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The Value of Mike Conley: Part II - Eastern Conference “Pretenders”

Two teams that don’t currently look like contenders...but may soon.

NBA: Houston Rockets at Memphis Grizzlies Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Does your favorite team want to acquire Mike Conley?

They should...if the price is right.

In Part I of this series on what exactly Mike Conley’s trade value is, I explored two potential deals with Eastern Conference squads with possible title aspirations within the next two seasons - the Indiana Pacers and Philadelphia 76ers. Check that out here before moving on to Part II, if you have not already done so.

It isn’t just current contenders that should covet Mike Conley, however. If the goal is to move out of the NBA Lottery, or simply rise up the standings out east, Conley could serve as a valuable commodity in that pursuit as well. Remember, a lot will be determined by the NBA Lottery in a couple of weeks. If Memphis doesn’t convey, perhaps holding on to Mike Conley makes sense moving forward. If they do send the pick out?

Burn it down and send him somewhere trying to compete...even if they weren’t too successful at it this season.

There are two teams in particular in the Eastern Conference that fit this bill. Let’s start with the rumored future home of Kevin Durant.

New York Knicks

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at New York Knicks Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Memphis receives: Frank Ntilikina, 2019 2nd round pick (55 overall via Houston), 2020 1st round pick (top-8 protected 2020, unprotected 2021)

New York receives: Mike Conley

This would most certainly be a Plan B or even Plan C type of move for the Knicks. If Kyrie Irving or Jimmy Butler do not join KD in the Big Apple, Conley makes sense with him just like LeBron James (more on him in a later article in this series). Mike is a star-level player without the drama, and would fit nicely as a 2nd or 3rd best player on any team.

Why New York does the deal: Again, if the Knicks strike out in free agency beyond the long-assumed Durant signing they could do a lot worse than Conley. Mike’s deal only last two more seasons, so that would enable the Knicks to be players down the road in free agency in 2021 again (depending on their pursuit of another star this year). Mike’s best season ever came with David Fizdale, and reuniting with Fiz could mean Conley’s long All-Star drought could very well end. While moving on from Ntilikina hurts from a prospect perspective standpoint, New York now has Dennis Smith Jr. in the fold after the Kristaps Porzingis trade and that makes Frank more expendable.

The Knicks take on roughly $27.66 million in cap space after this trade, but considering they could possibly only have about $25 million on the books depending on team options and qualifying offers/cap holds? They can easily absorb Conley, sign Durant to a true max contract, and still have roughly $10-12 million in cap space to work with after their 1st round draft pick, which won’t be lower than the top-4. Keep it? Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett, or someone else could very well be a part of a core alongside Mike and KD.

Include the 1st overall pick if they win the lottery (and Kevin Knox and/or Dennis Smith Jr./salary filler and a couple of those Mavericks 1sts from the Porzingis deal) in a trade for, say, Anthony Davis?

Now you’ve got a Durant/Davis/Conley core.

Mike Conley as your 3rd best player? That’s a Finals contender in the Eastern Conference, depending on those you get within the mid-level exception and on veteran minimum contracts.

Why Memphis does the deal: This is a tough sell. Memphians surely would prefer Smith Jr. to Frank, and rightfully so - DSJ has shown more flashes of NBA ability than Ntilikina to this point. But the Knicks will have enough cap space to say to Memphis “we can get someone comparable to Mike for cheaper”, so a concession will have to be made. The value here is really in the first round pick, which will likely convey in 2020 but if for some reason does not, and the Knicks struggle, would be the most valuable in terms of protections the Grizzlies may be able to get for Mike.

Frank, meanwhile, is only going to be 21 years old when the season begins this fall, and still has the raw physical ability that made him a top-10 prospect in the first place. Point guards historically take a longer time to develop (see Conley, Mike) and perhaps with a little time and room to breathe/grow in terms to development in a new system he can make some progress. You cant’t teach the physical ability that Frank possesses, and given his early struggles his next contract should not be the max type of deal that, say, Smith Jr. could potentially demand.

This is very much a trade for 2-3 years from now, and really works best when looking at a longer rebuild for Memphis.

The next interested squad was rumored to be in the Conley sweepstakes at the trade deadline...and is a bit more...how should we put this...

“Interested in competing in the trade market”?

Detroit Pistons

NBA: Detroit Pistons at Memphis Grizzlies Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Memphis receives: Reggie Jackson, Jon Leuer, Langston Galloway, 2019 1st round pick (15 overall), 2020 1st round pick (top-8 protected 2020, unprotected 2021)

Detroit receives: Mike Conley, rights to 2022 2nd round pick (from DET)

I love the smell of desperation in the morning.

This is roughly the framework of what was rumored in discussions between Memphis and Detroit. Now, the Pistons are even more interested in competing...and perhaps are more willing to pay the price.

Why Detroit does the deal: While there was a time that Reggie Jackson and Mike Conley were theoretically in the same stratosphere when it comes to ability, those days are gone. Mike is a pretty sizable upgrade comparatively speaking, and the Pistons are able to acquire that talent without giving up any of their younger players on rookie deals (Luke Kennard Thon Maker, Khyri Thomas, for example). They give up two firsts - something they are surely hesitant to do - but the 15th overall pick in this draft is “unlikely” to be a contributor to the level of a Mike Conley, and your roster with Blake Griffin should be interested in winning right now.

If Conley/Griffin/Andre Drummond is as good (theoretically) as you hope, while including a player for the mid-level exception, you should be able to be more competitive the next two seasons. That 1st round pick then should again be in the lottery in 2020, meaning you convey, and in terms of long-term picks you are not limiting yourself beyond 2021 if something goes wrong. The 2022 NBA Draft will be the earliest that the one and done rule will be eliminated. If it works the way it should? Your team is a threat in the east.

Oh, and you save roughly $2 million this season even with taking on the big Conley deal.

Why Memphis does the deal: Is Memphis considerably worse after this trade? You can argue yes.

Are the Grizzlies unlikely to be very active in 2019 free agency after taking on three salaries in this fashion, plus the business they have to do with their own free agents and player options? Yes.

Does any of that matter? No.

Why?

In a word? Space.

If this trade were to occur, this would be the likely Grizzlies depth chart on opening night, assuming all current free agents not named Avery Bradley or Justin Holiday/player option players somehow return and that the Grizzlies take a wing with that #15 overall pick from Detroit-

Point Guard - Reggie Jackson, Delon Wright, Jevon Carter

Shooting Guard - Dillon Brooks, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Tyler Dorsey

Small Forward - Kyle Anderson, C.J. Miles, Bruno Caboclo

Power Forward - Jaren Jackson Jr., Chandler Parsons, Jon Leuer

Center - Jonas Valanciunas, Joakim Noah, Ivan Rabb

WOOF.

Regardless of your choice at #15...that is pobably a bad, bad basketball team.

But you know what being bad means, if you convey the pick in 2019?

Getting to better “enjoy” the “fruits” of your “labor”.

No...not tanking...just not being good enough to win very often. And having the full rights to that pick, and others, moving forward.

Without the pressure of playoff contention, however, you can focus on developing the young talent on your roster. You can let guys run and make mistakes and learn from them in real time without fear of being benched. It can let Jaren get a ton of minutes and be the franchise cornerstone setting the pace for the newest era in Memphis. The best way to grow is to power through failure while taking lessons from it - here, you’re able to do that.

Oh...and by the way...look at the money coming off the books in the summer of 2020, assuming Delon Wright is signed long-term for something like $8 million a year this summer and all player options simply expire that are on the Memphis books-

Reggie Jackson $18,086,956

Jon Leuer $9,508,043

Langston Galloway $7,333,333

Chandler Parsons $25,102,512

Jonas Valanciunas $17,617,976

C.J. Miles $8,730,158

Dillon Brooks $1,618,520

Ivan Rabb $1,618,520

Bruno Caboclo $1,845,301

Add it all up? That is $91,461,319 coming off the Grizzlies books. IN ONE SUMMER.

You want to keep Valanciunas/Brooks/Rabb/Caboclo? OK. Let’s say Valanciunas stays for 3 years $45 million, so $15 million a year, and the other three players all sign 3 year deals for $15 million per year combined as well. Seems fair.

Do the math. That is still roughly $61.4 million freed up. That means you can potentially offer not one...but TWO...max restricted free agent contracts, depending on how you swing the signings of Rabb, Caboclo, and Brooks with Bird rights allowing you to go over the cap.

But still, even if you have to let them go...the possibilities are tantalizing. You want to take a run at Jaylen Brown from the Celtics? Want to try to pry Ben Simmons away from Philadelphia? Or Jamal Murray or Malik Beasley from Denver, or Caris Lavert from Brooklyn, or Brandon Ingram from the Lakers? You can dominate restricted free agency...an area that Memphis needs to focus on if they want to rebuild in that fashion. Unrestricted free agents have more flexibility. If you overpay, say, Jamal Murray and Jaylen Brown, giving them full max contracts with options and bonuses beneficial to the player, it will then be on Denver and Boston, respectfully, to decide if they want to match.

Perhaps they will...or maybe, like the Spurs with Kyle Anderson, they will pass.

Of course, there are moving parts to all of this - extensions signed before free agency, potential trades, etc. But while the 2019-2020 season could be brutal for Grizzlies fans...the summer of 2020 could be a blast.

Imagine a Cole Anthony or James Wiseman pick alongside Jaren Jackson Jr. and any of the two names mentioned above. That’s a hell of a young core.


Can you think of another Eastern “pretender” that may be looking to deal? Do you not like the suggested trades above? Can you do better?

Vote in the poll, and then comment below.

In Part III we will head out West and check in with Western top teams that may be in the market for a player and person the caliber of Mike Conley.

Stats provided by basketball-reference.com, contract information provided by spotrac.com, pick protection information provided by prosportstransactions.com

Poll

Which package in return for Mike Conley do you prefer?

This poll is closed

  • 21%
    NEW YORK: Frank Ntilikina, 2019 2nd round pick (via Houston), 2020 1st round pick (top-8 protected 2020, unprotected 2021)
    (42 votes)
  • 79%
    DETROIT: Reggie Jackson, Jon Leuer, Langston Galloway, 2019 1st round pick (15 overall), 2020 1st round pick (top-8 protected 2020, unprotected 2021)
    (158 votes)
200 votes total Vote Now

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