Will Mike Conley find his way to the Big Apple this summer? The New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets may seemingly be in disarray now, but don’t count out the possibility that one of the two teams lands him in free agency. A source close to Conley believes the Memphis Grizzlies point guard will be more receptive to playing for the Knicks and Nets than most think.
"I want to win," Conley replied when asked what's most important to him going into free agency. "That's what I want to do at the end of the day, wherever that may be. So hopefully when that time comes I'll have a better vision on what I want and what I want going forward in the summer, but right now I'm all about winning, and I want to be somewhere that's committed to doing that."
Mike Mazzeo: Impending free agent Grizzlies PG Mike Conley on the Nets firing his former coach Lionel Hollins and it potentially impacting his decision to possibly sign with Brooklyn over the summer: "It's tough but at the same time like I said I'll give everybody their fair shot. Lionel being here obviously was a big reason to look (at Brooklyn) but still at the same time with him gone I'll give everybody the same look." The Nets have an obvious need at PG and could go into free agency with around $40 million in cap space.
With or without Gasol, Memphis’ mandate will be unchanged: make the playoffs. They are working to keep Conley in summer free agency, with Memphis planning to be one more contender with two stars that will try to persuade Kevin Durant to make it a Big Three, league sources said. Durant’s the longest of long shots in summer, but the short-term trade deadline directives are unchanged: The Grizzlies are determined to use the trade deadline to better the roster for a playoff push.
Former Knick Zach Randolph playfully chided the New York media for making a beeline to Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley Jr. after Friday morning’s shootaround at the Garden. “Mike Conley’s not coming here, man,” Randolph said.
With the Grizzlies looking terrible every time they play a top-tier opponent (which coincides with every time they're on national television and exposed to casual fans outside of their market), there's a natural push from folks to start talking about the Grizzlies needing to trade Conley prior to a forced rebuild, "so they don't lose him and get nothing in return." This, at least according to every single person I've queried on the subject, is not the plan. Plans change and things shift very quickly in the NBA, but it's at least not where Memphis intends to be.
General Manager Chris Wallace declined comment on the prospect of trading, or not trading, any particular player citing the complexities and often rapidly changing environment that exists within the NBA trade market. However, Wallace was willing to give, in no uncertain terms, what the Grizzlies' intentions are as of now regarding Conley. "If you look back at the five years since the tide has turned for this franchise (since the 2011 playoff berth and the start of the "Grit-Grind" era)," Wallace told CBS Sports this week, "we have re-signed every core player for the Memphis Grizzlies."
Gasol, for his part, says the decision "cannot be emotional" for Conley. "He has to stay because he believes it's the best situation for him," Gasol told CBS Sports last week. "That's pretty much what it comes down to. He has to stay because it feels right, not because he feels like he owes me, or the city, or that it's the most comfortable thing to do. He has to stay because he believes in this and he feels like he's in control of what happens here. He's built it, and he's been a huge part of what's happened here, but that has to be why he makes the decision.
"Mike Conley will be our No. 1 priority in free agency," Wallace said about the Grizzlies' starting point guard becoming an unrestricted free agent this summer. Memphis has several expiring contracts with Chalmers, Barnes, Green, and Lee playing on the last year of their deals. Vince Carter can be bought out for $2 million.
Sources have indicated the Knicks and Nets will be all over Conley, as the New York squads are two of the few NBA teams in the market for a top-notch starting point guard.
When Conley officially becomes an unrestricted free agent on July 1, it’s safe to assume the Knicks will have interest. Conley will seek max or at least near-max money, and considering the shifting financial landscape of the NBA (so many teams with excessive cap space and many others needing to spend money to hit the rising salary floor), he’ll get it from someone. From a Knicks perspective, he seems to check all the boxes: a savvy point guard who is both efficient offensively and solid defensively. He has posted a PER north of 18 in four straight seasons. In contrast, the Knicks have had only one point guard with a PER greater than 18 in the last 25 years (Stephon Marbury).
NetsDaily: Who do Nets like as FAs? DeRozan, but also Nicolas Batum, Mike Conley Jr, Evan Turner. Don't be surprised to see J.P. Vaulet in Brooklyn.
The Knicks have an overflow of big men to deal as point guard is the roster’s key issue, with the inconsistencies of Jose Calderon and Grant. The Knicks definitely will address that position this summer with their cap space when Memphis point guard Mike Conley and Sacramento’s Rajon Rondo, who torched the Knicks on Thursday, falling one rebound short of a triple-double, are free agents.
So what about that situation? That team? There are many in Memphis that refuse to believe Conley could go anywhere. He was instrumental in recruiting Marc Gasol to return last summer and there are those that believe he would never have pushed so hard if he was planning on exiting a year later. “Me and Marc, he knows if I call him two times in two weeks and he is in Spain, that’s a lot,” Conley said. “That’s something very important to me. I stayed in contact, checking in on him. When it came down to it, I told him ‘We’re not going anywhere if you’re not here.’ I hoped he would make the right decision, and he did." Said Gasol, “Mike [being in Memphis] was big. I will go through any type of wall for that guy.”
Did Gasol ask Conley about his own commitment to Memphis? “No, those are the decisions you make on your own,” Gasol said. “I’m going to let him do the same thing. I’m going to work my butt off though so he thinks this is the right place for him.”
Conley is thought by those around the team to be the most likely top target, with the presence of his former coach, Lionel Hollins, presumed to be a drawing card.
When Gasol returned to his native Spain last summer, Conley flooded Gasol's inbox with emails and his cellphone with text messages about staying with the team. Gasol's five-year commitment to the Grizzlies had to come with some inclination that Conley planned to make the same decision when he hit free agency a year later. But Gasol said he plans to leave Conley alone this season and won't pester him to stay in Memphis.
"Yeah, but I cannot force him to do anything that he doesn’t feel that is right. He has to do what is right for him, that he believes in it," Gasol told Yahoo Sports. "If you feel forced to do something you don’t believe in, then you’re going to regret it. And whenever he makes his decision, whatever his decision is, he knows our relationship goes way beyond basketball and we’ll always be friends, past this five, 10 years left in our careers. As long as we live, we’re going to be friends. It’s not going to affect our friendship."
"I didn’t care much about the process, especially during the year, because there is nothing you can do. You cannot create a problem before the problem comes," Gasol told Yahoo. "You’ve got to be strong-minded and worry about the things you got to worry about and everything else will take care of itself. I think [Conley] wants to follow what I did last year."
Conley helped convince Gasol to sign a new contract keeping the center in Memphis this past summer, and now it's the guard's turn to play with free agency looming next summer. Conley said he plans only to think about this season and will address his contract once the season ends, the same approach Gasol took. Gasol said he and Conley talked about his own future perhaps only twice last season and not once past February.
Forward Zach Randolph said fans shouldn't worry because the Grizzlies have taken care of Conley. "Mike, he's an All-Star ... so I don't worry about Mike," Randolph said. "He's going to focus on this season, have an All-Star season."
Mike Conley will be unrestricted then, but there's not many people who think he's leaving. Depending on the sequencing of events next summer, the Grizzlies could be free agent players with a team still good enough to be an attractive destination. Conley will surely be motivated to increase his market price with another outstanding season, a win-win for him and the team.
November 27, 2022 | 8:51 pm EST Update
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