Rockets acquire Courtney Lee in 4-team deal

Wednesday August 11, 2010 7:27 PM

Lee Lands In Houston

Rockets part of 4-team trade that nets Courtney Lee in exchange for Trevor Ariza

Courtney Lee brings plus athleticism and excellent defense to Houston.


Jason Friedman

HOUSTON - If you ever wondered why people say there’s no such thing as an offseason in the NBA anymore, this deal should solve that riddle once and for all.

Seemingly out of nowhere, on a lazy day in August smack dab in the middle of the supposedly slowest part of the NBA calendar, comes this whopper of a 4-team trade which finds the Rockets acquiring shooting guard Courtney Lee for swingman Trevor Ariza.

The deal in its entirety: The Rockets send Ariza to the New Orleans Hornets, who in turn are dealing Darren Collison and James Posey to Indiana. Meanwhile, the Pacers are trading Troy Murphy to New Jersey and the Nets are completing the deal by shipping Lee to Houston.

What does this mean for the Rockets? From an X’s and O’s standpoint, the team has added a versatile 2-guard who should be a perfect fit with Houston’s second unit. Lee, a player the Rockets coveted in the ’08 Draft, is a plus athlete, a very good spot-up shooter (he hit more than 40 percent of his 3s during his rookie season with Orlando, a team that employs an inside-out game that creates plenty of open long-distance opportunities, similar to what the Rockets like to do, especially when Yao Ming is on the floor) and a strong wing defender. From’s John Hollinger’s scouting report on Lee last summer:

“Lee is likely to have a much more defense-oriented identity as a pro. He's a very good spot-up shooter, with last season's numbers backed by strong 3-point percentages as a collegian... Most rookies struggle on defense, but Lee was the Magic's best on-ball defender from the get-go and has a good chance at becoming an elite defensive stopper.”

In talking to Houston’s Basketball Personnel department, it’s clear the team loves Lee’s versatility on the defensive end, believing him to be a valuable weapon to unleash against bigger point guards like Deron Williams. But they also like his offensive potential, feeling as if his ability to play up-tempo one minute and as a floor-spacer off of Yao the next should enable him to seamlessly slide into Rick Adelman’s offense. Then, of course, there are the intangibles the Rockets cherish: Lee is a high character player who will be a great fit in the locker room, bringing his detail-oriented approach and winning qualities to a team that places real value on such characteristics.

None of this is meant to discount what Ariza brought to the Rockets last season. He, too, displayed many of the same attributes just applied to Lee. But here’s the key: the 24-years-old Lee’s price tag is nearly $5 million cheaper than Ariza’s this year, while also coming equipped with a team option to pay him just $2.2 million the next. Not too shabby for a talented young player who was a starter on an NBA Finals team as a fresh-faced rookie.

And that’s as good a place to begin when discussing the business side of this deal which, this day and age, is often just as important as the on-court ramifications are (please see Pat Riley’s cap maneuvering from the past 2 years as exhibit A for why it’s always of paramount importance to consider the implications of financial flexibility). Multiple reports have the Rockets saving as much as $10 million this season thanks to the difference in salary between Lee and Ariza, along with the prospect of paying a dollar-for-dollar tax at the end of the season if the Rockets were to wind up over the luxury tax threshold.

Then there’s the delectable cherry on top of this sundae: according to Yahoo! Sports, the Rockets are also receiving a whopping $6 million trade exception as part of this deal. In other words, General Manager Daryl Morey now has yet another significant asset in his pocket when he picks up the phone in his search for a blockbuster deal to put Houston over the top.

In the never-ending chess game that is NBA basketball, every move begets the next in some form or fashion. Take a backward view of Morey’s moves and the strategy quickly becomes clear. Of course, it’s the builder’s job to look forward: to have a plan in place while being savvy and quick-thinking enough to adjust on the fly when need be. Everything we’ve seen thus far has shown Morey to have the eye of an architect. This, then, is the act of another brick being put in place. Now it’s time to step back, examine the blueprint, survey the progress and begin plotting the next move.

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