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The Value of Mike Conley: Part III - Western Risers

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Three teams that could use the services of a conductor.

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

If you’ve missed any part of the Value of Mike Conley series, be sure to check out parts I and II -

Part I: Eastern Conference Contenders

Part II: Eastern Conference Pretenders

As we head west, these trades tend to get a bit more difficult to stomach.

The preference of the organization would almost certainly be to send Mike out east, where they would only compete with him twice a year and would not have to go through him to get to (hypothetically speaking - this is a long ways away) the NBA Finals. It is probable that Conley would rather be in the Eastern Conference as well, given reports he is hopeful to have a better opportunity to make an All-Star Game and he has so many connections in the east. For both sides, a cross-conference change makes the most sense.

But all it takes is one team to change that perspective with the right trade package.

Western Conference squads have a more in-depth understanding of just what Mike Conley means to the Memphis Grizzlies, and what he could be capable of for their teams. That proximity matters when it comes to potentially getting closer to value in a trade. Some examples, like the Utah Jazz before the trade deadline this past February, suggest that there still may be some hesitance despite that knowledge. Yet the fact the Jazz were as engaged as they were is evidence that Conley could get the best trade for Memphis from the west. Maximizing his value, not geographic location, should matter more to the Grizzlies front office.

We will look at the Jazz in Part IV. For now, here is a look at two teams currently on the outside looking in of the playoff picture that will want to be more involved in the postseason process sooner rather than later.

Phoenix Suns

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Phoenix Suns Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Memphis receives: Josh Jackson, T.J. Warren, 2020 1st round pick from Milwaukee Bucks (protected top 10 and #17-30 in 2018, top 3 and #17-30 in 2019, top 7 in 2020, unprotected in 2021)

Phoenix receives: Mike Conley, 2022 2nd round pick (via Detroit)

Why Phoenix does the deal: Devin Booker has made it quite clear he is tired of ping pong balls and the lottery. As Phoenix looks to land the services of Monty Williams, or any future head coaching candidate, having a veteran leader like Conley to help mold young players like Booker, Deandre Ayton, Mikal Bridges, and their 2019 1st round pick (more on that later) would be extremely valuable. Given all the other options available for current free agents - and the overall ineptitude of the Suns organization the last decade or so - Phoenix will not be a destination for top players unless they overpay. Getting a player like Conley via trade may be their best option.

A player the caliber of Warren and former top pick Josh Jackson sounds like quite a haul for the Grizzlies, and in a way it is (more on that in why Memphis does this deal). But Phoenix has some choices to make on the wing. Mikal Bridges looked solid for them last season and has a far friendlier contract to the Suns moving forward than Jackson...plus Jackson has been pretty bad for Phoenix. Moving off of both Jackson and Warren allows for the Suns to only take on only about $15 million in a Conley trade, pushing Phoenix to around $96 million in salary (not considering cap holds and the 1st round pick salary the Suns will be responsible for).

It creates wiggle room for them to be better off reloading on the wing in the draft and also allows for an investment in Kelly “I should’ve been a Memphis Grizzlies player” Oubre Jr. in restricted free agency. Say Phoenix gets the 3rd pick in this draft, and Chicago takes Ja Morant 2nd overall. The Suns could select R.J. Barrett and then complete this trade, or even look to trade back with a team like Boston for more picks and take a big and a wing later in the lottery. While Phoenix would almost certainly rather have Morant than Conley at this stage, a starting five of Conley/Booker/Barrett/Oubre Jr./Ayton with Bridges as the 6th man is a pretty solid core, with veteran leadership that is sorely needed and room to still bring in others via free agency.

Why Memphis does the deal: T.J. Warren is one of the more underrated offensive players in the entire NBA, and last season he made a clear effort to address a big hole in his game - three point shooting - and appears to have succeeded. He attempted 2.4 more threes per game than his career average and shot a scintillating 42.8% on those attempts. Considering his career average is 34.5% from beyond the arc, that’s impressive progress. Add on his contract - roughly $35 million remaining over three seasons - and the fact he will only be 26 when the season starts, there is value there for a team like the Grizzlies that are starving for offense. His game is almost everything Kyle Anderson’s isn’t...and that would make them a pretty solid pairing.

Meanwhile, Josh Jackson has...struggled, is a nice way to put it...early in his NBA career. Across 156 games played his career net rating is -19, has a career win shares per 48 minutes of -.029, and PER of 11.2. There are a lot of numbers that could be listed here that would be further evidence of a player who simply is not a good NBA player right now. But he is only 22 and is a big wing at 6’8” who has good athleticism and has shown the capacity to score and rebound at a good clip. He improved his three point shooting and facilitation skills in his sophomore season as well, and all the instability in the Suns organization probably did not do his development any favors.

No, Memphis is not the model for organizational solidarity in their own right. Yes, Memphis already has lots of wings. But these are the types of things the Grizzlies should be looking for in terms of a Conley trade - young projects, with upside, alongside a 1st round pick. That Bucks pick probably won’t be very good, but Memphis gets two talented and versatile players (Jackson could theoretically play the 2, 3, or 4, while Warren can play the 3 but was almost exclusively a 4 last season) with relatively team friendly contracts whose games could fit nicely alongside Jaren Jackson Jr., especially if Jaren plays more center.

Now, from a team no one probably wants to go to (takes one to know one) to one that LeBron James hopes everyone will want to go to...

Los Angeles Lakers

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

Memphis receives: Josh Hart, 2019 1st Round Pick (assumed #11 overall), 2020 1st round pick (Lottery protected, becomes two 2nd round picks in 2022/2023 if not conveyed)

Los Angeles receives: Mike Conley

Why L.A. does the deal: This, like the New York Knicks in Part II, would be almost certainly a plan B or plan C for the Lakers. They have dreams of Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, Jimmy Butler, and perhaps even Kemba Walker, and if LeBron and company can recruit one of (or both) of these caliber of players in free agency this trade will go out the window. Same goes for a possible Anthony Davis trade - all it would take is the Lakers winning the lottery (top-4 pick style) and a package involving Ball/Brandon Ingram/Kyle Kuzma/Josh Hart looks a lot more attractive to the Pelicans.

Let’s assume, though, that none of those things come to pass, and the Lakers decide to get creative. The Lakers pick #11 overall, and all the players in free agency either stay put or go to places that LeBron is not (Durant to New York). L.A. has no need for the #11 pick in this draft - and theoretically no need for one in 2020 either - and in the absence of a true “superstar” they will settle for players that will fit nicely next to LeBron without having to part with any of their “top” young core guys.

Enter the Grizzlies.

This trade takes up a good amount of cap space for the Lakers - roughly a whopping $30.6 million. It would put them at about $96.3 million in salary between seven players - LeBron/Conley/Lonzo Ball/Kyle Kuzma/Brandon Ingram/Moritz Wagner/Issac Bonga - and the $5 million cap hit of Luol Deng, who the Lakers decided to use the stretch provision on. With less than $13 million to play with in free agency, it probably makes the Lakers bargain shoppers to fill in the rest of their roster.

That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Say the Lakers go “small” and trot out a starting lineup of Conley/Ball/Ingram/James/Kuzma. The Lakers could, in theory, get players like Cory Joseph, Joakim Noah, and Mario Hezonja all under that $13 million line. Then the Lakers would have the mid-level exception to play with, and could sign player like Rudy Gay, Terrence Ross, or Trevor Ariza to such a deal. Between the $13 million in cap space and the MLE, a functional rotation could be built. Add in some veteran minimum level deals - Kyle Korver, maybe? - and now you have a team that is built to support LeBron in both play making AND shooting, while not losing one of your “big three”. The Conley contract expires in the summer of 2021, and you would be able to re-sign all your young players down the road if you choose to keep them long-term.

That $13 million left over could also be used to acquire a player in a trade - Ingram, Ball, and two future 1sts could get you a close-to-max player, for example. It allows for L.A. to stay flexible and not be fully maxed out while getting a player in Conley who would thrive alongside King James and would be a terrific #2 star.

Why Memphis does the deal: Josh Hart may be one of the better bargains in the whole NBA. For the cheap cost of $1.65 million, the Lakers had a wing this past season that showed the capacity to play any perimeter position (including the point), and while he had a bit of a down year his rookie campaign indicates he can score in a variety of ways and defend every spot #’s 1-3. He is like a poor man’s Malcolm Brogdon - he hasn’t made the impact that Brogdon has on a consistent basis, but has shown he could be that type of contributor.

The main value of this trade - aside from the Conley contract coming off the books - are the draft picks. #11 overall could mean Coby White, Darius Garland, Brandon Clarke, or Kevin Porter Jr. coming to Memphis, all fine choices given that point in the lottery. Even Cam Reddish would be easier to stomach if he fell to #11 overall. It could also be a selection ripe for trading back, if the Grizzlies wanted to go that route. Assuming the Lakers make the playoffs next year (the roster outlined above probably does, if healthy), that pick will convey and be around #20 overall. #11 overall in 2019, around #20 in 2020, and a team-friendly contract that could contribute as a starter/sixth man on a team in transition in Hart is probably fair value for Conley at this stage of the game.

An addendum: Perhaps this deal suits you better...

Memphis receives: Lonzo Ball, 2019 1st Round Pick (assumed #11 overall)

L.A. Lakers receive: Mike Conley

Within this base agreement there is a framework for another potential deal. Ball is likely seen as more valuable to the Lakers than Hart due to his size, play making skill, and ability to defend, so two 1sts and Ball probably isn’t happening. However, the Lakers would be freeing up about $6.8 million more in space if they part with Ball and not Hart. $13 million becoming almost $20 million opens up free agency possibilities even more for the Lakers. Memphis adds a potential cornerstone piece alongside Jaren Jackson Jr. and Conley’s replacement, plus the ability to have a lottery pick in this draft. Ball/Porter Jr./Jaren isn’t a bad core at all, in theory, and a Coby White selection could give Memphis two combo-guard types in the back court to facilitate offense.

Any perimeter starter beyond Ball would have to be able to shoot from the perimeter to maximize his effectiveness, but the drama around him and his family has cheapened him too much. If he can improve from the free throw line at minimum, he becomes a much more dangerous threat as a creator and defensive presence. At the age of 22 when the season starts, he may be worth taking a bit of a gamble on.


Would you rather deal with the Suns or Lakers? Which L.A. deal do you like better? Vote in the poll, and comment about any possible trades you like or would do that aren’t listed in the comments.

In Part IV, we will explore current Western contenders that may see Conley as the last piece to help them achieve NBA Finals glory.

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

  • 32%
    PHOENIX: Josh Jackson, T.J. Warren, 2020 1st round pick from Milwaukee Bucks (protected top 10 and #17-30 in 2018, top 3 and #17-30 in 2019, top 7 in 2020, unprotected in 2021)
    (88 votes)
  • 28%
    L.A. LAKERS: Josh Hart, 2019 1st Round Pick (assumed #11 overall), 2020 1st round pick (Lottery protected, becomes two 2nd round picks in 2022/2023 if not conveyed)
    (76 votes)
  • 38%
    L.A. LAKERS: Lonzo Ball, 2019 1st Round Pick (assumed #11 overall)
    (103 votes)
267 votes total Vote Now

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