Entering the 2014-15 season, Jason Terry was coming off an injury-plagued year that left many observers wondering how much he had left to contribute. After all, he was entering his age-37 season after a couple years of statistical decline, and seemed to be far removed from his days as a Rocket-killing Maverick. Kevin McHale loves his veterans, so no one thought Terry would be glued to the bench, but the extent to which he could play (and be effective) was a mystery.
Now, Terry stands as a testament to the NBA's unpredictability, but even more so to the Rockets' unlikely season. Not only did JET start at point guard for a playoff team in 2015, but that same team made it to the Western Conference Finals. It helps to have James Harden and Dwight Howard on the squad, but Terry was critical, if only because he was healthy. We'll come back to the playoffs, though.
For most of the season, Terry was the first guard off the bench for Houston, backing up Patrick Beverley and starting in his place when the latter was hurt (once Isaiah Canaan was out of the picture). He shot 39 percent on three pointers, best on the team. He also had an assist-to-turnover ratio of around 2, which is right where you want it. As diminished as Terry is athletically (and he was never a defensive stopper to begin with), he played soundly within the defensive scheme and posted a 99 Defensive Rating, second-best on the team among guards (behind only Canaan, who played far fewer minutes).
Recall that before Beverley got hurt, JET combined with midseason acquisitions Corey Brewer and Josh Smith to form the Headband of Brothers, one of the most formidable bench units in the league. At 8 years the senior of the other two, Terry was just as willing to run, and his outside shooting helped make a unit with bricklayers Brewer and Smith an offensive dynamo.
Terry was possibly even more valuable in the locker room, however. While it's impossible to quantify, the way this team responded to all the injuries and the doubters over the course of the season had to come from a strong locker room, and if there's one person I'd credit without any solid evidence, it would be JET.
Terry stayed healthy, consistent, and positive, which is a gift coming from any team's primary backup guard, to say nothing of one that was 37 years old. But now let's talk about the playoffs.
JET started all 17 Rockets playoff games, the most he'd ever started in a single postseason since 2006 in Dallas. Sure, he didn't light up the stat sheet, and his outside shooting fell off his regular season pace. And sure, he and Pablo Prigioni got barbecued by Stephen Curry in the Western Conference Finals. But he was the starting point guard on a finalist in the conference that houses Curry, Chris Paul, Damian Lillard, Tony Parker and Mike Conley (and Russell Westbrook didn't even make the playoffs). There were certainly other factors in play, but Terry provided a steady hand and floor-spacing, both of them vital to Houston's success.
Make no mistake -- Terry was rarely better than the fourth option on offense, and sometimes had to be hidden on defense. But just like in the regular season, the Rockets showed uncommon resilience in their comeback series victory over the Los Angeles Clippers in the Conference Semifinals. It's no sure thing that a team that suffered embarrassing losses the way the Rockets did early in that series will show up with pride and continue to fight. Remember the jerkbag Lakers and Andrew Bynum's sour grapes in 2013?
Before the postseason, Rockets fans might have wondered about the team's mental makeup for the playoffs. For as talented as they are, James Harden and Dwight Howard are not known around the league as the kind of leaders that Chris Paul or LeBron might be. Who knows, behind closed doors these guys might be absolute rocks. But Jason Terry has been to the top of the mountain, and he brought the quiet confidence and the temperament required for a deep postseason run (along with Trevor Ariza, who will receive his own moment in the sun soon). It's not all that unrealistic to believe he had an influence on the rest of the Rockets when they were at their lowest.
With Beverley back healthy and Ty Lawson in the fold for next season (pending any discipline by the NBA), Terry's role will be reduced, as it should be. He shouldn't be counted on for another 94 games at 38 years old, and he won't be the starting point guard on a championship team. But he is coming back, and he'll be more than welcome.