It's exciting to be wanted.
Whether you are being recruited by the Memphis Grizzlies, some college or university, or an employer, we all want to have that feeling of being valued. People going out of their way to impress you is a rarity in life, as is when someone tries their best to focus their attention solely on you. They try to sell you on why you will make the difference for them. They think you can improve them, solve their problems.
Sounds nice, doesn't it?
The NBA postseason is still a month or so away from reaching its conclusion, but with Memphis' elimination at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs, eyes have already turned to a Grizzly offseason with one massive question - what will Mike Conley do? What once felt like a foregone conclusion of a return seems to be a little less certain now, given recent quotes from Mike about the process at large that he is about to enter.
He knows his worth, as these quotes gathered by Ron Tillery of the Memphis Commercial Appeal show:
"...I have done a lot in even the last contract. I probably outplayed that one. So I know that I've been working very hard to achieve an even better one. That's something I'm looking forward to. I'm trying to establish that while I'm still in my prime."
He's asking the same questions many of us are with regards to the Grizzlies roster:
"...Everybody's wondering if we can bring together enough guys in the offseason. They have the right formula. They have enough money and an opportunity to find the right guy. But will we be able to attract this person or that person?"
And he also understands how the NBA works:
"This city is all I know. I've grown up here. But I understand it's a business and that can be the hard part..."
All of these things add up to Mike Conley's free agency likely looking different than that of Marc Gasol. Marc was a guy who, while there were moments of general freaking out, never seemed interested in the pomp and circumstance of the free agency process. He knew Memphis could offer a max contract, they did, and he signed it after the best season of his career.
Mike, on the other hand? His value, while it may well take a max contract for Memphis to retain his services, is a bit more in question. Marc Gasol is a two-time All-Star. Mike Conley is not. Marc Gasol has won a Defensive Player of the Year award and was named All-NBA just a year ago. Mike Conley has never been recognized on that level. Both players had injury-ridden, underachieving seasons this past year, but Marc has his money.
Mike does not.
Mike also, as he pointed out in one of the quotes above, has not experienced much outside of his NBA upbringing in Memphis. He came to the Bluff City as a boy, and has become a man through the adversity and adventures that his rise during this "Grit and Grind" era has brought about. There have been memories for a lifetime, and moments so powerful that they will live in Memphis lore forever. But Mike has to be wondering to an extent...
Is there something more?
He will surely find out. He will be wooed by multiple teams, for a variety of reasons. Money will flow more for more teams this offseason than ever before in NBA history. Mike is a leading name in a relatively weak free agency class, and he plays a position of need, which means that several teams surely see him as "the missing piece" to their playoff puzzle. He'd be a great fit in Utah. Or Indiana. He'd be a stud in Orlando, a star in Philadelphia or LA with the Lakers on New York with the Knicks, a soul crusher of epic proportions in San Antonio...
He will have options.
That isn't a bad thing. Enjoy the process, Mike. Go be wooed. Have nice dinners paid for by wealthy owners, fly on some private jets. Talk shop with some of the brightest minds in the NBA. You rarely get a shot at being universally coveted, and Conley will be as close as anyone not named Durant to an all-around target for many teams in the entire Association this Summer.
All we ask is you remember some things...
Remember Who Can Reward Your Loyalty Most
The Grizzlies can offer the most money and that all-important fifth season of a contract. For someone with health concerns the past couple of seasons like Conley, that extra year has to be of interest. He knows he was a relative bargain, healthy or not, last season, and as he enters his prime he is going to want to maximize his earning potential. He should do just that, and someone will likely be willing to pay, or perhaps overpay, for his services.
Memphis would be wise to throw that extra year, and the $25 million per season or so extra that come with it, out his way. Is that a steep price? Sure. Is it better than Rajon Rondo or someone even less gifted than him running your offense/scheme? Absolutely.
It is showing future players that if you do right by the Grizzlies through your play, the team will do right by you.
Rewarding your own should be a priority for all teams. It surely has been one for Memphis as they retained the services of Tony Allen, Marc Gasol, and Zach Randolph in recent years. Now it Mike's turn.
Remember Who & Where Your Boys Are
Sure, "growing up" in one spot can potentially get monotonous. It also allows for you to develop lifelong relationships, though, and Mike seems to have a couple of those. Dave Joerger (who will likely be chasing his own extension this offseason) and Conley have been through the ringer together, and while Lionel Hollins rightfully gets a lot of the credit for developing Mike, Joerger is right up there as well on the list of influential coaches for "Captain Clutch".
And Marc Gasol? That one, as Mike and Marc themselves put it himself, would hurt.
Mike Conley on the possibility of leaving Marc Gasol: "That's tough. I think that probably will be the toughest part of the decision. I'm at home, at nights, not worrying about what a team will offer, or whether I'll get along with another teammate. I'm worrying about Marc. If I left, he would kill me. If I left, I wouldn't be able to be with my guy."
Gasol on what it would be like to play against Conley: "I don't think he would play that game. I think he would call in sick or something."
-From Ron Tillery-
The final scene at FedExForum was Conley driving his white Tesla out of the garage with Gasol sitting in the passenger seat.
Those relationships are built over years of trials and tribulations. Conley and Gasol are best friends. They can help each other achieve their goals and go through their NBA careers together while getting paid. That certainly means something, and Joerger and Gasol's pull will play a huge role in keeping Conley in the Grizzlies' universe.
Remember Where and How You Got Those Scars
Broken face? Check.
Achilles/foot/ankle issues? Check.
Back and forth battle for the starting position with Kyle Lowry? Check.
A fan base who was hesitant at first, but is now almost entirely supportive of you?
As stated above, Memphis and Mike have been through some stuff together. A lot of the character that has made Conley the two-time NBA Sportsmanship Award winner has been developed and/or tested in Memphis. The investment of energy and emotion comes with an exchange of smiles and scars, of course. Because of this fact, Mike is very much a Memphian at this point; he has built a home here, and his Memphis home has helped to build him both as a player and as a man.
The city of Memphis sticks with you, and becomes a part of you if you stick around long enough. You carry it with you if you leave. Mike has a choice to stay where the boy became a man, where he is a vital part of the sports and civic culture, and still do right by his family in the process - that carries some serious weight.
When you settle down in a place, develop your marriage in a place, start a family in a place, it creates root after root after root. Those become pretty difficult to dig up and dig out, especially if/when the money is right and your best friend/coach are there with you as well.
As long as the Memphis Grizzlies don't undervalue Mike and try to shortchange him, Conley will likely be prepared to put down more roots. Mike has millions of reasons (personal and financial) to stay where he is rather than go elsewhere and start all over.
So go enjoy the process, Cap. Schmooze with the beautiful people. Eat a $100 steak. Enjoy the bright lights. Sleep in the finest hotels and ride in the nicest cars. Make the most of an awesome situation, because you earned it.
Your home will be right here waiting for you upon your return.