Terry Rozier might be the best player you have not seen or heard from this season because he worked for the moribund Charlotte Hornets, which made him a perfect trade target for the Miami Heat's aggrieved culture.
The Heat landed Rozier on Tuesday for a lottery-protected 2027 first-round draft pick and Kyle Lowry's $29.7 million expiring contract, adding some much-needed playmaking to the league's 20th-rated offense.
Now, Lowry, you have seen and heard from him. He is a six-time All-Star and a champion who averaged 26 minutes per game for Miami during last season's run to the NBA Finals. He draws charges, baits defenders and generally serves as a pain in each opponent's rear. He is also a 37-year-old point guard with nearly 40,000 minutes on his odometer. Lowry was saving a spot for his replacement.
It says a lot that the Heat targeted Rozier as Lowry's successor. Before Damian Lilllard worked his way to the Milwaukee Bucks, we thought he might be that guy for most of the summer, and Atlanta Hawks guard Dejounte Murray is the biggest available name at their position of need leading into the Feb. 8 trade deadline.
We might soon discover whether the price for Murray was too high or whether the Heat preferred Rozier outright, but this is the big swing. They have just one future first-round pick (six years from now) left to deal.
Rozier averaged 23.2 points (on 46/36/85 shooting splits), 6.6 assists, 3.9 rebounds and 1.1 steals in 35.5 minutes per game for the Hornets this season. His usage and efficiency are as high as each has ever been. Statistically, his profile is not far from that of Philadelphia 76ers sensation Tyrese Maxey, who will almost certainly make his first All-Star appearance this season for a 29-13 team that many consider a serious title contender.
Keep in mind, the sixth-place Heat (24-19) have twice won recent playoff series against the Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks, and they will not be afraid of anyone else above them in the standings. Not a single opponent is looking forward to facing Miami, and the Heat are unquestionably better today than yesterday.
It has been another patchwork regular season. The Heat's net rating is hovering around zero again, largely because Jimmy Butler, Tyler Herro and Caleb Martin have all missed 15 or more games already. But this is who they are. They fight, and they claw, and they enter the postseason hungrier than most anyone else.
Which is what Rozier has done his whole career. Boston's mid-first-round draft selection in 2015, he averaged eight minutes as a rookie, scored 5.6 points per game off the bench on the Celtics' run to the 2017 Eastern Conference finals and was thrust into a starting role when Kyrie Irving suffered a season-ending injury in 2018. It was that experience — a nightly 17-5-6 as a 23-year-old on a team that reached Game 7 of another conference finals — that should earn our faith in his ability to meet a playoff moment.
It was enough to secure a three-year, $56.7 million contract from the Hornets that same summer — a deal that was roundly mocked at the time, especially because Charlotte traded Kemba Walker to get Rozier. All he has done in the meantime is earn every cent, plus the four-year, $96.3 million extension that currently runs through the 2025-26 season, when he will be making an affordable 17.9% of the projected salary cap.
Rozier's backcourt pairing with Tyler Herro could present some defensive issues. Rozier is not a great defender, but he scraps with athleticism, and he is no worse than a post-prime Lowry. Lineups boasting Lowry, Herro, Butler and Bam Adebayo outscored opponents by 8.1 points per 100 possessions in their limited time together this season. It turns out Butler and Adebayo can mask many of Miami's defensive inefficiencies. Remove Lowry, and the Heat's top trio was still +7.9 points per 100 possessions. Add Rozier, and they can expect the offense to improve enough to challenge any shortened rotation come playoff time.
Rozier is yielding 1.11 points per possession on 7.6 opportunities per game as a pick-and-roll ball-handler this season, not far from Tyrese Haliburton's production on similar plays for the Indiana Pacers. And this was on the Hornets. Imagine what Rozier might be able to accomplish with Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra orchestrating the action, Adebayo and Butler setting screens and Duncan Robinson spotted up at the arc.
Rozier does not need the ball to be effective, either. He has shared playmaking duties with LaMelo Ball for the past four years and annually found his way to 20 points per game. Rozier has not gotten the cleanest looks in Charlotte's offense — nobody does — but when opponents sag four or more feet from him, he is shooting 38% on 5.7 3-point attempts per night. He should see more of those chances in the Heat's offense.
Pessimists will argue that this trade is an acknowledgement that the Heat were not quite good enough, and Rozier is not quite good enough to meaningfully change that. But the Heat do not think like this. They believe they can play with anyone and saw their shot to get better with a player who will feel every bit the underdog that everyone else on the roster does, leaving their opponents to hope the pessimists are right.