The Celtics continue to exceed everyone's expectations. Even without Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, they took down Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks in the first round, and then blew out the league's hottest team in Game 1 of the second round without Jaylen Brown.
Brad Stevens deserves a lot of credit for their success, as does Al Horford, who has led the way for the banged-up Celtics. But the biggest story coming out of Boston right now is the play of Terry Rozier.
After scoring 26 points in Game 7 against the Bucks, Rozier finished Game 1 against the 76ers with 29 points, eight rebounds, six assists and two steals, doing so on 11-for-18 shooting from the field and 7-for-9 shooting from the perimeter. Coupled with how he performed down the stretch of the regular season as Irving's replacement in the starting lineup, Rozier's emergence in these playoffs is going to give the Celtics a lot to think about in the offseason.
Fortunately for the Celtics, time is on their side when it comes to making a decision about Rozier's future. The 16th pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, Rozier still has one more year remaining on his contract before he becomes a restricted free agent (although he will be eligible for an extension this offseason).
Based on Irving's injury history, bringing him back next season as the backup point guard makes a lot of sense, especially now that he has proven to be capable of filling in for Irving when needed. Beyond the success he has had over the last eight games, the Celtics outscored opponents by 3.4 points per 100 possessions when Rozier was on the court and Irving was on the bench during the regular season. It wasn't a huge margin, but surviving those minutes was a victory.
It helps that Rozier can share the court with Irving, too. As loaded as the Celtics will be in the backcourt next season with the return of Irving, Hayward, Brown, Jayson Tatum and possibly Marcus Smart, Rozier's development into a reliable 3-point shooter and efficient playmaker - he turned the ball over at one of the lowest rates in the league this season - gives him enough versatility to play on- and off-ball in a variety of lineups.
Nonetheless, the argument for trading Rozier gets more interesting as the playoffs progress. It's no secret that Rozier sees himself leading a team one day, telling NBC Sports Boston as recently as this season that he wants to be a starter in the NBA and envisions being one sometime in the near future. With Irving expected to make a full recovery from knee surgery by the start of training camp, however, Rozier will almost certainly return to his backup point guard role next season, even if he somehow carries the Celtics to the Eastern Conference finals.
While that would give the Celtics the depth they need to be title contenders, there is risk involved. On one hand, Rozier was a Sixth Man of the Year candidate this season and could be a supercharged version of that next season. On the other, the Celtics run the risk of losing Rozier for nothing in return if a team offers him a contract they don't have the financial flexibility to match when he becomes a restricted free agent.
There's an alternative where the Celtics get him on a bargain deal if the market isn't as expected - something we could see with Smart this offseason - but Rozier might have have done enough in these playoffs to convince a team he's worthy of being paid like a starter.
It's why it's hard to believe the Celtics won't at least consider trading Rozier this offseason. Restricted free agency aside, his trade value is currently at an all-time high. The Celtics already have the star power needed to compete in the Eastern Conference provided their core can stay healthy, so they could flip Rozier for future assets or veterans on team-friendly contracts who can better complement Irving, Hayward and Horford.
The Celtics could also include Rozier in a trade for another star, such as Kawhi Leonard, who is going to be on a number of wish lists in the offseason if the Spurs do make him available. Rozier alone won't get the job done, but few teams would be able to compete with a package built around some combination of him, Brown, Tatum and a future first-round pick.
It makes all those times Danny Ainge chose not to trade Rozier worth it. The difference now is Rozier might have played his way into a deal not even Ainge can refuse.