Trade grades: Hornets land Courtney Lee in three-team deal
The Grizzlies, Hornets and Heat have reportedly agreed to a three-team trade involving Courtney Lee, P.J. Hairston, Brian Roberts, Chris Andersen and multiple draft picks.
Who’s going where? Who won? Who lost? Let’s take a look.
Memphis Grizzlies Grade: B+
Grizzlies receive: P.J. Hairston, two second-round picks, Chris Andersen, two second-round picks
The Grizzlies, slogging through a so-so season by their recent standards, reeling from the loss of Marc Gasol to a foot injury, and contemplating the possibility of Mike Conley’s departure in free agency this summer, opted to cash out on Lee before he hit the market in July. If this trade feels a bit familiar, that’s because Memphis actually acquired Lee under similar circumstances, snagging him about a month before the 2014 deadline in a three-team deal.
Ditching Lee, 30, represents a hit in the short term. Teams with postseason aspirations are usually in the business of filling holes, rather than creating them. Not only is Lee (10 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 11.9 per) a big-minute starter, he’s also a key three-point shooter on a team known for its lack of perimeter firepower. Memphis, though, can defend its decision by pointing to the size of its haul, as four second-round picks -- including one from Brooklyn -- represents excellent value for an unspectacular player on an expiring deal. Memphis takes on a few hundred thousand dollars in pro-rated salary obligations, but the Grizzlies are under the luxury tax line so the swap of contracts has no secondary costs.
In light of his off-court red flags and me-first game, Hairston (6 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 7.5 per) represents a less-than-appetizing stop-gap solution for Memphis down the stretch. Although Lee is the preferable player – older, wiser, more polished – at least Hairston has emerged as a starter this year so he’s not totally green. Will a change of scenery fundamentally alter his personality and maturity issues? Probably not, but at least coach Dave Joerger has a body to plug into his rotation and at least the Grizzlies have no future commitment to Hairston because the Hornets declined his third-year option earlier this year.
It’s tempting to conclude that this move represents an early warning sign that greater changes are to come for Memphis, a team that seemingly needs to modernize. That’s a fair read, but not a definitive one. The Grizzlies should be comfortably in the playoffs despite the loss of Lee, and their next era – whether or not it includes Conley and the likes of Zach Randolph and Tony Allen – will need an infusion of youth. Grabbing picks now for a non-core player like Lee makes sense both ways – whether the Grizzlies are preparing to blow things up or whether they simply need to retool around the Conley/Gasol duo.
This deal probably doesn’t happen if Memphis can talk itself into having a fighting chance in a playoff series versus Golden State or San Antonio. The possibility of the West’s top two teams wiping the floor with them in late-April or May helps this one go down a little more smoothly.
There is a looming worst-case scenario: If the Grizzlies crater and miss the playoffs, they would need to convey their first-round pick to the Nuggets. With a five-game lead over the No. 9 Rockets with 29 games to play, and no clear idea when Gasol will return, the Lee-less Grizzlies might wind up holding on for dear life.
Charlotte Hornets Grade: B
Hornets receive: Courtney Lee (from MEM)
Here’s the latest sign that Michael Jordan’s Hornets are fully committed to a “playoffs or bust” approach. Lee represents a clear upgrade over Hairston and he makes for a natural positional fit in between point guard Kemba Walker and small forward Nicolas Batum. He won’t be troubled by life alongside a ball-dominant point guard, and his pairing with Batum as interchangeable perimeter defenders and willing three-point shooters should help cushion the anticipated loss of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to another shoulder injury.
Charlotte will exit the deadline in the East’s No. 8 spot – four games back of the No. 3 seed and 3.5 games up on No. 11. Once he’s settled, Lee should be a stabilizer: he’s spent the last two years on a veteran-dominated, disciplined Grizzlies squad, and he has every motivation to finish this season strong with free agency approaching. This summer will almost certainly represent the largest pay day of his career, and major minutes and touches during a playoff push is surely music to his ears.
It’s possible that Jordan will deem this move a win if the Hornets succeed in maintaining a playoff spot, but the longer-term picture is a bit more troubling. Center Al Jefferson, Batum and Lee are all headed to unrestricted free agency this summer, meaning Charlotte will need to decide whether it should pay up to keep three key pieces from a mediocre team. Should Lee wind up as merely a short-term rental, it will be hard to justify sacrificing multiple picks and increasing the team’s cap position by $1.6 million for a shot at an early postseason exit.
Neither Hairston nor Roberts, who is on an expiring deal, seemed to be in Charlotte’s plans. This move, then, boils down to whether Lee can make a meaningful impact down the stretch and, if so, whether Hornets GM Rich Cho can find a way to retain him at a reasonable number in July.
Miami Heat: Grade: B+
Receive: Brian Roberts
Miami’s role in this trade is financially motivated. For the cost of two second-round picks, the Heat will save a pro-rated portion of the $2.1 million difference between Andersen’s $5 million salary and Roberts’ $2.9 million salary. In so doing, Miami will also net an additional $5+ million in savings thanks to a reduced luxury tax burden (the Heat are subject to repeater taxes) and pull itself that much closer to avoiding paying luxury taxes at all this season.
Andersen, 37, was a key x-factor during the “Big 3” era, but he’s barely played this season. Roberts, 30, can provide depth behind veterans Goran Dragic and Beno Udrih at the point guard position, but he’s undersized and has never posted an above-average Player Efficiency Rating in his four-year career. The undrafted guard averaged just 4.8 ppg and 1.3 apg in limited minutes behind Walker and Jeremy Line this season.
After loading up a bit too generously in hopes of building a winner around Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, Pat Riley deserves some credit for this prudent and timely cost-cutting. Given Miami’s position in the middle of the East’s playoff picture and the difficulty the Heat will face in mounting a serious challenge to Cleveland, this penny-pinching isn’t particularly surprising. It’s not outrageous, either, as Yahoo Sports reports that one of the picks heading to Memphis is “heavily protected.”