Rapid Reaction: Lee-aving town
January, 5, 2014
By Chris Forsberg | ESPNBoston.com
Some (not-so*) rapid reaction after the Boston Celtics agreed Sunday to trade Courtney Lee to the Memphis Grizzlies in exchange for Jerryd Bayless:
- FOLLOW THE MONEY: The Celtics' motivation here is obvious: The team not only sheds the two years and $11.1 million remaining on Lee's deal after this season, but it also trims $2.1 million off the books this year (taking a couple of steps back from the luxury-tax line it was inches from previously). Now Boston has a little added flexibility if it desires to take on additional salary at the trade deadline or add another future-minded contract down the road (at the moment, Boston has 14 players on the roster). Most importantly, the Celtics now have less money committed for the next two seasons, shedding the bloated contract of a reserve guard.
- LEE-AVING TOWN: Lee was pegged as the steal of the summer in 2012 when the Celtics turned JaJuan Johnson; the nonguaranteed contracts of Sasha Pavlovic, E'Twaun Moore and Sean Williams; and a couple of second-round draft picks into a lengthy midlevel deal for a young, 3-and-D guard. But Lee endured a lackluster first season in Boston and, even with improved performance this year, wasn't making enough of an impact for his salary rate. The Celtics offered him up as part of a potential package for Houston's Omer Asik last month, but found a trade partner this time around. Lee has plenty of talent and maybe yet another change of scenery (this will be his fifth team in six NBA seasons) will allow it to be displayed more consistently.
- LEE'S 2013-14 IN FOCUS: Lee's numbers through 30 games are seemingly encouraging: Even while averaging a career-low 7.4 points per game, he was shooting career bests at 49.2 percent from the field and 44.2 percent from beyond the 3-point arc. He's been an extremely efficient offensive player, as evidenced by averaging a team-best 1.023 points per play this season, according to Synergy Sports data. But here's the rub: Lee's individual numbers didn't translate to team success. Take for instance the four-game stretch from Dec. 22 to Jan. 2, in which Lee averaged 10 points on 51.5 percent shooting (44.4 percent beyond the 3-point arc) with 2.8 rebounds and 2.3 assists over 20.5 minutes per game. Boston's offensive rating when he was on the floor during that four-game stretch was an unsightly 90.9 (eight points less than the team's 23rd-ranked output this season). The defensive rating was 103.4 (nearly a bucket above the team average for the season). Lee was a minus-12.5 net rating for that span, one in which Boston's bench played some of its best basketball of the season. For the 2013-14 season as a whole, only rookie Kelly Olynyk, who missed 10 games after suffering a severe ankle sprain, had a worse defensive rating than Lee. The Grizzlies have struggled defensively and maybe Lee can find the back end of that 3-and-D combo there. To be fair, his individual defensive numbers were serviceable this year; it just never translated for the team.
- WHAT WILL C'S MISS?: On an overhauled roster, Lee was part of Boston's tight-knit young core that included Avery Bradley and Jeff Green. But these guys understand by now it's a business. This deal is all about putting the Celtics in the best position to succeed moving forward and clearing cap clog is of premium importance.
- WHAT WILL C'S GET?: The 25-year-old Bayless might not be as purely talented as Lee, but he's averaging 8 points and 2 assists over 20.8 minutes per game. His shooting percentages are an eyesore (37.5 percent overall; 28.8 percent beyond the arc) but he's torched Boston in recent meetings. His assist percentage is down this year, but he's been a decent second-unit distributor in the past and has done a great job limiting his turnovers this season. One thing that jumps out about Bayless' advanced stat line this season: An offensive rating of 106.3 during his time on the floor and a glossy assist-to-turnover ratio (3) that could help Boston in a reserve backcourt that will also feature Jordan Crawford once Rajon Rondo is healthy. The other trickle-down effect? Maybe this opens a door for MarShon Brooks -- currently on assignment in the D-League -- to gain some additional playing time moving forward.
- FINAL THOUGHTS: This move is for the future more than the now. Both teams are probably hopeful a change of scenery can aid the departing players. The Celtics gain further flexibility the next two seasons, which can help them in scenarios such as re-signing their own free agents (Bradley and Crawford will be restricted free agents this summer). It's an excellent deal for a team in transition, and if Lee can get his defense to catch up with his offense in Memphis, he can help the Grizzlies too.