MATT: Let's put a bow on this conversation. Shouts to Chase Lucas for this idea. Imagine you could swap in any center or point guard for Gasol and Conley for the next five years. You have to pay them the salary that Gasol/Conley will have. We'll assume a 5 year max for Conley, while the center assumes Gasol's contract. Also, don't think about how these new players' games fit with each other, just how they would fit with the rest of the Grizzlies (i.e., Gasol's replacement would play with Conley, not the player you would replace Conley with).
For the next 4-5 years, who are the worst players you would take over Conley/Gasol, and who are the best players you would prefer to keep what you have? In other words, which players are on either side of the value we estimate for Conley/Gasol over the next 5 years.
I think I would prefer Conley to Eric Bledsoe, and swap him for Goran Dragic.
I'd prefer Gasol to Nik Vucevic, and swap him for - for really surprising and contradictory reasons - Nikola Jokic.
ANDREW: I would prefer Conley to Reggie Jackson, and swap him for Dennis Schroder. You have no idea how badly I wanted to say swap him for Cameron Payne here, but I can't give a rookie a max contract.
I would prefer Gasol to Greg Monroe, and swap him for Jonas Valanciunas.
MATT: Wow. Your point guard answer is fascinating. But let's unpack our Gasol answers first, because our thinking is close. Essentially Monroe and Vucevic are similarly flawed players (I think Vuc is better than Monroe, but I'm not in love with either). Both guys are offensive fulcrums around whom it is difficult to structure an above average defense.
For me, swapping in a big like that is a non-starter for Memphis, unless that guy vaults Memphis to an elite offense, and anybody that does that is an elite player and not really part of this conversation.
I thought about J-Val for my other answer, but I might rate him slightly higher than you. I'm optimistic for his future because all he has to do is add one skill (hopefully rim protection) and he's an all-star.
ANDREW: I think me picking Jonas Valanciunas says more about how much I value Gasol than it does anything about my valuation of Valanciunas. I think Gasol is still a top center in the NBA, especially if he returns mostly healthy even mid-December of next season. I'm right there with you on Valanciunas though. I think he's a terrific talent who's still absurdly young and in possession of multiple skills that could make him an All-Star in the next two or three seasons. He's a scoring force, and he can get it done in the post in so many ways. Also, he's getting better defending pick-and-rolls at least. That's a good start towards bolstering his defensive value.
I picked Valanciunas because he's plenty good enough to enable the Grizzlies to maintain their status as a decent team now, but he's young enough to serve as a core piece to build around if and when the Grizzlies eventually reach the point of a full-scale rebuild.
MATT: I guess I don't think Gasol is likely to be as productive as J-Val, so you are more bullish (bearish? You know, whichever's better) on Gasol's future. Or maybe I'm just pricing in more injury risk for Gasol than you are.
I ultimately went with Jokic over Gasol, a player who stats say is better than J-Val already, but weirdly, I think would make the Grizzlies worse than J-Val in the short term.
Any player you consider almost has to be really good right now. It's sort of sad to think of Conley and Gasol as aging players nearing the ends of their primes, but that sort of fits into a narrative where we overvalue future production because it gives us something to look forward to. It's exciting to be at the bottom of the bell curve, just as the roller coaster climbs, preparing to ascend.
After all the time we've spent on talking about the future, I think it's important to remember that Conley and Gasol are both still really, really good now; and, at full health, so are the Grizzlies. If you sacrifice production now for future production, you better have a damn good reason to do so.
Jokic is a damn good reason for me. Frankly, he's probably too good for this question, except that giving him a max deal deflates a ton of a rookie's value. I kind of think Jokic might be the evolutionary Marc, and while I think the Grizzlies would take a significant step backwards and probably lose a good pick in the process, Jokic has a chance to be great one day.
ANDREW: I thought hard about Jokic myself, and I think he's a strong pick. The reason I strayed away from him (and Cameron Payne with my point guard pick) is simply because he is a rookie. It's so hard for me to think about giving a rookie a max contract when so much can happen between now and his next contract. Teams will get refine the scouting report on Jokic, and that will make things tougher for him. It probably won't matter though.
He's crazy young, and he could end up with more offensive versatility than Gasol at the height of his powers. That's crazy to think about. As you said, the Grizzlies would probably take a big step back. But Jokic is another guy who can make sizable contributions right now and provide a much larger timeframe to build around him at the same time.
MATT: For Conley, I think I am actually more optimistic than you. I think Conley's superior value as a 3 pt shooter separates him from Schroeder in my mind, that the more I think about it, the list of guys I'd feel comfortable offering Conley's contract to this offseason is pretty small: RW, CP3, Steph, Wall, Lillard, Kyrie and Lowry. I ultimately included Dragic, because even though he's taken a step back this year, I think he's just being used incorrectly and would thrive on a different team.
Your list is longer, and you are probably closer to Conley's true value. Maybe I'm just being sentimental.
ANDREW: For Schroeder, I was thinking part value/part fit. I don't think ZBo and TA will be in Memphis the full five year period, so Schroder would have a lot of time with new, less floor-clogging teammates. I wasn't so much thinking about just next season as I was beyond that point. I really don't even like that pick, but I don't know that I can pull the trigger on Cameron Payne because of age. I really wanted to say I would take Kemba Walker over Conley going forward, but I don't think that's too much of a stretch
MATT: I want to highlight one key piece of this. The sneaky value to Conley - and something we both hinted at - is that he is easier to build around than most other point guards. His size is his limiting factor on defense, and his quickness will fade as he ages. But I'm optimistic that, even 3-4 years from now, he can do enough on the defensive end to be an overall plus. And I don't think he will necessarily need to get to the rim to be effective as he ages (the Grizzlies will just need to replace that with a wing). I wouldn't say the same about a guy like Schroeder, who I think will always need (and wants) the ball in his hands, and is playing on a team with about as much spacing as you can get.
I'm also past the point where I consider Conley's size a harbinger of massive injury risk. He will always battle small injuries, but he has navigated so many injuries already while remaining pretty darn good that I think that's overblown. Dude went toe to toe with the Warriors days after having his face opened up. That's why I ultimately went with Conley over Bledsoe, whose game is predicated on physically dominating his opponent.
I don't know if Bled can be effective if he is asked to dial that back, and if he comes back from this injury 95% of what he was, I think that directly affects his production in a way he can't replace.
I'll give you the final word if you want it about anything you want to say. Or you can tap out. Whichever.
ANDREW: I have more faith than you in Dennis Schroder's ability (or a coaching staff's ability) to turn himself into a player who doesn't need the ball in his hands so much. He's just 22 years old, and he's already a pretty good player. I think he's going to be a really good passer and excellent at prodding defenses throughout his career. He's naturally a creator for others more than for himself, and I think that will show if and when the Hawks turn him loose to run the show. If he could just develop into a consistent 35% three-point shooter, that would enable him to slide off the ball into other roles with greater ease when necessary.
With that said, I probably prioritized the future too much with this pick which is obvious when you consider that I almost picked Cameron Payne. I am more bullish on Payne's long-term stock than I am Schroder's, but I couldn't give a rookie a max contract and he would not provide enough to come close to matching Conley's value right now. Now I don't believe Schroder is worth a max contract at all, but I couldn't think of more than a handful of guys that I would take over Conley, and they would have all been real "well yeah, duh" picks.
For the sake of our reader's sanity, I'll stop here.