You can imagine life in the National Basketball Association must get pretty lonely.
Players spend nights on the road, sometimes days and days at a time away from those they care about and who care about them. Some players maintain permanent housing outside of their NBA city, where their families put down roots and cheer for daddy from afar. It makes sense; the NBA is a business after all, and the millions of dollars these athletes bring in come with a price: Insecurity in location in exchange for security in finances.
As the NBA further entrenches itself into the golden age of free agency, playing for solely one franchise your entire career is becoming the exception, not the rule. Unless you are a Kobe Bryant, a Dirk Nowitzki, or a Tim Duncan (basically a hall-of-famer), you are likely to be on the move at some point. Look at the Grizzlies, for example; only one key contributor to this season's team, Mike Conley, has played his entire career for the team that drafted him in Memphis. In fact, three Grizzlies have played for 5 or more NBA franchises over the course of their careers:
Courtney Lee, for being in the middle of his 7th NBA campaign, is quite the NBA nomad. Perhaps it has to do with his age; at 29, he has been in the Association the same amount of seasons as 26 year old Kevin Love and 25 year old Nicolas Batum. He isn't flashy, and doesn't display that swagger that other shooting guards in the NBA do. He fits well into trades as the proverbial "other guy", whether it is for Trevor Ariza, Ryan Anderson, or the aforementioned Vince Carter (Lee was a part of the deal that sent Carter and Anderson to the Magic and Lee to the Nets).
He had a tremendous run initially with Memphis after the trade that sent him to the Grizzlies for Jerryd Bayless, but cooled off considerably and was pointed at as part of the reason the Grizzlies lost their 2014 1st round series against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Lee was brought in for offensive punch, and 41.7% from the field and 31.6% from 3 just wasn't gonna cut it. Questions began to rise; how much longer until Courtney Lee packs up and heads off to his next NBA destination?
11 games into the 2014-2015 season, it appears as if Courtney Lee may have discovered his professional basketball fit at last. Among calls from some for him to once again be trade fodder as the season began in order to get players such as Jordan Adams more run on the wing, Courtney Lee has come out and silenced any critics that he may have had (at least for the time being). Memphis is becoming home. Let's look at how it's happening.
Comfort=A Career Best Start
In 9 games played so far (7 of them starts), Courtney is playing more minutes (32.9) than he has since 2010 and is averaging more rebounds (3.3) than he has since that season as well. Career highs in shooting percentage (56.6%) and three point shooting percentage (62.1%) are impressive, and the shot chart bears that out:
(ed. note: I see what you did there, and I like it)
(LA=League Average, DST= Shot Distribution)
But it isn't just phenomenal shooting that has Lee off to such an awesome start. His defensive rating of 103 is the best of his career so far, and his assist percentage of 11.9% is also a career best.
All of these numbers have led to another career high: His PER of 20.86 is good for best on the Grizzlies so far this season, which is especially impressive on a team that boasts 3 other players with PERs over 20 (Conley- 20.02, Gasol- 20.41, Randolph- 20.85). This is over 7 points better than his previous career high of 13.80 from last season. Lee is looking the long-sought-after part of "The Fourth Grizzly King" so far this season.
Courtney Lee's first playoff experience led him to the NBA Finals with the Orlando Magic against the Los Angeles Lakers. With the game tied at 88 and only .6 seconds left, Lee had a play drawn up for him to win the game for the Magic. A screen was going to be set for him to attack the rim and get an alley-oop lay-up opportunity, a big moment for any rookie, but Lee had started multiple playoff games up to that point
It was a tough shot, but an open one that could have changed the course of NBA history. Missed opportunities like that one can haunt you for the rest of your career, unless, of course, you get a chance to make them right.
And Courtney Lee would get that chance with .3 seconds left on the clock against the Sacramento Kings with the Memphis Grizzlies to cap off the greatest comeback victory in team history.
Making memories in a place makes it a home. That one is a doozy, and surely makes the miss in the Finals hurt a little bit less. A play that will live on in Grizzlies lore and fan's minds forever will only endear Courtney Lee more to the Beale Street faithful.
Historic moments and fantastic starts are awesome, but what can help Courtney Lee truly put down roots in the dirt near the Mississippi River is showing the ability to be consistently productive in his role getting starters minutes for the currently-best-in-the-NBA Grizzlies. Lee has developed the reputation of a guy who has flashes of success followed by runs of mediocrity, or worse. Last season was a great example. Courtney Lee joined the Grizzlies on January 6th of this year. In the last months of the season, here are Lee's regular season numbers.
He was up and down in a variety of areas, especially among shooting percentages. Lee's productivity is a lot like his career travels; up, down, and all around. Courtney will undoubtedly cool off from this red-hot start to 2014-2015 and regress back a bit, but the question is, how much? Can he continue to have career-best numbers across the board and help Memphis achieve goals that even the most positive Grizzlies fan was unsure of when the season started? A division championship? A top 2 or 3 seed? A championship parade ending on historic Beale Street?
All are on the table at the moment, thanks in large part to the rolling stone known as Courtney Lee.
Rarely, if ever, will someone feel sorry for an NBA player. Injuries aside, these men make millions of dollars playing a child's game. A closer study of careers can lead to some empathy, though; constant movement and uncertainty in regards to where you will be from year to year must be hard to deal with. Courtney Lee has spent his professional life trying to find a place to call his own, a safe haven of hardwood where he can be more than that trade chip, that desirable contract. For once, the bride and not the bridesmaid.
Thankfully for him, Memphis seems to attract the wanderers, the forsaken, and the downtrodden, with the FedExForum acting as a de facto Statue of Liberty, calling for the weary of the NBA to lay down their heads in the Bluff City. Lee has begun to join the ranks of Zach Randolph and Tony Allen, not necessarily in terms of love and legend, but in terms of finding themselves and becoming better for being a Memphis Grizzly...and making the Grizzlies that much better in the process.
From trade bait to a key cog in the machine, the long search for an NBA abode may finally be over.
Welcome home, Courtney Lee.