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The Value of Mike Conley: Part V - Dark horses

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Three contenders that maybe you hadn’t thought of...

Dallas Mavericks v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Catch up on previous installments of The Value of Mike Conley series here-

Part I: Eastern Contenders

Part II: Eastern Pretenders

Part III: Western Risers

Part IV: Western Hopefuls


The improbable has happened.

We live in a Ja Morant world now.

With the Grizzlies securing the #2 overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft Lottery, the sun seems to be shining a bit brighter on Memphis. Two years of poor play, including one while trying to convey a 1st round pick to the Boston Celtics, have resulted in the Grizzlies having Jaren Jackson Jr. - and apparently soon Ja Morant - in the fold, under team control for possibly the next 8-9 years. That is franchise altering...and future plan shifting.

It truly is better to be lucky than good sometimes.

What does Morant’s likely impending arrival mean for the current starting point guard for the Memphis Grizzlies (and also all-time leading scorer for the organization) Mike Conley? Perhaps it is still too soon to say. But considering Mike is on record saying he would not hate a trade to a contender, and Memphis now has a young and electrifying point guard prospect well within its reach, a trade feels more likely now than it did 72 hours ago. This does not hurt his trade value, however - if anything, it increases it.

Mike will not be a malcontent. He is a professional and will continue to be the leader of this team on and off the floor if he is asked to. Conley may not be a willing mentor to Morant as his heir apparent, but he won’t outwardly disrespect him either. And depending on the coaching hire - the next important domino to fall - a two point guard lineup could work depending on the match-up, and it could allow for Morant to develop at his own pace without being thrown to the wolves.

Is that likely? No.

But the possibility of it should mean Mike’s value is perhaps even higher than it already was. After all, trading away your best player doesn’t really help with the “we play to convey” movement. Maybe that shouldn’t be the priority anymore - and it likely isn’t.

But it’s all about selling that it is. Smoke and mirrors.

Here are two teams that have not been mentioned in this series so far that could be dark horse candidates for the services of Mike Conley.

Los Angeles Clippers

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Memphis Grizzlies Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Memphis receives: Danilo Gallinari, 2021 1st round pick via L.A. (#1-4 overall protected, becomes two future 2nd round picks if not conveyed)

Los Angeles receives: Mike Conley

Why Los Angeles does the deal: The Lakers get all the publicity, both good and bad, but it is the Clippers that are currently sitting pretty.

With young players such as Landry Shamet and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, arguably the best pair of role players in the NBA in Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell sign for next year (at a combined $14 million), and multiple 1sts acquired via the trades of Blake Griffin and Tobias Harris, L.A could very well be in the market for a max player, or perhaps even two, in this year’s free agency cycle.

But in reality, the possibility of the Clippers pulling off a haul like two max contracts is unlikely. Considering outside of Anthony Davis Mike Conley is the best player available via trade, this could be a solid plan B.

Gallinari had a terrific season - by most measurements the best of his career. But he’s only played in 68 or more games - the amount he logged this past season - two other times in his career, with the most recent campaign (aside from this one) coming in 2012-2013. Mike Conley, meanwhile, has played in eight such seasons. Are the Clippers willing - especially with them hoping to land the likes of Kawhi Leonard - to bet on another Gallinari season like this one?

They shouldn’t be...especially with Conley on the market.

In this trade they do not part with the extremely valuable 2021 Miami Heat 1st they got in the Grizzlies trade, or any young prospects. They give up a 1st of their own...but if Conley and Kawhi (or another top wing) are in the fold and play to expectations alongside Williams and Harrell (assuming he returns) and the young guns come along, that pick will be on the outside of the lottery. It only adds roughly $10 million to their cap ledger, making them players not only for another max contract player (Kawhi, Klay Thompson, etc.) but it also allows for them to have roughly another $15 million on hand to play with, and that’s just under the salary cap. Plenty of luxury tax room makes it possible for the Clippers to retain some of their own free agents if they’d like, or use the mid-level exception.

Why Memphis does the deal: The standard throughout this series in terms of valuing Mike Conley has been a young player and a pick. That should remain, but there are exceptions to be made in a post-lottery world. This is one of them. You still get a 1st round pick in a future draft to aid in team building, and the return of Gallinari could actually be a god send depending on perspective...and what Jonas Valanciunas does with his player option.

If the departure of Conley for L.A. means Jonas leaves, that could mean Jaren Jackson Jr. at the center position sooner than anticipated...and an opening at the four along side him for one season. Enter Gallinari, who is the prototypical stretch four in the modern NBA. While rebounding would be a pretty big concern (yikes), a Morant/Dillon Brooks or Delon Wright/Kyle Anderson/Gallinari/Jackson starting five would have a lot of offensive potential. It would also mean the Grizzlies, with Gallinari’s expiring contract next to that of Chandler Parsons and C.J. Miles, would have an obscene amount of cap space to work with in 2020 if they wanted to be a factor in restricted free agency.

If Valanciunas opts in, and wants to see what things look like with a new coach for a year? The same rule applies - the Grizzlies can just decide what to do with Valanciunas in long-term negotiations. It just means rebounding will be less of a concern...and perhaps Gallinari has his own Sixth Man of the Year campaign.

From a team solidly in the western conference playoff picture for years to come to one that is currently on the outside looking in -

Minnesota Timberwolves

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Memphis Grizzlies Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Memphis receives: Jeff Teague, Gorgui Dieng, 2019 1st round pick (#11 overall), 2020 1st round pick (Lottery protected in 2020, #1-10 protected in 2021, becomes two 2nd round picks in 2022-2023 if not conveyed)

Minnesota receives: Mike Conley, Ivan Rabb

Why Minnesota does the deal: Two 1st round picks is going to sting. But the Timberwolves are already over the cap heading in to the 2019-2020 season as of now, and this trade actually frees up about $1 million for Minnesota in terms of salary. It also gets them off of the Gorgui Dieng contract without losing Dario Saric or Robert Covington, two players key for Minnesota to compete. With full exceptions to work with, and a starting five of Conley/Andrew Wiggins/Covington/Saric/Karl-Anthony Towns, that 2020 1st round pick should be outside of the Lottery. And Rabb is an undersized big, but he could provide some scoring pop down low off the bench.

The Timberwolves are crippled by the Andrew Wiggins contract. A team willing to take on bad money in exchange for picks is the only way they add someone the caliber of Conley. Memphis, in a Ja Morant world, could very well be that team.

Why Memphis does the deal: Go ahead, yell and scream at the screen. I know, Dieng is a back-up center making about $33.5 million over the next two seasons. When you’ve calmed down, come back...

Ready?

Gorgui Dieng actually is a solid back-up center...and in a world where you have Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. are on rookie contracts for the foreseeable future, who cares if he makes $33.5 million over two? Or if Jeff Teague makes $19 million this season?

All that money will be off your books by 2021, right around the time comes to talk Jaren Jackson Jr. extension.

The value here is in two 1st round picks, including a 2nd lottery selection in the 2019 draft. That could be Kevin Porter Jr., or Brandon Clarke, or Coby White, or Romeo Langford, or Nassir Little, or even Cam Reddish (who would be a welcome swing for the fences at #11 overall). All of a sudden you’ve got three good-to-great young prospects/players to build around, plus a 1st in next year’s draft more than likely, or probably 2021 at the latest, to make up for the selection you will lose to Boston eventually.

What Jonas Valanciunas does is irrelevant. With Teague and Dieng coming off the bench, plus Morant and Jackson and whoever you take at #11 alongside Kyle Anderson and Delon Wright? You’re probably conveying in 2020 without him...and almost certainly are with him.

Finally, a true dark horse...some how a team with the #7 pick wants to compete in the east...and can.

Chicago Bulls

NBA: Chicago Bulls at Memphis Grizzlies Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Memphis receives: Cristiano Felicio, Kris Dunn (Or Denzel Valentine), 2019 1st round pick (#7 overall)

Chicago receives: Mike Conley

Why Chicago does the deal: The reasoning is similar to that for the Timberwolves - but less money is involved. This trade puts the Bulls at around $100 million on their ledger, but it also gives them a hell of a starting five - Conley, Zach LaVine, Otto Porter, Lauri Markkanen, and Wendell Carter Jr. That’s almost certainly a playoff team in the East...and this could also be Mike’s best shot at an All-Star birth, as he would still have plenty of space to shine as the veteran leader of this crew.

The Bulls still have a 2nd rounder in this draft - from the Grizzlies, ironically - that could nab them a big to replace Felicio (Jontay Porter or Nicolas Claxton would be possible) or a guard to replace Dunn (Carsen Edwards or Shamorie Ponds, perhaps). They could then use remaining cap space and their mid-level exception to add depth in those spots, since between Denzel Valentine and Chandler Hutchinson they should be set on the wings.

If the Bulls would rather have Dunn than Valentine, that wouldn’t be a deal breaker for the Grizzlies here. I have Dunn instead of Valentine because it saves Chicago a little more money the next two seasons, including offer sheets for restricted free agency - if Valentine is put it, the deal still works for Memphis.

Chicago seems to be ready to win, and may be a loser/non-factor in free agency with both L.A. teams and both New York squads having money to burn. Mike Conley will absolutely help them in that endeavor as a plan B.

Why Memphis does the deal: I know what you’re thinking.

DUDE. you gave us stupid Gorgui Dieng in the first trade...and now you’re sending Kris Dunn and Cristiano Felicio to Memphis? I DON’T EVEN KNOW WHO THE HELL FELICIO IS??? And he is making HOW MUCH?????

Remember, this is like the Timberwolves deal. The pieces in terms of players are irrelevant to an extent - that’s not where the value is - and this time, it’s saving Memphis some money. The Grizzlies knock at the least approximately $19 million off their books this season, and possibly more if Chicago prefers to send Valentine instead of Dunn.

And Dunn could be a fun partner alongside Delon Wright in a bench back court! Both can create off the dribble, both can switch and defend multiple positions on the perimeter, and both have the potential to be spot starters and play alongside Ja Morant. While Felicio - like Dieng - is solely a back-up center, at least his deal is for far less money and also descends in value, meaning he makes less in 2020-2021 than he will this coming season. That’s nice for future planning, and could also be a trade chip down the road in and of itself.

The star of this trade is #7 overall. An outside shot at De’Andre Hunter or Jarrett Culver lines up here...and if those two are gone, in addition to Darius Garland, you’re guaranteed to get your pick of Coby White, Cam Reddish, or whoever is in that fourth tier of prospects (Assuming Zion Williamson is Tier 1, Ja Morant and RJ Barrett are Tier 2, and Garland/Hunter/Culver are Tier 3). That’s not too shabby as you begin to fully rebuild...

And, on the off chance that, say, the Lakers take a Cam Reddish (a Klutch Sports client) type, or someone else goes off script? One of those tier three guys falls in your lap...meaning you can take another key starter for the next 9 years, or even trade back from #7 for future assets or multiple later 1sts (looking at you, Boston).

Options are always good to have. They’re bountiful at #7 overall.


Which of these three dark horse deals do you like best for Memphis? Can you do better?

Comment in the space below, and vote in the poll. Next week the final post of this series will go live, where we will rank all 11 theoretical trades in terms of realism and long-term value to the Grizzlies.

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

Follow @sbngrizzlies

Poll

Which package in return for Mike Conley do you prefer?

This poll is closed

  • 12%
    L.A. CLIPPERS: Danilo Gallinari, 2021 1st round pick via L.A. (#1-4 overall protected, becomes two future 2nd round picks in 2022 and 2023 if not conveyed)
    (34 votes)
  • 25%
    MINNESOTA: Jeff Teague, Gorgui Dieng, 2019 1st round pick (#11 overall), 2020 1st round pick (Lottery protected in 2020, #1-10 protected in 2021, becomes two 2nd round picks in 2022-2023 if not conveyed)
    (69 votes)
  • 62%
    CHICAGO: Cristiano Felicio, Kris Dunn (Or Denzel Valentine), 2019 1st round pick (#7 overall)
    (171 votes)
274 votes total Vote Now