When you fall, sometimes you need a hand there to help you get back up.
We all have had mentors throughout our lives that have molded us. Shaped us. Called us out when we were wrong, and praised us when we were right. A listening ear, a shoulder to lean and/or cry on...a friend.
For what lies ahead of the Memphis Grizzlies, that will be necessary.
Do not let the recent three-game winning streak (that ended in awful fashion Wednesday night in Atlanta) fool you. There are some lean years ahead of this Grizzlies team - there will be times where young players like Dillon Brooks will look lost. That Jevon Carter will appear unable to compete consistently at a high level in the NBA. That even the likes of Jaren Jackson Jr. will go through stretches where he will struggle scoring, or defending, and his place as the future cornerstone of the franchise will be in doubt in the darkest corners of the psyche of Grizzlies fans.
At those moments, it’d be nice to have an icon to bear the burden.
When the summer eventually comes, and the latest “most important off-season in Grizzlies history” begins, Mike Conley likely will be back on the trading block. That is the responsible thing to do - see what his value is on the market, weigh the pros and cons of holding on to Conley and the roughly $67 million owed to him over the next two seasons, and engage opposing teams (now presumably with more cap space) in what they feel is fair in exchange for an aging, yet still productive, point guard.
Unless it is a “home run” offer, though - something better than Ricky Rubio, Dante Exum, and a protected future 1st round pick - it may be in the best interest of the Grizzlies to retain Conley’s services.
What Mike did for Greg and Marc, he can do for Jaren
Mike Conley has been linked to successful big men for much of his career.
All the way back in 2006 when Mike’s one season at Ohio State began, and even before that in high school in 2005, he displayed the skills to mesh well with bigs alongside Greg Oden.
While Oden was more low-post based and less pick and roll than Mike’s professional big brother, Greg benefited from having a guard with the skills of Conley by his side. Mike’s ability to create off the dribble in a variety of ways and control pace made space for Oden on the block, and also made it possible for Greg to emphasize the part of his offensive game that was near unstoppable (when healthy) - his aggression at the rim. Mike knew how to get Oden the ball, how to get him involved on that end of the floor, and the chemistry they developed over their time together made each of them better than they likely would have been without each other.
Greg Oden’s health failed him, not Mike Conley.
While they got there following a different path, the same can be said for Conley and Marc Gasol.
Gasol’s game was far more perimeter-centric towards the end of his Grizzlies tenure, but once upon a time Marc had a similar style to Oden, just more advanced. Having a more offensively skilled partner allowed for Conley to be more aggressive as a scorer and creator in his own right, and also enabled a high level of control of the team’s offense as a whole. The Grizzlies were never really an offensive juggernaut, by any stretch of the imagination, but aside from a Zach Randolph post-up (which was aided by Conley’s perimeter presence in its own ways) there was no go-to offensive set more effective than the Gasol and Conley two-man game in the pick and roll/pop.
Throughout Mike’s career, he has been a tremendous asset to big men on the offensive end of the floor. His floater, his quick change of speed and direction, the consistency of his pull-up jumper...in a smaller sample size it has helped even Jonas Valanciunas be productive, and vice versa.
He can be the same thing for Jaren Jackson Jr.
Greg Oden was his first. Marc Gasol was his longest. But Jaren could be Conley’s most meaningful relationship yet - at least as far as the Grizzlies are concerned. The years of experience playing alongside elite big men could - and should - be a platform for Jaren Jackson Jr. to launch off from over the next two years. With Gasol now in Toronto, even if Valanciunas sticks around Conley can work with Jaren on the best ways to attack the rim, the angles he best likes to receive entry passes, and other aspects of offense that Jackson Jr. couldn’t benefit from if Conley wasn’t around.
A steadying presence that has helped carry the load for teams, and other bigs, all of his career is a valuable resource for a player that is still a teenager to learn from.
But is it worth potentially $67 million?
Where else will you put the money?
A Conley trade without bringing back any salary - so for just picks - would, in theory, open up roughly $33 million in cap space if the Grizzlies did not pick up Avery Bradley’s option for $13 million, had Ivan Rabb and Dillon Brooks back on their non-guaranteed deals for next year, has Jonas Valanciunas and C.J. Miles opt in to their player options, and renounced every cap hold they had on upcoming free agents like Justin Holiday, Delon Wright, and Joakim Noah. That’s enough to go get a max player in a summer where lots of talented players will be available.
Ask yourself this question, though, and be honest - compared to Conley, are any of the bigger names - or more importantly, better players - coming to Memphis?
Is Jimmy Butler leaving Philadelphia, or Klay Thompson saying goodbye to the Warriors dynasty, for the Grizzlies situation?
Is Kyrie Irving passing up on Boston, or L.A., or New York, to replace Mike Conley, almost certainly miss the playoffs, and spend the rest of his prime in Memphis?
The list goes on and on.
Say you want to move Conley for a young player on a long-term deal and a lesser pick - maybe Phoenix tires of Devin Booker and could be convinced to let Conley, alongside Kelly Oubre Jr., Deandre Ayton, and maybe R.J. Barrett or Zion Williamson - lead the Suns in pursuit of the postseason. It’s going to cost you more - and in the case of Booker, much more - that just Mike to acquire that type of contractually connected talent to Memphis. And if the Grizzlies are indeed successful in their quest to convey the pick this year to Boston, how much sense does it make to move on from owing a future 1st to someone before a long rebuild by...moving another future 1st round pick?
Memphis is in a predicament of their own making, and they have an opportunity to get off of the consequences of those sins these next two seasons. If they send the pick to the Celtics this summer, and then get off of the Chandler Parsons contract in the summer of 2020, the flexibility that gives the Grizzlies to move and grow and rebuild is tremendous. Mike Conley becomes a free agent (potentially) that summer as well through an early termination clause - if the call is made for Mike to move along to a contender, or come back to Memphis for less annual money but a more long-term type of deal, it could be in the interest of both Conley and the Grizzlies.
Delon Wright is talented, but is probably not the Conley replacement. Jevon Carter has a ways to go in his development before he can be a starter on a good NBA team. The next starting point guard of the Memphis Grizzlies is likely not on the team right now.
Mike sticking around, as a steadying force at such an important position, while that player is acquired (probably in the draft), developed, and made ready for taking the job, makes Memphis much more stable than they could be if he is gone.
Mike Conley wants to be in Memphis.
Memphis, almost universally, loves Mike Conley.
Why, unless the right deal comes along (multiple 1sts, player on a rookie deal for multiple years, etc.), should the Grizzlies want to part with such a key player? A player who has had a direct role in strengthening and developing bigs his entire career, a player whose contract lines up with the opportunity to rebuild the franchise in a variety of ways down the road? That holds remarkable value, and is worth whatever opportunity is lost in free agency, or a couple extra draft slots in pursuit of conveying a draft pick this year or next.
The Conductor hopes to remain a Grizzly. Here’s to hoping that wish is granted.