Shortly before last night’s game between the Boston Celtics and the Oklahoma City Thunder, Hardwood Houdini staff writer Trey Adell
caught wind of a rumor that Boston was close to shipping Courtney Lee out of town.
Trey was on to something, as word on the street is that the Celts have, indeed, traded Lee to the Memphis Grizzlies for combo guard Jerryd Bayless. The deal is expected to be finalized sometime today.
Lee is a victim of two inarguable facts: his contract (four-year, $21.4 million guaranteed through 2016) was too hefty for a team that is looking to free up some cap space, and the role that he was brought in to play – namely, being a productive role player on a Boston Celtics team that still had championship aspirations – is no longer needed. Because of that, even Lee’s hot play as of late wasn’t enough to make him a commodity the Celtics wanted to hold onto.
In fact, his play actually made this trade easier to make, as Lee is clearly an upgrade over Balyess and should be able to help the Grizz make a push for the playoffs (Memphis currently sits four games back of the 8th and final playoff spot in the West). Memphis as a team shoots 34% from behind the arc, which is pretty much what they shot last year. For a team that wants to stretch the defense so they can keep opponents from just swarming their bigs in the paint, 34% from deep isn’t going to get it done. Lee should be able to help guards Mike Conley and Mike Miller give the Grizz more of an inside-outside threat.
So what do the Celtics lose and gain because of this move? For starters, the Celtics will be (at least on paper) a slightly worse team with Bayless on the roster. Lee was shooting a high percentage from the floor (49.2%, 44.2% from three-point range) while averaging over 7 points, around 2 rebounds, 2 assists, and 1 steal a game. Bayless, meanwhile, is averaging around 8 points per game on 38% shooting (which drops to 30% from behind the arc). Bayless is a bit more reliable when it comes to handling the rock, but with Rajon Rondo looking forward to returning soon, the window of opportunity for the Celtics to use Bayless as the primary ball-handler is tiny. Bottom line: this move might make Memphis a better team, but it does nothing for the Celtics in the short-term.
Obviously, though, this move was done in order to free up cap space for the future. By trading Lee, the Celtics shed around $11 million in future salary. Trading Lee alone won’t make the Boston Celtics major players in the free agent market this summer, but we all know that this certainly won’t be the last deal the Celtics make. Boston struck while the iron was hot, but they still have a few contracts they would love to shed by the offseason, so be prepared, Celtics fans!