ asked Smith, who questioned Rozier along with co-host Max Kellerman and moderator Molly Qerim.
“I sacrificed, obviously, my talent I think the most,’’ said Rozier, who shot 38.7 percent from the field this season and had more touches on offense than any other player besides Irving. “Me being out there and given my floor style of play, how I play, how Terry Rozier plays, I feel like I couldn’t be that person.”
“And why do you feel you couldn’t be that person?,’’ asked Smith.
“I was obviously in the shadow of some guys,’’ said Rozier. “I feel like . . . a lot of . . . the ball was either in Kyrie or Gordon Hayward’s hand most of the time, so either Terry Rozier is in the corner or I’m on the bench.”
Rozier’s comments were self-indicting if not downright delusional. If “I’m a top-notch point guard in this league” wasn’t the most absurd thing he said, it’s only because he praised the Knicks as a great organization.
It’s hard to figure what Rozier thought the benefit would be from appearing on the show and revealing his role in the Celtics’ underachievement. Sure, it might raise his profile, but not in a way that reflects well on him. And he already seems to believe he’s a star.
Perhaps it was a phase of an ill-conceived exit strategy. He’s a restricted free agent who acknowledged that he would chafe if he had to play the same role again next year for the Celtics.
“No, I might have to go,’’ he said. “I might have to go. I put up with a lot this year, so I said what I said after this season. I think we all know I’m not trying to step into that again.”
But Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge has been doing this too long to be manipulated by a basic scorched-earth tour from a player who wants out.
Lewis said he wasn’t sure whether Rozier and his agent pitched his appearance or the show reached out to him. But when ESPN’s talent coordinators said Rozier was a possibility as a guest, Lewis had one response.
“When his name came up,’’ said Lewis, “we were immediately, like, ‘Yes.’ ”
Backup point guards on eliminated teams aren’t exactly the most in-demand guests for ESPN. Lewis said they liked Rozier as a possibility because he could talk about the postseason, having just participated in it.
But considering that he had revealed some frustrations in the locker room immediately after the Celtics’ elimination in Game 5 against the Bucks last Wednesday, the network had to suspect there was a possibility that Rozier would spill some juicy tidbits, right?
“It really wasn’t so much that we thought he was a guy who would open up about the Celtics,’’ said Lewis. “We thought any time you can get a player who is fresh off the playoffs who can come in and talk about what has just happened, it’s good for us and good for the show to offer perspective on the game.
“Our analysts have opinions, but they never played in the NBA, so it’s a good mesh when you can get those people on.
“We welcome anyone that is in the sports world to come in and talk with us. And if you have a problem with something we’ve said, we’ll put them on the set. We’re not just talking through the TV and blocking everybody out. Terry was a good name, and we knew at the very least he was going to give us an insight or perspective that none of us had.”
Lewis acknowledged that Rozier, despite not being a huge NBA name outside of his own mind, proved to be a very worthwhile guest, noting that the show’s staff was immediately aware of the real-time buzz his comments created.
“I thought he was very open,’’ said Lewis. “There was something that he was feeling, something that he wanted to get off his chest, and he said it. I’ve seen him before, hinting that something wasn’t right or that something didn’t go right.
“I knew that it would be a big deal in Boston. It ended up being a big deal nationally because it was a player taking you behind the curtain with his thoughts, and that’s rare.”