With news breaking that the Memphis Grizzlies would finally be willing to hit the reset button on their franchise, teams around the Association had to perk up at the thought of going after Memphis’ most veteran players.
Sure, they may not be in their mid-20s anymore, but guys like Marc Gasol (15.3 ppg, 8.5 rpg) and Mike Conley (19.8 ppg, 6.1 apg) are still good enough to catapult a team from one tier to the next, take them from on-the-cusp to breaking through it, transform them from first-round fodder to hosting a first-round series.
We already discussed a few potential landing spots for Gasol last week; today, we take a look at where Conley could wind up if Memphis does go through with trading him, which it appears they are quite open to doing.
Despite his age (31), Conley is still one of the better point guards the league has to offer. His ability to run an offense, especially in the halfcourt, isn’t matched by many. Also, it’s not like he can only set up teammates for easy baskets; he’s a very able bucket-getter in his own right.
Although Conley’s deal is massive (five years, $152.6 million), the contract only has two seasons left on it after this campaign. And considering he’s still so productive, as well as how little he depends on athleticism to do his damage, it’s easy to foresee his game aging quite well over the next few years (two factors that make his contract look less daunting).
Below, we break down four teams who could be interested in the underrated floor general.
The Orlando Magic have lacked above-average point guard play seemingly forever, and Conley would offer them the chance to acquire just that.
What’s more, for the second year running, Orlando has started the season in fantastic form before tailing off and falling out of the playoff picture before the All-Star break. There’s clearly talent there – talent that should be good enough to at least qualify for the postseason in the weaker conference – but it seems the Magic need just a little more to get over the proverbial hump.
And Conley by himself would be more than enough to give Orlando the extra oomph they’re lacking in order to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2011-12. The pick-and-pop game the experienced ball-handler would develop with All-Star candidate Nikola Vucevic (20.5 ppg, 12.0 rpg) could resemble peak Conley/Gasol days, and in Aaron Gordon (15.8 ppg, 7.6 rpg), Conley would have the most talented wing help he’s ever had.
To get a deal done, the Magic could offer a package centered around 2017 first-round draftee Jonathan Isaac, who has struggled as a pro but has huge upside as a two-way force on the wing, as well as a top-five protected 2019 first-rounder. To make salaries work, and to give Memphis a replacement starting point guard, Orlando could include DJ Augustin and Timofey Mozgov to the deal as well. Building a future-oriented frontcourt of Isaac and Jaren Jackson Jr. could prove savvy for the Grizzlies, while the prospects of another lottery pick in the upcoming draft would be too much to pass up.
Meanwhile, the Magic finally get a floor general to get them over the playoff hump.
With the recent drama that has unfolded between the Dallas Mavericks and Dennis Smith Jr. (12.7 ppg, 3.9 rpg), a split between the two parties seems perhaps not inevitable, but at least possible. And a team that could have interest in acquiring Smith considering they look ready to initiate a rebuild is Memphis.
In a trade centered around Smith and Conley, the Grizzlies would be getting a 21-year-old point guard they could potentially build around following Conley’s departure, while Dallas would land a help-now solution who would be a good fit next to franchise cornerstone Luka Doncic (19.9 ppg, 5.3 apg).
To make things work, the Mavericks may also be inclined to include Wesley Matthews (13.3 ppg, 2.4 apg) to the deal, since his salary ($18.6 million for this season) would help salaries match.
It probably wouldn’t be enough for Dallas to make a legit playoff push this season, but for 2019-20, landing Conley would give the Mavericks a very potent starting five – a necessity to compete in the loaded Western Conference.
This season, the Utah Jazz have learned that maintaining contention in the West is no easy feat, no matter how talented you are, or how much of your last successful team you brought back. The Jazz are currently a respectful 26-22, but with the types of expectations they had coming into the campaign, that can be seen as at least a slight disappointment.
Could the somewhat slow start have convinced Jazz brass that they need one more piece to sustain something special in Salt Lake City?
It’s certainly possible.
How fun would it be if that piece ended up being Conley?
Conley, a career 37.5 percent three-point shooter, would be a better backcourt fit next to Donovan Mitchell (22.0 ppg, 3.7 apg), the future of the franchise, than Ricky Rubio (12.8 ppg, 6.0 apg) has proven to be. And his ability to get buckets in the halfcourt would really thrive in Utah’s grind-it-out offense. The Jazz presently rank 20th league-wide in offensive rating (107.7), so their bucket-getting chops could use an efficient boost, too.
To make a deal work, Utah could offer both Rubio and Derrick Favors (11.2 ppg, 7.3 rpg), a talented big man to be sure, but one who may be superfluous with Rudy Gobert manning the Jazz’s frontcourt, as well as a first-round pick.
That would give the Grizzlies their Conley replacement, a prized asset and a 27-year-old big man in Favors who could eventually take Gasol’s place in the lineup (if he does end up getting dealt or leaving in free agency). Even more enticing for Memphis is the fact that Rubio’s contract is an expiring one while Favors’ is non-guaranteed for next season, so if they don’t love the fit with either player, they could clear them both from their cap space this very summer.
Truth be told, removing long-term money from their books should be Memphis’ primary goals with the Conley and Gasol deals.
On Jan. 23, Victor Oladipo (19.2 ppg, 5.3 apg) suffered what many believe to be a season-ending knee injury. Just like it is when any player goes down with a year-ending ailment, the news was brutal. It also removes an All-Star from the Indiana Pacers’ backcourt.
That is unless they’re able to find another All-Star to fill that void. Of course, it’s not easy to find All-Star-level players, especially ball-handlers, whom teams are just willing to ship away for anything other than astronomical prices.
Luckily for Indiana, though, there is one that appears to be available in Memphis.
Not only would Conley help cover for the massive absence of Oladipo in the short-term, long-term, but the fit between the two studly guards couldn’t be more perfect; they can both thrive with the ball in their hands or playing off it, as spot-up shooters. And defensively, the duo both boast quick hands and quicker feet, making the tandem a potentially hounding pair. Conley would likely be happy too, as he grew up in Indianapolis.
To get a deal done, Indiana could offer a package centered around Tyreke Evans (10.9 ppg, 2.3 apg), Darren Collison (9.5 ppg, 5.6 apg), multiple draft picks and salary filler.
Any price would be fair if it means building one of the best backcourts in the Association, and that’s exactly what the Pacers would be creating if they land Conley and put him next to a healthy Oladipo in 2019-20.
You can follow Frank Urbina on Twitter: @FrankUrbina_.