The offseason is here for the Boston Celtics, and in just a couple of months, they will begin the process of putting next year’s team together. We will take a look at the current Celtics and try to figure out what to do with each of them. We continue today with Courtney Lee.
Courtney Lee’s career resembles a sine wave. In his five years in the league, he’s averaged 8.4, 12.5, 8.3, 11.4, and 7.8 points per game. This season was a bit of a microcosm of that career, beginning the season as a starter in Avery Bradley’s absence, returning to the bench when he returned, starting again when Rondo went down, and ultimately benched in the playoffs after a late season ankle injury and shooting slump.
At his best, Lee is an all-around scorer who can bury the corner 3, drive to the basket and finish with authority, and be a lock-down defender. At his worst, Lee is an inconsistent shooter who lets his poor offensive stretches affect his defense. Sometimes, these two things show up in the same game.
Lee has said he’s now aware of what life will be like with Rajon Rondo, and he’ll spend the summer working on being more of a spot up shooter than he has in the past. But is that enough? Where is Lee most valuable to the Celtics?
Here’s a look at their options.
Lee’s contract is similar to Jason Terry’s in that the number over the next two years is the same. It’s a mid-level deal paying him $5,225,000 next year and $5,450,000 the following year. But with Lee, there’s a third year remaining at $5,675,000. Also unlike Terry, there’s no trade kicker. That means a team that trades for Lee gets these numbers and that’s it. No additional raises.
The pros for a team trading for Lee:
- Reasonable contract
- He’ll only be 28 years-old next season
- 2-way player who still hasn’t hit his potential
- 3-year commitment (which essentially takes away the stretch provision)
- 5th team in 6 years
- What if he HAS hit his potential?
There’s no doubt that Lee is valuable in a trade scenario. Of course, the follow-up question is… what do you get for him? Even if the Celtics got to a point where they could take back 150% plus $100,000, that’s still a $7.9 million player.
It’s more likely the most they could take back is a $6.6 million player. And honestly, what kind of quality are you going to find at that level that will make a great difference for the Celtics? Who will you get for Lee at that price that will alleviate some of the issues the Celtics have?
In this scenario, I’d expect Lee to be moved in conjunction with someone else, which gets complicated because it now opens dozens of possibilities. I won’t speculate as to who might move with Lee (I’ll save that as we keep going to individual players), but I’m definitely watching Lee this offseason as a potential trade target.
It’s an option, but not a good one. I don’t think they’re at a “buyout” point with him at all, which leaves the stretch provision. That would spread the remaining $16+ million over seven years, which would work out to be seven years worth of $2,335,714 just sitting on your cap. That makes almost no sense whatsoever. But it’s an option that exists.
The Celtics have Lee, Rondo, Avery Bradley, Jason Terry, Terrence Williams, and Jordan Crawford on the roster. That’s what some might call a logjam at the guard spot.
Keeping Lee would mean the Celtics value him in a versatile bench role where he could come in for either Rondo or Bradley (or Green/Pierce at the 3 in a small line up). The hope would be that he does indeed “figure it out” after a summer preparing himself for what he’s learned after a year with the C’s. They’d probably be banking on that “up” segment of the sine wave next season turning Lee into the valuable bench contributor they are hoping for.
So to recap…
- The Celtics could trade him, most likely as part of some sort of package.
- They could suck it up and waive him.
- They could keep him and find another way to clear up the crowded back court
From a strictly talent perspective, I’d like to keep Lee and use him as part of a 4-guard rotation with Rondo, Bradley, and Terrence Williams (we’ll get to him another day, but I like him).
Here’s the problem: You have to find a way to get rid of Jordan Crawford and Jason Terry. You can’t package those two guys in any sort of deal unless you have incriminating photos of some GM. If the Celtics DID find a way to jettison those two guys, then I think Lee can be part of a productive bench for the Celtics because he does have the ability to play multiple positions. I’m banking on the “up” year next year, and I like the fact that Lee can play both ends of the floor.
So my preference is to keep him.
BUT… (there’s always one of these in these pieces, huh?)
As Jon Duke noted in last night’s Celtics Stuff Live show, a Crawford/Williams backcourt costs the Celtics about $3 million. Considering the Celtics payroll is pretty expensive for a non-contending team, finances could play a bigger role than talent in some instances of who they keep and who they don’t. A Terry/Lee combo costs $10.4 million. Terry or Lee cost more than Williams/Crawford combined.
If Terrence Williams can prove this summer that he is a worthy player off the bench, then the Celtics could play a 3-guard rotation of Rondo/Bradley/Williams with Crawford as the emergency guy off the bench (the Leandro Barbosa role last year). The team could then find a package that includes Lee and others to address another need (for more bench scoring, or a starting big to move Garnett to the bench, perhaps?)
Keep in mind: these scenarios don’t necessarily save the Celtics much money because they’d have to take back salary in return for getting rid of it. What it DOES do is change how that money is spent. And in the right package, the Celtics could save a couple of million.
So in my perfect world where every GM bows to Danny Ainge’s whim, Courtney Lee would stay and the team would find other ways to save some cash. But in reality, dangling Lee as part of a deal involving other players might be one way for the Celtics to bring back a guy who can make a bigger impact. So don’t be shocked to see Lee shopped around this summer. We’ll just have to wait and see if there are any takers.
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