Posted Aug 18 2010 9:52PM
There were 157 shots taken that night at the Staples Center.
Only one might have changed the entire path of Courtney Lee's career.
"I think about that a lot," he said.
It was Wednesday afternoon on another sultry summer day in Houston that found Lee smiling for the cameras and holding up the third different team jersey that he'll wear in his third NBA season.
It came, of course, in the final 0.6 seconds of Game 2 of the 2009 Finals with the Lakers and Magic tied.
Rashard Lewis set the screen on Kobe Bryant that gave Lee the opening to catch the crosscourt inbounds pass from Hedo Turkoglu. He tried to shovel the ball up over the outstretched arms of Pau Gasol. It kissed off the glass and dribbled like spilled milk over the front of the rim.
Instead of Orlando evening the series, the Lakers won in overtime to take a 2-0 lead on their way to a routine 4-1 clinching of their 15th championship in franchise history.
Maybe if it goes in, the Magic have the confidence and the stuff to take down the Lakers. Maybe then Orlando management doesn't feel the need to take apart the lineup, allowing Turkoglu to go to Toronto and sending Lee to New Jersey as part of the package for Vince Carter. Maybe he doesn't have to suffer through the misery of a 12-win season.
"I think about it a lot," Lee said again.
He's thought about how if he had same shot again he'd probably jump off two feet instead of one as he drove to the hoop. Or try to get a better angle rather than shoot from behind the backboard. Or something.
Lee thought about it the following day when he watched what seemed like an endless replay loop of the shot on ESPN and everyplace else he turned.
"I watched it," he said. "I didn't turn the TV off. I watched it. That's how I get over things. I beat myself up with it, but it builds character in me. You just keep working to come back. It's motivating. Michael Jordan once had a quote that said you fail in order to succeed. That's me."
There were a lot more than one missed shot for the Nets last season as they flirted through much of the schedule with breaking the record for fewest wins in a season. There were a lot more times to have to pick yourself back up and return to the gym.
"It was tough," Lee said. "I've never been part of anything like that in my life. It took a lot of adjustments to get used to that. I went in every day to try to get better myself as a pro and try to help my team so we weren't in position to set that record.
"If you get caught up [in feeling down] and everything like that, it can definitely turn into the feeling of being a job. I tried to focus on all the things that could take my mind off of it being a job. I competed in practice. That's all you can do in that situation. I still had fun."
But not the kind of fun that the 6-foot-5 guard figures to enjoy now that he's come to the Rockets as part of last week's four-team trade with the Nets, Hornets and Pacers.
Lee is the kind of aggressive, scoring wingman that the Rockets believe can thrive in coach Rick Adelman's ball movement offense as a cutter and a shooter. But it was his nose for ball-hawking defense that got him playing time as a rookie for the demanding Stan Van Gundy in Orlando, put him head-up against Kobe in the Finals, and has had him in the Rockets' sights since they were working him out as a draft prospect out of Western Kentucky.
"Courtney has the ability to cut and move," said Rockets general manager Daryl Morey. "He's not only an unselfish player, but has great offensive skills when he focuses on scoring.
"On the other end, he has the ability to guard 2s and we also think he can guard 1s and 3s. That's not something that is talked about enough, his ability at the other end of the floor."
Lee will be joining a Rockets team that includes his off-season workout partner Kevin Martin and will be getting Yao Ming back in the middle of the lineup following a season missed due to reconstructive foot surgery.
"[The trade] kind of was a surprise at first," Lee said. "I was in Tampa training and after the first training session, they said the trade might go through. Then after the second session, they said it did go through.
"That's all they had to say was 'Houston' and I got excited about it. Training with Kevin Martin, just knowing the situation here and what their expectations and goals are, I was pretty happy about it."
Another year, another place to fit in. It's certainly not the career path Lee expected to be taking after a rookie season that had him in the starting lineup in the Finals.
"If you focus on it that was, it can be," he said. "My mindset is to continue to be a pro and do the things to succeed in this league. I'm happy to be on a good team, a team that says they've been trying to get me for a while and to compete for a championship."
For Lee, a third season, third jersey, third team and a reason to grin.
"I think about that a lot," he said.
One more shot.
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