Courtney Lee, what the heck is going on?
Now, this may seem untimely by most standards, even we would have liked this post to have been on the internet days, if not weeks ago. But, seriously Courtney Lee, what happened? You are probably asking yourself the same question; only your tears of rejection and the sorrow of heartbreak drown your questioning out.
Before June 25, you were a young member of a championship contending team who factored heavily in the future of the Orlando Magic. The next? You were included in part of a package that brought Vince Carter to Orlando and left you, Skip to my Lou, and Tony Battie to find their place in the mysterious land of New Jersey. What happened between the Finals and the NBA draft that convinced Orlando that you were a) not potentially good enough to have an immediate impact, or b) so devoid of significant impact that they made the judgment that losing you and Hedo Turkoglu would be compensated by the addition of Vince Carter and his 20 point per game average.
Mr. Lee, I thought, at least, that you were a critical part of the nucleus that made the run to the Finals last year. I guess I thought wrong. You fought your way back into the lineup with a mask on after you were struck with what must have felt like the hand of God when Dwight Howard accidently swiped you in the face. You showed your team that you were willing to play through pain, which is appreciated by the media for the most part. You continued to play the way you have always played, like a shyer version of Delonte West, yet it doesn’t seem to matter that much. Then, seemingly out of the blue, you were given the equivalent of a “Dear John” letter, explaining that it just isn’t working out.
Since your trade, you haven’t exactly been the model of masculine denial. What is typical of most men, you eschew it without much reverence for public opinion or perception. Reports have you really broken up by the whole move, some of it verified by none other than Dwight Howard himself. Maybe it is just my interpretation, but it seems that you were on the verge of tears when you think about the situation. This is just the sort of stuff that sends a man over the edge. In the most real of senses, you were rebuffed by someone, or in this case, an organization that you trusted and held close. It is the same story played out over and over since the inception of the free market, men’s personal feelings are always playing second fiddle to the potential financial/success profits of man.
Most players would have done what psychologists would describe as hiding their true feelings about the situation, put on a the shallowest of smiles and went to work to prove their former team fools. Courtney, you opened yourself up, wore your heart on your sleeve, some other superficial metaphor to describe you letting your emotions out. It hurts; no doubt, to be traded away from what you thought was a reliable home. I’d imagine it would be like disapproving parents kicking you out of your house for bringing home a report card littered with C’s and B’s. Sure, you weren’t phenomenal in most regards, but you weren’t horrible by any standard.
There were moments of flashy play, and there were some that he wishes he could take back. The latter, is of course, a reference to the much-maligned missed layup in game 2 of the NBA Finals that would have won the game for Orlando. That issue was overblown, plus people who complain have obviously never attempted a full sprint alley-oop layup over the heads of Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant. I know it sounds simple, but the actual physics make it a little more difficult than it appears.
Was that what sent the Magic over the edge? You missing a layup that probably shouldn’t even have gone to you? Why didn’t Rashard or Hedo get the last shot, and I know that it utilized the element of surprise and the time was also a factor, but Courtney Lee doesn’t exactly inspire images of Kobe Bryant or Michael Jordan in terms of being clutch. That convinced management that you were never going to amount to anything close to being a significant championship contributor, which enabled them to make the Carter trade?
You are in the early stages of your career; nobody really knows what you can/will become over the coming years. You are like a stem cell at this stage; you could amount to virtually anything, from a penetrating wing player, to a guy who continually moves off of screens to find the open shot (see: Rip Hamilton), or you could remain the unchanged and continue to be a sub-10 PPG player who is always regarded as a “nice” player, but nothing special. I won’t pretend to be a foreseer, or a sage, or a mystic, or anything of the sort. But I thought, from what action I was able to see thanks to Stan Van Gundy’s stubbornness, that you seemed to have somewhat of a bright future.
Heck, even Dwight Howard thought you were going to be a member of the Magic for longer than one season. You guys were working out together up until the trade went down, both blissfully unaware of any devious plots hatching in the minds of the Orlando higher-ups. Blindsided is putting it mildly. You probably thought it was just some juvenile prank your friends were pulling on you, until you saw it scroll across the ESPN bottom line, then the truth set in like a coffee stain.
Now you have to move on, or at least say you have. Letting bygones by bygones doesn’t apply to this situation. Vendetta would be the proper term for what you have in mind every time you lace up your sneakers when the calendar says New Jersey is playing Orlando. Not revenge for revenge sake, but because now you have a purpose, as if you didn’t before. Now you have to prove your worth, not only to the rest of the league, but now to your former team who dismissed you.
Redemption is now your main purpose, the prove the doubters false and reassure the believers. I sort of imagine that you will have the same drive and conviction as Frank Castle in “The Punisher”, relentlessly seeking the satisfaction that follows punishment. Immediate satisfaction is not likely, as the Magic will win a lot more games than the Nets will this season, and probably the next couple of seasons. In the long run is where you can truly get even. Turn into the player the Magic thought you were going to be while helping the Nets ascend into excellent basketball.
You can look at the trade as one of two scenarios: 1) Orlando didn’t think you were a worthy part of their future, or a more optimistic viewpoint, 2) that New Jersey thinks very highly of you. So highly of you that they were willing to part with All-Star (is he still worthy?) and bring you in to fill the shooting guard slot along with rookie Terrence Williams.
You will form a unique duo at guard with the still underappreciated Devin Harris who continues to make Mark Cuban look like an absolute fool. Both of you can drive to the basket, or take the occasional outside shot, but lets not get crazy. Lee is more than capable of being a deadly three-point shooter, but Harris still has a long way to go before his shot can even be confused with consistent. You are also on a team on the rise whose best years are most certainly ahead of them. The Magic’s future relies entirely on Dwight Howard expanding his offensive repertoire beyond the dunking phase of the game. The Nets are slowly building a competitive team, trying to fill out the roster with solid additions, letting the roster mature as a solid core. They have the young center, the All-Star point guard, and various role players who come in and ease the burden of the weight-carriers of the team.
During your injured phase in the playoffs, I couldn’t help but confuse you with Rip Hamilton. The clear mask that you wore in addition to the way you flew around the court conjured up images of Rip when he is at his finest. The difference is, that you have a better three-point shot, but a slightly less consistent mid-range jumper. To be fair, Hamilton is one of the best in the league at the 18-foot stop and pop jump shot.
Even your defense is solid. Your agility enables you to be effective against opponents, keeping them out of the lane. The same is true for your new partner, Devin Harris, who was once upon a time one of the top defenders in the league at point guard. So, in at least one way, you are an improvement over Vince Carter. But this only adds to the drama caused by the trade. If you can shoot threes with some semblance of proficiency (what Orlando wants to do) and play solid defense, then why did Orlando want to rid themselves of you?
You will have to get over your mourning about the death of a once happy relationship before you can be a significant contributor to the Nets. You have been given, or forced into, the change of scenery that so many are deemed to need before they can rise out of their mundane funk. Embrace the opportunity, seize the day, be the master of your own destiny. Make the Nets your new prospect, not your rebound from the love of your life.