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Watching from afar with Mike Conley

I got a chance to talk with Mike Conley about his arrival in Utah and his support for this team from afar.

Utah Jazz v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

Have you ever had relationships or friendships that had to end, but you still support them no matter what? Whether it’s the high school relationship that has to end, because the two young lovebirds decide on different colleges. Or, the neighborhood friendship that ends, because someone moves away. Or, the freshman year roommates who see their relationship dissolve, because they choose different roommates going forward.

No matter what though, they could always count on a “miss you” Instagram or Facebook comment, a “how’s everything going,” or the holiday text message that usually comes with a Christmas, Thanksgiving, or a birthday. It may be unspoken, as you just see their social media activity without any ill-will towards the other.

I feel like we all have experienced it in our own lives. Collectively though, the city of Memphis is going through this with Mike Conley.

The first night the Utah Jazz came to town, it was an absolutely surreal evening. At the pregame shootaround, Mike Conley was making his rounds as he was leaving the tunnel. He made sure to say hello to the media members and team officials he met over the years, the fans with his jersey, and my girlfriend (who he bonded with through the St. Jude Children’s Hospital).

There was a lot of love for Conley in pregame intros and the game. He was the last player introduced for the Jazz, and it was like he was still a Grizzly. There was a pep in the PA announcer’s voice, and the roar from the crowd was deafening. Each passing basket for Conley came with a pop from the crowd.

During the tribute video, it was hard to maintain dry eyes in the arena, as it captured the growth of the city’s relationship with Conley.

Last Friday wasn’t necessarily as emotional as the first meeting, but the love for Conley was still abundant, a clear sign that the support for him will never go away.

Guess what’s even cooler? It’s a two-way street.

Mike Conley is watching and supporting the Memphis Grizzlies from afar.

2019 NBA Awards Show Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images

The Mike Conley trade was the first domino of the crazy offseason for the Grizzlies, as it — in large part — generated a huge haul:

Two mainstays from the Conley-led Grizzlies were Dillon Brooks and Jaren Jackson Jr. When Conley was in Memphis, Brooks and Jackson were the two main young players that represented the future of the franchise. Those two players also developed a strong mentorship under Conley’s wing. He was Brooks’ veteran during his rookie season, and around the trade deadline last year, Conley even told Jackson that he was going to be here for forever.

Even from afar, Conley has been keeping a close eye on his young fellas — and the team as a whole. “Yeah, I keep up all the time,” Conley said when asked if he still watches the Grizzlies on TV or from box scores. “I’m still close with Jaren and Dillon, like we were teammates yesterday. I’m watching them all the time, texting them all the time, and just checking in.”

As Conley departed, larger roles for these two players arrived. Brooks has taken a career-high number of shot attempts, while displaying more comfort as a shot creator and a catch-and-shoot 3-point shooter. Jaren’s role was always going to be the biggest on the team, as the departure of Conley and Gasol meant more responsibility for the 20 year-old big man. He’s getting more 3-point opportunities, perimeter touches, and sets designed for him, and he’s cashing in.

The former Grizzlies point guard has taken notice of their progression and pointed out aspects of their games that weren’t necessarily there during his tenure in Memphis:

I just love the way Dillon’s been aggressive scoring the ball, but also pick and choose his points. Jaren is trying to become a complete player, as you know. He’s try to stretch his game, he’s shooting great from 3. We know what he can do in the paint. He’s doing better defensively, so I’m just proud of them continuing to work.

It’s cool to see a franchise great continue to pour into and invest in the future of his former organization, even though he’s playing for a conference foe. It shows how different Mike Conley is built.

Utah Jazz v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

One thing that was good to see with Mike Conley, Marc Gasol, despite their bittersweet ending to their run with the franchise, is how they ended up in fantastic situations where they could win a championship. And, for the most part, it was by design:

Yeah, they were transparent with us from day one. Just let us know who was after us. If the opportunity worked out to get us in position to have the opportunity to win… they definitely did that for Marc, and they definitely did it for me.

We’ve seen how it’s worked for Marc Gasol, and Conley is getting the opportunity to chase the ring once more. Though the Western Conference is loaded, the Utah Jazz are still equipped to be a title contender behind Conley, a dynamic young scorer in Donovan Mitchell, reigning Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert, an underrated wing in Bojan Bogdanovic, strong role players such as Royce O’Neale and Joe Ingles, and a brilliant coach in Quin Snyder.

Mike Conley has a chance to reach a pinnacle many athletes aspire for: a championship.

Yes, losing Conley was a terrible feeling. Both on and off the court, he did so much for not just this franchise, but the city as a whole. He grew from a 19 year-old kid into a man in Memphis, and we got to watch this maturation — especially as a player — before our very eyes.

Now, the Grizzlies are getting to experience this scene again with 20 year-old stars in Jaren Jackson Jr. and Ja Morant.

Meanwhile, this city will be supporting Mike Conley. Whether it’s from a national TV game, highlights, tweets, Instagram likes, or intense playoff games, the love and support will never waver with Conley — like that friend or significant other we circumstantially had to move on from.

And, the love coming from Mike Conley resembles a two-way street, as both parties watch and support from afar.

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