Courtney Lee insisted he was thrilled to be with the Celtics last season, even as his minutes waned and coach Doc Rivers seemed to lose confidence in him. He was one of the first to make an appearance to watch Boston’s summer league squad in Orlando and to seek out new coach Brad Stevens for a face-to-face meeting, and he has become fast friends with Jeff Green.
Yet while Lee’s combination of defensive tenacity and 3-point marksmanship — the latter of which never materialized in 2012-13 — seemed like the perfect addition to a contending team last summer, the fit might not be as perfect anymore. At 27 years old, Lee will be the Celtics’ second-oldest off-guard, a position where the team is overloaded. Only the recently acquired Keith Bogans, 33, is older, and Bogans has the advantage of being able to slide over to small forward when necessary.
(Bogans also may have a limited no-trade clause as a result of his complicated sign-and-trade deal with Brooklyn, based on one reading of the collective bargaining agreement.)
To Lee’s credit, he sounds pumped about the upcoming season, although it may mark a return to the lowly years that directly preceded his arrival in Boston. After starting 16 playoff games for the NBA Finals-bound Magic in 2009, Lee toiled in Lotteryville for the next three seasons with New Jersey and Houston. He approved of a sign-and-trade with the Rockets last offseason to come to the Celtics for the mid-level exception, assuming this was his shot at another deep playoff run.
Lee’s assumption turned out to be mistaken when Rajon Rondo tore an ACL and Paul Pierce tired in the first round against the Knicks. He played all of 39 minutes total in the series, scoring six points, and was surpassed in the rotation by Jordan Crawford and Terrence Williams. It was a rough end to a once-promising season for the five-year veteran, but over the long term just about everyone (save Crawford, who is still on the roster) likely understands that Lee is the more solid choice as a pro two-guard.
“Just about everyone” also includes other teams. While the three years and $17 million remaining on Lee’s contract may make him tough to move, his deal — which will earn him roughly $5.7 million in the last year, in 2015-16 — is not unmanageable. His ability to handle the ball in small stretches and a sneaky mid-range game also make him more than the two-dimensional “three and D” players who are in such high demand. On the Celtics, Lee is slightly redundant alongside Avery Bradley and Bogans, but on some other team he could provide a unique set of underrated skills.
Lee, who has played for four teams in five NBA seasons, would probably like to find a semi-permanent home for once. Should the Celtics oblige? Vote in the poll below.
To kick off the official start of the NBA offseason, NESN.com will ask fans whether they think the Celtics should keep or move on from each player. The following day, we will provide the fans’ verdict. Here is the schedule*:
Monday, July 15: Rajon Rondo (Verdict: Keep him, 67 percent)
Tuesday, July 16: Courtney Lee
Wednesday, July 17: Shavlik Randolph
Thursday, July 18: Jeff Green
Friday, July 19: Gerald Wallace
Monday, July 22: Kris Humphries
Tuesday, July 23: Keith Bogans
Wednesday, July 24: Fab Melo
Thursday, July 25: Jared Sullinger
Friday, July 26: Kris Joseph
Monday, July 29: MarShon Brooks
Tuesday, July 30: Jordan Crawford
Wednesday, July 31:
D.J. White Phil Pressey
Thursday, Aug. 1: Colton Iverson
Friday, Aug 2: Kelly Olynyk
*Subject to change pending any moves