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Celtics’ Terry Rozier reportedly remains Suns’ target

Boston Celtics guard Terry Rozier (12) moves past Toronto Raptors guard Fred VanVleet (23) during second-half NBA basketball game action in Toronto, Friday, Oct. 19, 2018. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)

As the Phoenix Suns continue to search for internal answers amid their 2-8 start, it appears their new front office remains with the same priorities as the old: finding an upgrade at point guard.

The Athletic’s Shams Charania reported Wednesday that the Suns “have aggressively pursued” Boston Celtics point guard Terry Rozier, “even before firing Ryan McDonough as general manager” nine days before the season. That would indicate that pursuit hasn’t ended.

John Gambadoro of 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station was first to report on Aug. 31 that Phoenix had attempted to find a franchise point guard and inquired about Rozier, among others.

Charania added on Wednesday that “at least seven teams have been monitoring Rozier’s status” as his playing time has dwindled due to the return of point guard Kyrie Irving this season. Boston, Charania said, appears satisfied with its deep roster that includes a healthy Irving and Gordon Hayward.

But adding to the complexity is Rozier’s status. He’s in a contract year and will be a restricted free agent unlikely to be retained by the Celtics, who have received a commitment from Irving to re-sign in his own free agency next summer. That could force Boston to think about gaining assets for Rozier, who is relatively expendable as the roster stands.

Rozier, however, is at the very least depth for a team expected to make a playoff run. And his presence after a breakout year in the playoffs last season makes it hard to imagine a team trading him away.

That said, The Ringer’s Bill Simmons tweeted the following, adding more questions to Rozier’s immediate future in Boston:

Simmons connected some dots to the Suns, but also points out the obvious. Why would Phoenix, likely lottery-bound with or without Rozier, want to give up an important asset, the best of which would be its 2019 first-round pick?

The pick is especially valuable if you watched Duke’s R.J. Barrett and Zion Williamson, two top-five prospects, debut with 33 and 28 points respectively against Kentucky on Tuesday night.

Either Barrett or Williamson would certainly fit the Suns, who need outright playmakers more than anything, even though fans and media outlets alike continue to clamor for that playmaker to come at point guard.

In Boston, any unhappiness from Rozier likely stems from his role. As Celtics coach Brad Stevens attempts to integrate Irving and Hayward into a group that made the Eastern Conference Finals in 2018, Rozier’s minutes have dropped from 26 minutes per game last year to 23 minutes.

He’s averaging 7.5 points, 4.4 rebounds and 2.1 assists while shooting just 36 percent overall and 39 percent from three-point range.

Reading Rozier’s resume is somewhat complex considering he only averaged 11.3 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.9 assists last year in a backup role while shooting below 40 percent overall.

Yet, that is buoyed by an outstanding playoff run last year, where in 19 games starting he played hawking defense and averaged 16.5 points, 5.3 rebounds and 5.7 assists over 37 minutes per game.

The Suns could very well benefit from a 6-foot-1, 190-pound guard who is 24 years old. Rozier has restricted free agency giving Phoenix the possibility of retaining him beyond 2018-19 if he were traded to the Suns.

The question for them and interim general manager James Jones is what the cost might be.

Boston of course would love a shot at earning the Suns’ 2019 first-round pick, be it protected or — as Simmons suggests — a potential swap option.

But dealing with that scenario looks on paper like another steal for the Danny Ainge-led Celtics unless the Suns could tack on a top-five protection to its draft pick.

In reality, the Suns have little to give. Their ownership of the Bucks’ first-round pick for next year’s draft has too many protections to be ultra valuable. Could they convince the Celtics to take it if including hot-and-cold scorer T.J. Warren? Do two former No. 4 picks in Josh Jackson and Dragan Bender have enough value to Boston as they’ve fallen out of Phoenix’s regular rotation through the first three weeks of the season?

Do any of them project into the new Suns front office’s plans beyond this year?

Assuming Rozier is simply a starting-caliber point guard, a safe bet, those are the questions that must be asked first.

Then, any worries about Rozier’s upcoming free agency — the Suns will have the money to pay him if they want — or upside can be pored over.

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