It's no secret that the Boston Celtics are kicking the tires on newly unrestricted free-agent Courtney Lee. It's also no secret that the Celtics won't be able to realistically complete a deal for the former Houston Rockets guard without initiating a sign-and-trade with Houston.
The Rockets are game for such a deal, and Lee has made it known that he would like to play for Boston.
Lee is even a close friend of Celtics head coach Doc Rivers. In fact, the two met in Orlando this past weekend to discuss Lee's possible future with the Celtics, according to Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe.
Rivers undoubtedly put the hard sell on Lee, and there's no question that the two would like to work together.
Houston is even content if they do not acquire equal value for Lee in a sign-and-trade, as the team was willing to let him walk away for nothing. The Rockets rescinded Lee's qualifying offer of $4.4 million, making him an unrestricted free agent.
Everything seems to be falling into place, right? Well, not exactly. Things are a bit more complicated.
Lee has reportedly drawn interest from at least eight other teams. He likely will command, at the very least, a salary equal to Houston's rescinded qualifying offer.
The Celtics, even via sign-and-trade, cannot offer him that figure after committing their available cap space to Kevin Garnett, Jeff Green and Brandon Bass. They also used the $5 million midlevel exception on Jason Terry.
However, they could come close.
If the Celtics packaged JaJuan Johnson with a future first-round pick and guaranteed next year's deals for E'Twaun Moore and Sean Williams, they would have enough to swap those players for Lee at a price of just under $4.2 million.
Johnson, Moore and Williams will make a combined $2.8 million in 2012-2013. Because the Celtics are over the salary cap, the amount they take back from Houston must be less than 150 percent of the $2.8 million they trade away, hence $4.2 million (h/t ESPN.com).
The logistics of the trade work out, but there's no guarantee that Houston would be willing to take on Moore and Williams. It's also unclear if Danny Ainge would be willing to part with a future first-round pick to acquire Lee.
As for the $4.2 million, that would be a fair and reasonable salary for Lee, but he could net much more than that number on the open market.
Given the need for swingmen who can shoot from the outside and lock down the perimeter, it comes as no surprise that Lee is a coveted player in free agency—a player teams would be willing to pay upwards of $6 million per year.
The bottom line is unless Doc Rivers can convince Lee to take less money than what market value dictates, this deal is a no-go.
There's no question Lee would be a great fit for the Celtics, who could definitely use the depth, but, at the end of the day, this is a business. You can't blame young players for taking the most lucrative offer available to them.
Lee, who just completed his rookie contract, has the opportunity to earn his first big payday. He's only 26 years old, so don't expect him to leave a hefty offer on the table to join the Celtics, despite his respect for Doc Rivers and his interest in the organization.
However, if the Celtics do somehow acquire Lee, you won't hear any complaints from me.