We can scour over all the empirical data: how Courtney Lee and Ray Allen have almost identical percentages and shot charts from behind the arc, how Ray is on the back end of his career at 37 while Lee may have finally found a home after 4 seasons with 3 teams just shy of his 27th birthday, or how the Celtics cobbled together enough young players, picks, and expiring contracts to complete a sign-and-trade with Houston to get Lee for 4 years at $21.5 million after offering a two year, $12 million deal at Ray Allen but we're spurned when he signed with the Heat for half that amount.
40.1% vs. 41.1%. 27 vs. 37. 4 for 21.5 vs. 2 for 12. Those are just numbers.
Today is Courtney Lee Day at CelticsBlog and while other contributors expound on his versatility, his youthful legs, and a dunk that unofficially woke us up from the off-season, I just want to talk about the simple fact that he wants to be here. Ray didn't and that's why he's gone. It wasn't about how well he shot, how old he was, or how much he wanted to get paid. He didn't want to be here, period.
As we progress with our player days on the blog and inch closer to actually meeting the players on Media Day (9/28), you're going to start seeing a common theme with this roster. Almost everybody, including Courtney Lee, sacrificed something to be here. Whether it was money or pride or playing time, this team that Danny has assembled exudes Ubuntu.
It starts with Garnett taking a pay cut so that Danny had some flexibility to build a winning team. Then, Doc personally makes a midnight call to Jason Terry as soon as free agency opens up, lighting the runway for The Jet to land in Boston. Later, Brandon Bass takes less money to stay with the team that showed faith in him a year ago when they traded for the then under-performing power forward. In his remarks regarding his returning to Boston, Jeff Green talks glowingly about the Celtics' organization and their participation with his recovery after heart surgery. In Orlando and later Las Vegas, training camp invites Jamar Smith and more specifically Dionte Christmas pass up good money overseas to gut it out in training camp to make their NBA dreams come true. And last week, we start to hear about vets and rookies already working out in Waltham and building chemistry.
Lee's path to the parquet may be a little different than those players, but it's still rooted in what being a Celtic is all about. Ironically, even as one of the newest members of the team, Lee might already have one of the longest standing relationships with his new head coach. He's been childhood friends with Doc's sons, Jeremiah and Austin, since being drafted by Orlando in 2008 and has been in constant contact with Rivers throughout his career. When his rookie contract expired and Houston withdrew their qualifying offer, Doc was one of the first people he contacted. After a dinner in early July, Lee said:
I want to win. I got a taste of the playoffs and going all the way to the Finals my rookie year [with Orlando in 2009]. I want to get back there. Boston, everybody knows their record and what they've accomplished over the years especially with Doc and having KG [ Kevin Garnett] and Paul [ Pierce], [ Rajon] Rondo's still there. So that's a team I feel will win and continue to win. That's one factor in the decision.
What strikes me most about the Courtney Lee signing is that he sought the Celtics out and the franchise in turn bent over backwards to get him. Boston has traditionally not been a free agency destination in the past. There were also purportedly several teams interested in Lee's services but as soon as he and Doc met and there was mutual interest between them, Danny made that call to Rockets GM Daryl Morey. There was certainly value in the multi-player trade that netted Lee a four year, $21.5 million contract; E`Twaun Moore was playing head and shoulders above more heralded rookies in the summer league, JaJuan Johnson was showing some promise as a former first round draft pick, and second round draft picks have become valuable currency under the new CBA.
However, if we're being honest, we need to call a spade a spade. Morey was collecting assets for a DH12 deal and waived Moore and Sean Williams when the Orlando trade didn't materialize. From the Celtics' perspective, they got their man and I think from Lee's perspective, he went to the team he wanted to join from Day 1. I'm not sure what other teams were offering Houston, but I have to imagine that Lee intimated his intentions to Morey. Maybe I'm naive, but I'm betting that Lee would have played for the bi-annual exception if Ainge and Morey hadn't hammered out a sign-and-trade. Again, it's all speculation, but maybe Morey knew that and got what he could from Danny. The bottom line is that as difficult as the process was, Courtney Lee is a Celtic. He saw something with the team that he didn't find anywhere else and Doc and Danny saw the same thing in him.
I'm certainly bias, but there's something special with these Celtics. This is now the second summer in a row that Danny hasn't done something flashy (i.e. Shaquille O'Neal, Rasheed Wallace) and instead, found players with the right mindset in addition to skill set. In a summer that saw teams clear the deck in order to woo Dwight Howard, it's comforting to know that the Celtics are still rooted in what made them champions in the 60's, 70's, 80's, and in 2008. In an interview last weekend, Dwight Howard whined, "I never wanted anybody to hate me, you know. I wanted everybody to love me, you know, like me, for sticking around and doing what they wanted me to do. And making everybody else happy." Boston knows that championships are the by product of brotherhood, not the other way around. Dwight won't be a winner until he realizes that it doesn't matter what everybody else gives you, whether it's adoration or affirmation; it matters what you can give to everybody else. It's a lesson that Howard didn't learn in Orlando, one that Ray Allen forgot on his way to his once sworn enemy, and one that Lee wholeheartedly embraces.
Welcome to Boston, Courtney.