The Memphis Grizzlies have been struggling this season without injured star Marc Gasol, and they are just 15-18 the year after the most successful season in franchise history. However, the Grizzlies are only three games out of a playoff spot, and Gasol could be back within the next week or two. Despite the potential for a turnaround, the Grizzlies decided to change things up and trade Jerryd Bayless to the Boston Celtics for Courtney Lee.
This is an interesting move from the cap conscious Grizzlies, as they traded Bayless’ expiring contract for Lee’s deal that has 2 years and $11 million remaining after this season. However, the Grizzlies believe that Lee fills their need for outside shooting and that he can be a replacement for the injured Quincy Pondexter. The Grizzlies rank dead last in the NBA in three pointers made and attempted, and Lee is a 38.7% career three point shooter (compared to 34.5% for Bayless).
Lee is also a defensive upgrade over Bayless, which makes the Grizzlies more well rounded. With Mike Miller unable to play defense and Tony Allen unable to play offense, Lee gives a nice balance of both worlds. Lee has been off to a good start for the Celtics, posting career highs in points per 4o minutes and PER. However, there is 5 years of evidence to suggest that he is going to regress, and even if he stays at this level he is still somewhat overpaid.
Despite those concerns, Lee could establish himself as a key player for the Grizzlies. Pondexter’s role as a defense and threes wing was absolutely vital to the Grizzlies’ playoff success last season, and Lee has the skill set to fill those shoes. When Gasol returns, Lee should be able to provide a good complement to the pick and roll game of Gasol and Mike Conley. He will also combine with Allen and Tayshaun Prince to give the Grizzlies an outstanding rotation of perimeter defenders, which they need to make up for their offensive deficiencies.
The money involved in this trade is the biggest reason why the Grizzlies are receiving some criticism, but if Lee can be this year’s version of Pondexter then Memphis won’t care. The Grizzlies believe they can still be a force in the playoffs, and this trade shows they are committed to that goal. Bayless has done some good things for Memphis, but Lee gives them a better chance to contend this season.