Last season was not an ideal one for Courtney Lee. What started out well for the young guard ended on a confusing, sour note. Originally brought in by the Boston Celtics at a bargain price to inject some youth and perimeter shooting into the lineup, Lee seemed to fall flat and hardly lived up to what little hype surrounded him. He couldn’t get his three-point shot together until after the All-Star break, and while he displayed reliable defense, his speed and agility did not mesh as well with the style of Rajon Rondo as originally hoped.
That brings us to today. Many fans are unimpressed enough with Lee’s time in Boston to the point that they are willing to ship him out early. And while swapping him for a player like Andre Miller would be financially feasible as well as nice, Celtics fans need to be realistic. Lee’s value isn’t at an all-time high. There is more than likely no “trading up” in this situation.
With the Celtics entering a rebuilding phase, there isn’t much to lose. This has led some to believe that even if cutting ties with Lee would hurt the Celtics, it would only be a drop in the ocean of problems Boston must face this season.
Aside from his lackluster play, some argue against Lee’s presence based on the fact that he is part of a roster heavy with two-guards. Avery Bradley and Jordan Crawford are already present in addition to newcomers Phil Pressey and MarShon Brooks. With potential like that, is keeping him around really worth it? After all, Lee had his chance and blew it, right?
I would say, “No.”
The reason Lee seemed to be such a disappointment last year was because he was playing at a lower level than usual. That happens all the time in the NBA. If players were traded every time they weren’t in an ideal scenario or one that caused them to play a less effective game, there would be a lot more “journeymen” than there are now. If a player plays a full season poorly, I’m the first one calling for them to be removed.
However, Lee had a worse situation than most players in the league last season. After the departure of sharpshooter Ray Allen, Lee was under a lot of scrutiny. And while he was never asked to be Allen 2.0, there was considerable pressure on him to produce in a way similar to that of the now-Miami Heat guard.
We must also take into account Lee never had a set role. Celtics head coach Doc Rivers spent the first half of the season trying to solve his shooting guard puzzle, doing everything from starting Jason Terry to having Rondo take on a more offense-based role. The entire situation took place largely at the expense of Lee, who quickly found himself as the odd man out on the Celtics. Had Lee been given something that even remotely resembled a clear role on the team, he could have been a more effective player.
The plot thickened for Lee when he was moved to the unfamiliar position of point guard after a torn ACL kept Rondo on the bench for the remainder of the season. While calling Lee’s last season a fluke may be an exaggeration, and though I’m hardly an apologist for Lee, last season was just too tumultuous to be used as a measuring stick for the Western Kentucky product.
With the new-look Celtics, a lot of things are still uncertain, and while Lee may have to adjust yet again, his role on the Celtics will be less negotiable and expendable if he stays. Allowing him to find and embrace his job within the team will improve his production significantly. Aside from his one-on-one coverage, a defensive tandem with Bradley would be just as effective as it would be fun to watch. Lee isn’t going to start for any All-Star teams any time soon, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be a solid piece in the latest chapter of Boston basketball.
This transition period for the Celtics represents a fresh start for all players, and it could be exactly what is needed to bring out the real Lee.