NBA Trade Rumors: Courtney Lee Deal Is Bittersweet for Memphis Grizzlies

Joshua J VannucciniSenior Analyst IIIJanuary 6, 2014

BOSTON, MA - DECEMBER 13: Courtney Lee #11 of the Boston Celtics celebrates a last-second shot to end the first quarter against the New York Knicks during the game at TD Garden on December 13, 2013 in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

The Memphis Grizzlies sit at just No. 12 in the Western Conference, despite finishing last season at No. 5 with practically the same roster. The absence of Marc Gasol (knee) has no doubt played a factor, but the Grizzlies remain competitive and are looking to improve.

Memphis would do just that with news of a trade that would land Courtney Lee, but the deal remains a double-edged sword.

Per, Memphis will send reserve guard Jerryd Bayless to Boston for Lee. Bayless started five games for the Grizzlies this season yet played mostly as a reserve. His 8.1 points and 2.1 assists off the bench were useful, but his underwhelming 37.7 percent shooting leaves a bit to be desired.

Bayless also shot just 30.1 percent from long range, which becomes the motivation behind this deal.

The Grizzlies have struggled with outside shooting this season. While the team's 34.9 percent from three-point range is solid, the 4.9 three-pointers made per game are the problem. When you consider that Mike Conley and Mike Miller are responsible for 1.4 and 1.3 of those 4.9, respectively, the lack of outside shooting is apparent for Memphis.

Lee has averaged exactly one made three-point shot per game for his career, averaging 0.8 per game this season. He has played just 16.8 minutes per game for the Celtics this season and will likely be in the same role with the Grizzlies. Bayless played 21 minutes per game as a reserve, so it's safe to assume Lee will do the same.

He might not be a prolific shooter, but Lee can still knock down three-point shots. He's shooting 44.2 percent from deep this season—the fourth time in six seasons he's shot above 40 percent. He is a more reliable option off the bench than Bayless, who can be erratic at times.

Lee is a well-rounded scorer as well as a shooter. Per, he's shooting 47.2 percent from mid-range and 46.9 percent on above-the-break threes this season. The Grizzlies shoot just 38 percent and 36.9 percent from those spots on the floor, respectively; therefore, Lee will help out in multiple areas on offense.

He also brings a defensive presence on the perimeter. According to Synergy Sports, he has kept opponents to 39.6 percent shooting this season. Lee is particularly skilled at defending the pick-and-roll, as he limits opponents to 30.6 percent in that play.

However, while Memphis craves both these skills from its reserves, this deal is still bittersweet.

Roughly a year ago, the Grizzlies dealt Rudy Gay to the Toronto Raptors. While the move improved Memphis' success as a team (27-10 afterward), the trade was largely made to clear Gay's salary from the payroll.

It kept the team below the luxury tax threshold and did the very same this season, as the Grizzlies payroll of $68.9 million sits just below the $70.3 million tax line. Yet the incoming salary of Lee's $5.2 million exceeds the outgoing salary of Bayless' $3.1 million, per Hoops Hype.

While more moves might be forthcoming to match the numbers, Memphis is investing more salary into the team payroll with this trade. Almost exactly one year ago, moves were made to ensure a healthy salary situation. Moving Bayless for Lee contradicts such a mindset.

Bayless, despite being ineffective this season, is in the last year of his contract. Lee, on the other hand, has another three years remaining on his deal (including this season). The trade locks up about $5 million per year over the next few seasons, which, while not overly limiting, could become a burden considering Lee's role as a reserve.

Put simply, a key contributor in Tony Allen or Quincy Pondexter will earn less than Lee. While the move will improve the Grizzlies' fortunes on the court, it's problematic from a front-office standpoint.

As aforementioned, more will potentially be done to ensure the team remains below the luxury tax line. Yet in any case, it would seem several roster moves would be necessary just to accommodate Lee and his contract.

Ultimately, Memphis is making this move to secure a return to the playoffs. 

The Gay trade from last season was indicative of the team wanting to keep out of the luxury tax. This deal might go back on that judgment, but the Grizzlies made a smart basketball decision rather than a business one.

It will pay dividends on the court, as Lee will fit into Memphis' game plan almost seamlessly. His combination of scoring and defense is just what the Grizzlies need from a reserve guard. It might have implications on the team's payroll, but remaining competitive and reaching the postseason are more important.