The $58 million point guard Terry Rozier will make over the next three years is now the largest financial obligation on the Charlotte Hornets’ books.
What persuaded general manager Mitch Kupchak to invest so much in Rozier, who has started only 30 games in his previous four NBA seasons?
“One thing I know: Nobody is going to outwork him. Nobody is going to play harder than him.” Kupchak said during a conference call with Charlotte media Saturday night. “He loves to play defense, He’s a great worker. I believe he can score in this league. He’s got the physical tools.”
Kupchak and coach James Borrego flew to Ohio on Wednesday to meet with Rozier. That was after Rozier agreed to terms but before he could sign the deal on Saturday.
Rozier, formerly the Boston Celtics’ backup point guard, is replacing three-time All-Star Kemba Walker, now with the Celtics. The Hornets are betting on 25-year-old Rozier’s continued growth. He comes off a season averaging nine points and three assists, playing behind Kyrie Irving.
Kupchak defended the size and length of Rozier’s contract as reflecting the hot market for point guards.
“Most of the (starting) point guards in this league make between $15 million and $35 million” per season, Kupchak said. “I think the length is perfect. Whether or not the money is perfect, we’ll have to wait a year or two and look back on it and then make a judgment.”
When Kupchak was asked to describe his plan for ending the Hornets’ streak of three losing seasons, he didn’t provide much detail.
“Our plan is to field a team that is entertaining, that can be sustained going forward,” Kupchak said. “We strive to make the playoffs, advance in the playoffs and ultimately contend for a championship.”
Kupchak said it’s yet to be determined whether the Hornets are in rebuild mode, despite losing last season’s top two scorers, Walker and Jeremy Lamb, who signed with the Indiana Pacers.
Kupchak said he has authority each season to spend up to the NBA’s luxury-tax threshold, which this season is $132 million. Right now, the Hornets have 13 player contracts totaling about $119 million. Kupchak said it’s not a permanent policy that owner Michael Jordan won’t spend over the tax line.
“If we ever get to the point that we feel we can advance in the playoffs, Michael has made it clear that we will go into the tax,” Kupchak said.
Kupchak said he sees no urgent area of positional need But if he adds a player through free-agency or a trade, it’s more likely to be a guard than a big man.
Kupchak added that he wouldn’t acquire a veteran if he thought it would hinder the development of young players at the same position.
Lithuanian forward Arnoldas Kulboka, who the Hornets drafted late in the second round in 2018, is playing again on the summer-league team. He totaled eight points and six rebounds off the bench in the Hornets’ win Friday against the Golden State Warriors.
Kulboka, a 6-foot-8 small forward with good shooting range, has added about 15 pounds (up to 215) since last summer. The 21-year-old played in Germany last winter. The Hornets retain his NBA rights, and Kupchak is so far undecided whether to offer Kulboka a contract for next season.
“He does have NBA skill. He’s young and he needs to get stronger and he needs to play,” Kupchak said, adding that coaches in Europe don’t typically prioritize developing young players over relying on veterans.