Before I begin the argument of trading Mike Conley, let the record be told that I don’t have a 100% stance on this topic. In my opinion, they should stand by Mike and see where he wants to go going forward. If he wants to participate in a rebuild, sure, let him. If he wants to go to a contender, send him somewhere — preferably East — you fulfill that wish. (Side note: I believe this happened with Marc Gasol and Toronto, which led to the dying Charlotte deal).
(Site Manager’s note- It did happen)
This trade deadline, the Memphis Grizzlies decided to move on from an era. In January, a day after an embarrassing home loss to an AD-less Pelicans team, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski announced the Grizzlies would listen to trade offers for franchise cornerstones Marc Gasol and Mike Conley. After weeks of speculation and Twitter-scrolling, the Grizzlies ultimately dealt Gasol to Toronto for Jonas Valanciunas, Delon Wright, CJ Miles, and a 2024 second-round draft pick.
Mike Conley, the final piece left of the legendary “Core 4,” remains on this team that’s middling between retooling and rebuilding. The trade deadline offers for Conley were rather lackluster. Taking on Reggie Jackson and some sort of combination of Jon Leuer and Langston Galloway wasn’t enough, even with a loosely-protected 1st-round pick. The Utah offer (Ricky Rubio, Derrick Favors, and a protected-pick) wasn’t terrible, only because it would help the Grizzlies goal of conveying. It would be a tragic deal for a rebuild.
Keeping Conley past the deadline though might have actually boosted his trade value. Since the All-Star break, Conley is averaging 25.8 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 6.8 assists on 47.9/40.2/83.6 shooting splits. That’s legitimate top-5 point guard production.
Now in a 4-out, 1-in offense that’s more modernized in terms of spacing, Conley has thrived and proven that he can be the sole lead guy. How enticing is this for teams that could be landing a max-level free agent this summer? Is Conley the hottest non-AD trade piece of the summer?
The Memphis Grizzlies have positioned themselves to legitimately find the best offer for Mike Conley. Though Utah is reportedly going to pick up talks with Conley again this summer, can they actually offer anything better than they did at the trade deadline? Rubio will be a free agent, so they’d probably sub him out for Dante Exum, who’s injured again and is relatively unproductive. It’d be a complete abomination to wait to trade Conley until the summer just to get Derrick Favors, Dante Exum, and a pick in the 20’s.
Because teams can use cap space to absorb Conley’s contract, the offers will be much more enticing.
I see Mike Conley’s trade value as “backup plan for teams that have one max guy, but miss on Kyrie Irving” and/or “backup plan for teams that miss on Anthony Davis.”
For example, if the Lakers strike out on an Anthony Davis deal, and Kyrie doesn’t want to reunite with LeBron James, trading for Mike Conley might be the best option for the Lakers. Granted, in a world where every non-top 10 player was on the trade block, Bradley Beal or Damian Lillard would be the absolute best pieces next to LeBron. However, with Conley, they may only need to give up Lonzo Ball, this year’s lottery pick, and maybe Josh Hart.
For LA, the Lakers get an ego-less star-caliber point guard to pair next to LeBron. In addition, with Conley being owed only $66M for 2 years, it’s quite a bargain for what you’re getting. With his contract coming off the books in 2021, they’ll have the money to retain and potentially extend both Kyle Kuzma and Brandon Ingram — or star-chase yet again in 2021. I don't know if the Lakers are better both on the court or financially by locking up Kemba Walker or Jimmy Butler for a 4-year max, rather than trading for Conley.
For Memphis, look beyond the Lavar Ball drama. Lonzo Ball is a pass-first, defensive-minded point guard that still has potential (time-out: I’m dreaming of Lonzo lobs to Jaren. Time-back in). With the Lakers’ track record of letting prospects thrive elsewhere, I’m swinging on Ball. Besides, whether the Grizzlies convey or not, getting another chance to pick in the lottery is huge — players in the Lakers’ range include Coby White, Rui Hachimaura, Brandon Clarke, Kevin Porter Jr., and Nassir Little.
Conley could also be an enticing piece for the New York Knicks, if they get Kevin Durant and miss out on Kemba or Kyrie. If they find a way to nab Zion Williamson and Kevin Durant, maybe the Knicks tried to strike and flip a combination of young assets like Dennis Smith Jr., Kevin Knox, or Frank Ntilikina — who all, with the exception of latter, would be great fits next to Jackson. Conley would give the Knicks a steady, star-caliber guard that could help propel them in the East’s hierarchy, while giving them flexibility to star-chase in 2021 free agency — just look at it, wow.
This same move could be done for a team like the Los Angeles Clippers, who has an obscene amount of cap space. If they can find a way to get Kawhi leader, why not chase Conley instead of maxing out Jimmy Butler? Granted, it may cost them Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and another future asset, but I wouldn’t necessarily count it out. Though losing a bright, young player such as SGA, the duo of Kawhi Leonard and Mike Conley surrounded by Danilo Gallinari, Lou Williams, Montrezl Harrell, Landry Shamet, and Ivica Zubac might win the title next year. On the Grizzlies’ side, like Lonzo Ball, they get a big point guard in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander with All-Star potential.
What if Boston loses Kyrie Irving? If that happens, there’s no way they’re trading for Anthony Davis. However, the Celtics could flip Jaylen Brown and the Grizzlies’ pick — possibly have to take on Hayward’s contract to execute this instead of Brown — for Mike Conley. That’s much better for them than overpaying Terry Rozier.
With the playoff landscape bound for a shakeup this summer, with teams like the bright Atlanta Hawks and a star-chasing New York Knicks bound for leaps, some of these fringe Eastern Conference teams might bite and overpay for Conley instead of signing a “B level” free agent to stay relevant.
Wow, that was a lot of speculating.
Here’s the point. Mike Conley will be a hot commodity for aspiring playoff teams and super-teams. His max contract is becoming more and more of a bargain, as his production goes up, and the years remaining on his deal go down.
Trading for him is an excellent back-up plan for teams that swing and miss on guys like Kyrie Irving, Klay Thomspon, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, and Anthony Davis. It’s a better option than maxing out Jimmy Butler, or even Kemba Walker, for 4 years. It would definitely be better than giving the same amount of annual money for someone like Khris Middleton or Nikola Vucevic.
In addition, there’s no debate about the NBA landscape shifting this summer with the abundance of stars that could be on the move. Some teams will want to keep up and try to improve their team in any way possible, which could result in a Conley trade.
Either way, it’s a win-win for all parties involved. Whichever team gets Conley in a potential trade this summer will acquire a star-caliber point guard that’s masterful at running an offense, a legitimate 20-point scorer, and a clutch playoff performer.
For Conley, he’s getting another shot to compete for an NBA championship, while garnering the national attention he rightfully deserves. For the Memphis Grizzlies, it’s a chance to expedite a rebuild process.
Maybe, another Lakers prospect blunder could be a blessing for the Grizzlies, where Lonzo Ball becomes an All-Star point guard, and the extra draft pick becomes a key piece next to Ball and Jaren Jackson Jr. in the next great Memphis team.
Maybe, the Knicks give up Dennis Smith Jr. or Kevin Knox for Conley. Memphis could find themselves with the next Steve Francis, or with their best wing since Rudy Gay.
Maybe, the Clippers give up Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and the Grizzlies nab a brilliant big point guard that flourishes next to Jaren.
Maybe, Boston loses Kyrie and doesn’t want to overpay Terry Rozier. The Grizzlies could remove their debt by re-acquiring a lost asset — while also attaining a potential two-way star in Jaylen Brown.
Maybe, a team like Indiana, Orlando, or Utah don’t want to fall behind in this landscape-changing summer and offer more than what they did at the deadline for Conley.
Anything could happen.
With keeping Mike Conley at the deadline, the Memphis Grizzlies positioned themselves to land the absolute best package possible, while letting Conley rightfully close the prime of his career on a title-contending team.
Well played, Memphis. It’s going to be fun to see how this shakes out.