In a season where it was widely expected that the Celtics would be active in the trade market, the first in-season move has been made. The Celtics have traded Courtney Lee to the Memphis Grizzlies for Jerryd Bayless (and Ryan Gomes from OKC who was immediately waived). What can we tell from this move? Was this a basketball decision or a financial decision? Does this make the Celtics buyers, or sellers? Is this the first domino to drop for this Celtics team?
Firstly, this absolutely was a financial move. Courtney Lee has 2 years and approximately $11 million ($5.225 million per season) remaining after this season on his current contract, whilst Jerryd Bayless is in the final year of his contract with $3 million owing to him this season. It is well documented that with this trade, the Celtics will trim off future money with this deal. As it currently stands, the Celtics will have approximately $40 million in cap space heading into next season –a little under $50 million if you count the first round picks and cap holdings– so this leaves us with a lot of room to resign either Bradley/Crawford, or even both if desired, giving some wiggle room to sign lower level free agents. The Celtics prior to the trade were a mere $500K away from the tax line – crossing this line would see the Celtics pay luxury tax, which for the current team is something they will avoid like the plague. Because the Celtics sent more in salary than they received, they were able to step away from the ledge a little – this could prove handy in future trades as it gives the team more flexibility to take a little more salary back if necessary to make numbers work.
From a basketball standpoint, both players are averaging similar numbers, with Bayless averaging 8ppg in 21mpg, and Lee with 7.4ppg in 17mpg. The biggest statistical difference with these players is efficiency – with Lee entering his prime at 28, he’s enjoying his most efficient season as a pro, averaging 44% from beyond the arc, and 16ppg per 36 which are both career highs – whilst Bayless is shooting at a terrible 37.5% field goal with an even worse 28% from 3 point land. While Lee is the better player in this trade, he is earning more and his contract runs longer than Bayless’, so this was a basketball move for Memphis, recognising that they need more shooters to spread the floor and a financial move for Boston, recognising that they need to shed themselves of long term salary to continue the rebuild.
In a previous article asking whether or not the Celtics would be buyers or sellers, it seems that the Celtics are going to be sellers this season as Lee has been better than Bayless this season on both ends of the floor. This will be the first of many similar moves in the season for the Celtics to gain financial freedom. The Celtics have an abundance of veterans on the team that could find themselves relocated by the February trade deadline, which include:
- Brandon Bass – He has been having one of his best seasons as a pro and has a reasonable contract (1 year, over $6 million remaining after this season). Bass has been one of the most consistent performers in this Celtic team, unfortunately he is playing a position that the Celtics are stacked in, especially with the need to develop the younger talent in Sullinger and Olynyk who both are PF. As his name has already been in the trade rumours this season, expect Ainge to move Bass during the course of the season.
- Kris Humphries – As mentioned previously, Hump has been playing some outstanding ball for the Celtics lately. He came over strictly as an expiring contract (over $12 million coming off the books) but has since become an important piece to the team. He runs hard, can knock down jump shots, and he attacks the boards hard. Unless Ainge includes Hump into a deal to get an all-star, or future picks, there’s a possibility that Hump may actually stay – purely because his contract coming off the books next season maybe be more valuable than what Ainge could get back.
- Jordan Crawford – One of the biggest surprises this season has been the emergence of Jordan Crawford. He has surprised the whole league with his stellar play at point guard in the absence of Rajon Rondo. With Bayless on the team now, they share a similar skill set – because the Celtics cannot trade a freshly acquired player for 3 months, this could possibly make Crawford redundant once Rondo returns. Danny bought low on Crawford last season and if he has a chance to sell high on him, I would expect him to take it (for the record, I would take Steez over Bayless any day of the week).
- Jeff Green – Green is not necessarily the trade spotlight, but he is a player that a lot of teams would/have shown interest in acquiring. With his shoot/slash game, size and ability to defend, and the fact that he is on a reasonable contract, Danny wouldn’t just let him go for a salary dump as he is worth more than that – we would have to get a player back that is clearly an upgrade to Jeff.
- Gerald Wallace – Danny would obviously love to move Wallace and that horrendous remaining 3 years/$10 million contract that he is on. Reality is, unless we are giving up a first pick, or a star such as Rondo, there is no incentive for any team to take him.
- Keith Bogans/MarShon Brooks – Bogans would be included in a trade purely to make up numbers, just like he was in the Nets/Celtics trade as there is simply no demand for him. For MarShon however, this trade could benefit him as he has moved up the SG depth with Lee traded. Hopefully he gets some burn with the Celtics so they can proper evaluate him to see if he is a future piece, or trade bait.
- Rajon Rondo – It wouldn’t be much of a trade article if we don’t talk about Rondo being traded, would it? As stated, the Celtics would absolutely rather build around Rondo rather than trade him. Ainge would have to be blown out of the water by an offer, which would have to include the following: a young star/future picks/expiring contracts – coupled with the other teams’ willingness to take Gerald Wallace’s poisonous contract off our hands.
Look for the Celtics to be active in the trade market, especially when it gets closer to the trade deadline and other teams are under pressure to land veteran help.
Courtney Lee by all accounts looked to be a great teammate and competitor and us Celtic fans appreciated his play and determination. He should fit in great at Memphis as a shooter and defender – we wish him all the best.
Lee is the first domino to fall, who’s next?
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- Dave Mikhael @big_dave31