Storyline: Mike Conley Trade

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1 year ago via ESPN

The Grizzlies took a slight risk in waiting until now to deal Conley instead of acting at the trade deadline, but it ended up costing them nothing beyond the chance to clear more 2019-20 salary. They might have come out better for it. They always wanted two first-round picks, and they got them. The Detroit Pistons opted against paying that price, sources say, and even had the Pistons agreed, Memphis might have been stuck with Reggie Jackson. The Pacers would not surrender two first-round picks and Aaron Holiday, sources say.

Jazz favorites to land Mike Conley?

Numerous rival teams firmly believe that the Memphis Grizzlies will be trading veteran point guard Mike Conley sooner rather than later — with Utah still thought to be at the front of the line like it was at the February trade deadline. According to one trade scenario circulating Monday night, Memphis could receive a package from Utah headlined by the No. 23 pick in Thursday’s draft as well as a future first-rounder from the Jazz.

Jazz expected to make another push for Mike Conley

At no. 2, the franchise will have its choice of some talented prospects, namely Murray State point guard Ja Morant, a playmaking savant with rocket-boosters for shoes, or Duke forward R.J. Barrett, a tough shotmaker with the potential to emerge as a versatile defender. Morant, especially, seems like an intriguing fit: He would make for a tremendous long-term pick-and-roll partner with Jackson and could learn the tricks of the trade behind veteran point guard Mike Conley Jr. (That is, unless Memphis trades Conley—multiple league sources said this week that the Jazz are expected to make another push for him after failing to land him prior to the deadline.) However, the Grizzlies stand out as the team that should most strongly consider trading down. Since Memphis will cede a future first-round pick to the Celtics, it has extra incentive to use this pick to acquire another asset.

After the lottery, Gentry also hugged Grizzlies director of player support Elliot Perry, who told The Undefeated he got more than 50 text messages after Memphis landed the No. 2 pick. Perhaps the rebuilding Grizzlies can now trade veteran point guard Mike Conley with the expected addition of Ja Morant, who averaged 24.5 points, 10 assists and 5.7 rebounds for Murray State last season. “I love the way he plays,” Perry said of Morant. “I will leave the selecting up to the guys that make the pick. But if you look at the way he played, with a lot of excitement, passion and toughness, that is what we need. You pair him with J.J. [Jaren Jackson] and you got two young guys with our franchise that we can build around.”

The team knows Conley’s not the type of player to publicly submit a trade request. He’s not going to rock the boat, that’s never been his style. But that doesn’t mean he’s not open to being moved. “I’ll never demand anything like that. I’m not going to shut a door because of the situation I’m in,” he said. “Ultimately, because of the way it happened, with management opening the door and basically saying, ‘Here, he’s up for trade’, that put that doubt in my mind to begin with. That was the beginning of, like, ‘I’ll be OK if that happens.’ Before that, I would have been super surprised and hurt if I’d been traded. Now, it’s all I’ve been thinking about for two or three months now, my future, what’s going to happen.”

“I’ve been the good soldier. And I think that’s part of the reason I didn’t get traded. They know I’m not going to raise hell because I didn’t get traded when you told me that I might. I’m not going to have animosity, I’m still going to say hello to you when I see you in the morning. They think — he’s the guy they’re going to keep or have in a sticky situation, he’s the guy to do it. He’s not going to raise hell or anything. “They always say the good guys finish last, and I’ve always been that guy. I’m a good guy, I’m still here, I’m still showing up, fighting every day, literally playing for — we were playing for nothing for the majority of the second half of the season. I mean, convey the pick, but for me that’s not a goal. I’m trying to win, trying to make the playoffs, that kind of stuff.”

“In this day and age in the NBA, talent moves around so much that it’s almost like there’s no value to that identity that you have with the city,” said Mike Conley Sr., Conley’s father and agent. “So that part is tough, but that’s part of the business now. “So, if the Grizzlies are in a rebuild, Mike can’t be around for that. It’s unfair to put him in that situation. He’s given too much to the program and to the city for him to have to be put through that. So, I hope whatever they end up doing, they do the right thing by him.”

“It’s just really late in my career, and I want to have a chance to win,” Conley said. “I want to be able to contend and compete or have an opportunity. Whether that’s here or anywhere, I’d love to have that opportunity, but I love Memphis. I love being here. I love all of the things we’ve created and still are creating. But if they’re willing to trade me to help force that rebuild, then I am all for competing for championships and other things like that elsewhere.”

The night before the Feb. 7 trade deadline, Conley tried to remain calm during what many around the NBA assumed would be his final hours with the Grizzlies. I don’t feel any stress, Conley told himself. I’m good. I’m just going to go lay down and go to sleep. Instead, he spent the night sleepless and continually checked his phone. “Like somebody’s going to call me to say, ‘Oh, you’ve just been traded,’ at 4 in the morning,” he said. “I couldn’t control that and I still couldn’t turn my mind off.”

Memphis seriously discussed sending Conley to the Jazz prior to the deadline, and those talks could pick back up in June, according to multiple front office executives. The Kings, who owe their pick to the Celtics, could also bolster Boston’s chances at Davis if they keep losing (the pick would go the Sixers if it’s no. 1). Only a couple of games separate teams in the lottery; we’ve entered the doldrums of the season, but the tanking race connects teams to the defining story lines of the summer.

Conley admits even he isn’t exactly sure where his calm, even-keeled demeanor comes from. He suspects his parents and upbringing have a large role in it. In a locker room with nine new faces added since opening night, in the midst of a season that has slipped away, Conley and his personality have been one of the lone sources of familiarity for this Grizzlies team. Conley also is aware that his time in Memphis may not be for long. The Grizzlies had at least one deal on the table for him three weeks ago and passed on it. Given the circumstances, he can’t help but find himself looking past this season at times, wondering what’s in store for him during the offseason.

“It’s definitely hard not to, given the last few weeks man,” Conley said. “It’s obviously been emotional. It’s definitely hard not to look at the summer, what’s going to happen and what’s the plan and stuff like that. For me, the challenge is to just stay locked in as much as I can and be present and be the guy for this team who can be that leader, help the younger guys.” “I have a bigger-than-me attitude and I just have to keep that going for the next couple months,” he continued.

“First half just looking at the bench and seeing Marc being on the bench, just cheering, it was like man, this is it,” Conley said. “It crossed my mind, every timeout, just looking at the crowd, looking back at the bench, coaches and players and seeing my wife and kids in the stands, the same spot they’ve been in for 12 seasons. Just trying to take it all in. If it is the last time, don’t want to leave anything, no regrets.”

Perhaps of greatest intrigue, the Toronto Raptors have called Memphis offering Jonas Valanciunas and Kyle Lowry for both of Conley and Gasol, league sources told Sports Illustrated. Memphis, sources said, would prefer to receive younger players such as OG Anunoby or draft assets in any exchange with Toronto that would send Conley north. The Grizzlies of course rejected Toronto’s initial offer. Lowry has been made aware of Toronto’s negotiations involving him, according to once source close to the All-Star point guard.

In order to potentially tip Memphis away from the Jazz’s offer, which will likely involve Ricky Rubio, a 2019 first-round pick and an assortment of contracts to make the finances match up, Detroit will have to go one step further in the asset department. Jackson and a first-round pick won’t get it done. Rubio’s contract comes off the book next year, so in order for the Grizzlies to be enticed to hold onto Jackson for another year, the Pistons will likely have to add in second-year guard Luke Kennard, who is of interest to Memphis, according to a league source, and the only tangible asset on the roster.

Marc Stein: “[Trading Mike Conley] is not easy, but I think from a pure basketball perspective, he would certainly help the Jazz. Everything I’ve heard today in my checking is, yes, Utah is still on this, they would love to find a way to make this happen if they can, so I think [Conley to Utah] is one we have to keep an eye on. I know people have thrown out Indiana with Conley’s ties there, that would be a fun one to see happen, but the chatter to this point has really been about Conley landing in Utah. So if there is a leader in that race, I would have to say it’s the Jazz.”

It’s been a tumultuous week for Conley and Gasol. Grizzlies owner Robert Pera called them on Tuesday with news that the Grizzlies had decided to put them on the trade block. Afterward, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski made the trade news public on Twitter. Conley appreciates that he heard the news from Pera rather than Twitter, but it hasn’t made this week easier to navigate. He and Gasol have had to answer questions about a trade situation they didn’t ask for and has no clear timeframe or resolution. They’ve been tasked with eulogizing an era that has yet to come to a close. “During the game you’re not so much caught up into that, until you finish and you look up like, ‘what if that was it,” Conley said after Wednesday’s loss to the Hornets. “It’s tough to look back and think of all the memories we’ve had. It’s been a long ride, and a successful one at that.”
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