Grades: Celtics agree to trade Courtney Lee to Grizzlies for Jerryd Bayless
The Celtics have agreed to trade shooting guard Courtney Lee to the Grizzlies in exchange for combo guard Jerryd Bayless, according to reports from ESPN.com and USA Today Sports. Although the two players’ salaries don’t match, the trade can be completed with the use of trade exceptions. The deal is expected to be made official on Monday and could include additional pieces.
“[I] would like to thank [everyone] in the Celtics organization for the opportunity to be a Celtic,” Lee wrote on Instagram. “I enjoyed my time in Boston and am grateful.”
Bayless wrote on Twitter: “The city of Memphis will always have a special place with me. There are relationships here that I will cherish forever! Time to move on.”
Lee, 28, is averaging 7.4 points and 1.6 rebounds in 16.8 minutes off the bench this year. He is currently in the second year of a four-year, $21.4 million contract that runs through the 2015-16 season. The 2008 first-round pick is on the books for $5.2 million this season.
Bayless, 25, is averaging eight points and two assists and shooting 44.2 percent from deep in 20.8 minutes off the bench in his second season with the Grizzlies. He signed a two-year, $6.1 million contract with the Grizzlies in 2012, and he decided to pick up his player option for the 2013-14 season last summer. The 2008 lottery pick will be an unrestricted free agent when his contract expires in July.
Boston — Grade: A
The swap of back-up guards accomplishes two goals for Boston: it clears off the future money owed to Lee, who was brought on to fortify the since-dismantled Paul Pierce/Kevin Garnett/Rajon Rondo core, and it adds a ball-handler to a roster that has lacked in that capacity during Rondo’s rehabilitation from a serious knee injury.
Exchanging Lee’s contract for Bayless’ reduces Boston’s salary cap commitments by $2.1 million this season, a noteworthy reduction because Boston’s payroll was brushing up against the $71.7 million luxury tax line. Lee has been known as a solid three-and-defense wing with good size, but his defensive numbers haven’t always matched his reputation. His role was cut this season under first-year coach Brad Stevens, who has handed over the bulk of the minutes to Avery Bradley and Jordan Crawford.
That a retooling Celtics organization was able to ditch the $11-plus million owed to Lee over the next two seasons amounts to a textbook salary dump, as it involved taking back no future salary and didn’t require the inclusion of any significant assets. Although the Celtics have been pleasantly surprising at 13-21 in their first post-Pierce/Garnett season, getting out of that money in preparation for the future is a no-brainer. Lee’s salary made sense when he was a younger piece shoring up an aging contender two years ago, but it makes far less sense now on a younger roster that’s heading for a reboot over the next year or two. Moving Lee — who will be joining his fifth NBA team in Memphis — gives Boston an additional $5.5 million of space to work with under the salary cap next summer, assuming that Bayless isn’t retained.
The Celtics will also mark the fifth team for Bayless during his six-year career. A score-first tweener known for having a bit of a mean streak, Bayless has seen time at both guard positions over the years. More of a two than a one and more of a slasher than a spot-up shooter, the Arizona product should be able to step in and handle some of the offense-initiation duties as the Celtics wait on Rondo’s return. The balance of the 2013-14 season will likely be viewed as a tryout for a longer-term role.
Memphis — Grade: B
This is no small investment made by the Grizzlies, who will remain barely under the luxury tax line this season after taking on Lee. Memphis ranks dead last in three-pointers made this season, and Lee should help address that weakness, which has plagued the franchise for a number of years. The Grizzlies lost guard/forward Quincy Pondexter to a season-ending foot injury, and Lee can cover that hole better than Bayless thanks to his size and shooting ability.
Starting guards Mike Conley and the recently re-signed Tony Allen will continue to run the show in Memphis, and reserve point guard Nick Calathes could see some extra time as a secondary ball-handler now that Bayless has departed. Lee fits pretty cleanly into that mix, and he should see his minutes pick up following the move.
The 15-18 Grizzlies have been reeling in the wake of a knee injury to star center Marc Gasol. The willingness to spend to acquire Lee may be a sign that Memphis — which sits four games out of the No. 8 seed — isn’t yet ready to concede a shot at making some noise in the playoffs after a memorable run to the 2013 Western Conference finals.
Taking on future money for Lee ultimately stands as a long-term bet on his ability to live up to his full mid-level deal. While Lee seems capable of doing more than he has shown this season in Boston, it will take a level of production not previously reached by the Western Kentucky grad to make this deal a winner for Memphis.