Courtney Lee Comes to Boston With Opportunity to Enjoy Well-Defined Role for First Time in Years


Courtney Lee Comes to Boston With Opportunity to Enjoy Well-Defined Role for First Time in YearsCourtney Lee once looked like he was going to be good — really good.

There is still plenty of time for that to happen now that the 26-year-old shooting guard is reportedly on his way to Boston as part of a sign-and-trade with the Houston Rockets. Lee will begin his fifth season in the NBA as a starter for the Celtics, assuming Avery Bradley has not recovered from offseason shoulder surgery by then.

Lee can become more than an occasionally adequate scorer and capable defender, which have been his predominant traits since leaving Western Kentucky after his senior season in 2008. He can only do that if the Celtics provide him with a defined role, something he has not consistently had as a pro.

Lee had the good fortune to break into the NBA with the Magic, who merely asked him to shoot spot-up 3-pointers and defend off-guard in their run to the Finals in 2009. He then had the misfortune to be traded to the Nets, who were about as far from the Finals as a team could be. After excising Vince Carter and Ryan Anderson in the trade for Lee, the Nets won 12 games in 2009-10, coming close to setting the record for futility in an 82-game season. Rather abruptly, Lee went from a winning environment in Orlando and the expert coaching of Stan Van Gundy for the temporary guidance of Lawrence Frank, Tom Barrise and Kiki Vandeweghe, and while his average numbers increased to 12.5 points and 3.5 rebounds per game, his game suffered.

With the Magic, Lee had enjoyed a clear, if limited, set of duties under Van Gundy. With the Nets, Lee was one of 17 unlucky players on a team where the coach essentially rolled out a basketball and delivered a gameplan that apparently amounted to, "Uh, go do things. Basketball things. Team on three!"

Oftentimes, playing on a bad team with a dearth of talent allows a young player to expand his skills. To an extent, Lee did that in New Jersey. He showed a midrange offensive game that was more reliable than was previously believed, although still not as accurate as his corner 3-point shooting, and he cemented his reputation as an above-average perimeter and transition defender. But Lee's struggles in creating his own shot were exposed, and his average passing skills regressed mostly because he had nobody to pass to.

When Lee went to Houston as part of the four-team trade best known for landing Trevor Ariza in New Orleans, it appeared he would be back in a favorable situation similar to the one in Orlando. The Rockets were coached by an expert strategist in Rick Adelman and Lee would once again have plenty of open looks courtesy of a dominant center, only instead of Dwight Howard it was Yao Ming.

But Yao got hurt and played only five games in what would be the final season of his career. Lee's shooting percentage from inside and outside the arc ticked back upward, but his playing time and shot attempts fell to career lows. Losing Yao threw every player's role into flux, and it was not until this past season, when Lee moved back into double digits in scoring and above 82 percent from the free throw line again, that he seemed fully comfortable again. He was virtually automatic on corner threes in 2011-12, hitting such shots at 48.5 percent.

The Celtics' challenge with Lee will be to keep him comfortable. In Jason Terry, Lee and possibly summer league stud Dionte Christmas, the Celtics will have a versatile backcourt reserve rotation that can shoot and defend. And if, as believed, the sign-and-trade allowed the Celtics to preserve the $2 million biannual exception, they might not be done adding pieces. None of those extra pieces are likely to infringe on Lee's territory of strong defense and long-range marksmanship, though, so for the first time in a while Lee should get to play an entire season fully aware of his role.

Given the right situation, Lee should fit in pretty well with the Celtics — possibly really well.

Have a question for Ben Watanabe? Send it to him via Twitter at @BenjeeBallgame or send it here.

Photo via Facebook/Courtney Lee

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