In acquiring Courtney Lee before the trade deadline, the Charlotte Hornets were looking to fill the void of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who fell victim to a season-ending injury back in early February, as well as to replace P.J. Hairston, who filled in admirably with token starts but ultimately couldn't provide enough on either end of the floor.
Known for his perimeter defense and 3-point shooting, Lee filled in at the starting shooting guard spot, accompanying Kemba Walker in the backcourt. There, he played a crucial role late in the season, and played well during the Hornets' playoff series against the Miami Heat, too.
Despite struggling from the floor in the series, Lee's efforts never lacked, which could be seen in his timely offensive rebounds and solid defensive performances against Dwyane Wade.
As an unrestricted free agent this summer, however, will the Hornets be able to bring him back? He's a great locker room guy and brings a much-desired skill set to any team, which makes his potential price tag intriguing.
In my view, the NBA has two levels of prototypical 3-and-D players. The first level includes those who are among the best players in the league, and often showcase various talents outside of those two categories. A few names that come to mind are Klay Thompson, Paul George and Kawhi Leonard. The second level includes those who solely rely on 3-point shooting and defense, and are never the second or third scoring option, though they remain a vital part of their team's success. Here, one finds the likes of Danny Green, Avery Bradley, Jared Dudley and of course, Lee.
Although Lee only played one-third of the regular season in Charlotte, he finished with a better percentage from beyond the arc (39.2) than he did for the Memphis Grizzlies (37.0), while nearly averaging the same number of attempts per game. Here's his full shot-chart of the regular season:
Luckily, there's not an abundance of red on this chart, although it's strange that Lee only made eight out of 30 attempts from the right corner; an area of the floor he shot 40.5 percent from the season before. Lee's effectiveness from the mid-range is also praiseworthy. We often saw him curling off screens and pulling up for 18-foot jumpers. He certainly didn't replace Kidd-Gilchrist, but was as good of a replacement as the Hornets could have found, considering the team's struggles to find consistency at the two-guard position with Jeremy Lamb and Troy Daniels.
All in all, it's hard to argue against Rich Cho's trade for Lee, where he dumped two future second round draft picks and two players struggling to stay in the rotation in Brian Roberts and Hairston. Normally, trading for an unrestricted free agent without certainty that he'll sign the following year can be risky, but it helped save the Hornets' season and gave the team a serious chance to move past the first round of the playoffs. It was a trade that definitely bolstered Cho's case for Executive of the Year; an award he ended up finishing 5th in across the league.
In the playoffs, Lee shot well below his regular season numbers, but managed to have an MKG-lite impact on defense and in crucial rebounding situations. The huge offensive rebound he grabbed with 30 seconds left when the Hornets were down by one in Game 5, for example, was often the norm with Lee.. He followed that play up with the game-winner five seconds later on a 3-pointer that put the team up by two. To relive the chills, here's the clip:
Keep in mind, Lee was one-for-eight from the floor before this beauty.
Fitting that Courtney Lee gets the offensive rebound and jumper after missing the layup. https://t.co/ganVj7Hmdk— BBALLBREAKDOWN (@bballbreakdown) April 28, 2016
After this, let's just say Twitter went nuts:
Two plays have changed this series around, both by the same guy: Courtney Lee offensive rebound. Box out.— Ryan Bass (@Ry_Bass) April 28, 2016
Remember, this came after a similar play in Game 4 where Lee grabbed an offensive rebound with just over four seconds left while the Hornets were hanging on to a two-point lead. He followed that rebound up by hitting two free throws to ice the game and seal the victory.
So again, he in no shape or form replaced Kidd-Gilchrist, but his consistent energy was as good of a substitute as one could hope for. Lee immediately became a fan favorite, and remained one throughout the rest of the series. If not for Wade's improbable performance in Game 6, the Hornets may have moved on to play the Toronto Raptors.
Either way, Lee played a crucial role and could be a very valuable piece to next season's roster if the Hornets can re-sign him.
But that's the question: Can they?
After all, with Batum being the number one priority this offseason and Kidd-Gilchrist coming back from an injury, Lee is most likely bumped from the starting lineup next season. He would become the first or second player off the bench, depending on Jeremy Lin's future in Charlotte, and might have a chance to make more money elsewhere on a team he could start for.
Why? Remember the Jeremy Lamb deal at the beginning of the season? That three-year, $21 million extension could easily affect Charlotte's chances of resigning Lee, despite the astronomical uptick in salary cap numbers over the next two years. It's not that Lamb's deal is a total bust yet, but the Hornets have a handful of free agents to take care of this summer, and Lee could very likely be the odd man out.
With that said, however, Lee had a memorable campaign for the Hornets this season, and I for one would love to see him suit up in a Hornets uniform again next season. He brings charisma, energy and a skill set that are hard to find elsewhere in this league. The Hornets have built a great culture in Charlotte under Steve Clifford's realm, and Lee fits perfectly on what would be a top bench unit in the league and an emerging Hornets team. Hence, it remains to be seen if Lee can buy into the system, and if the Hornets can pay him adequately. It's safe to say, the Hornets are looking at a very busy summer.