With the news the Memphis Grizzlies were likely to take Ja Morant with the second pick in this year’s NBA Draft, it’s assumed Mike Conley’s days are numbered in Memphis. He’ll go down as one of the best players in franchise history, but the time has come for a natural separation. The biggest obstacle is Conley’s contract and injury history, but there will still be a handful of teams interested in the point guard’s skills. Here are four teams that should be willing to make the money work and bank on Conley’s high floor.
We’ll start with one of the teams rumored to have been interested in Conley prior to the trade deadline. The Jazz have their No. 1 option in Donovan Mitchell, but the responsibilities of de facto point guard proved to be a bit too much for the young star last year. Enter Conley, the playmaking guard who would alleviate the pressure on Mitchell and open up the team’s offense. He can look for his own shot — while letting Mitchell get his — while playing quality defense all the while.
A fair package for Conley would look something like Derrick Favors, Dante Exum, and a first-round pick. It may seem like a lot to give up for the pleasure of paying Conley $66 million over the next two years, but the Jazz only need one more piece to be considered legitimate contenders. Conley would put them over the hump and set them up for immediate success in the likely scenario Kevin Durant leaves Golden State.
The other team heavily rumored to have been interested in a Conley trade pre-deadline, the Pistons are locked in to competing for the duration of Blake Griffin’s contract, but have few avenues to improve the team around him other than hoping their draft picks develop. Conley is their best option in that regard. Detroit really likes Luke Kennard, but would probably have to send him, Reggie Jackson, Jon Leur, and a first-rounder to get Conley to Michigan.
Conley is the perfect point guard to run an offense centered around two big men, and while Point Blake was a real thing last season, he was so worn down by the end of the season he basically played their final playoff game in a leg cast. Conley would give them a veteran presence to help the other young guns they have left, and can be counted on to keep Griffin and Andre Drummond happy while giving the team consistent scoring output.
We all know at this point the Suns need a point guard more than anything, and it wouldn’t be a shock to see them push for Conley, even if the financials would be tricky. Phoenix would look like a completely different team with a veteran presence leading the charge on both ends of the floor. If Tyler Johnson opts into the last year of his contract, a trade package of him and T.J. Warren would be enough to make the financials work, but the Grizzlies would probably want another young player, because it’s hard to imagine the Suns trading the sixth overall pick for two years of Conley. A Josh Jackson reclamation project in Memphis seems feasible.
What Conley brings to the table is precisely what the Suns are looking for right now. Devin Booker is comfortable running the point at this juncture, but still turns the ball over at far too high of a rate. DeAndre Ayton would’ve garnered far more Rookie of the Year conversation if he had even one player who could get him the ball in the post on a regular basis. He’d help jumpstart a much-needed renaissance on the defensive end of the floor and his overall leadership would be invaluable. Phoenix has waffled between win-now moves and long-term acquisitions for the last few years, and this would be a definitive step in the former direction.
The Bulls will be picking seventh in the NBA Draft for what feels like the tenth year in a row this June, probably missing out on the top point guard prospects. If the front office decides to try and push their timeline forward (a likely possibility, given the history there), Conley would make sense as a target. A straight-up trade of Otto Porter Jr. and Kris Dunn for Conley would work salary-wise and give Memphis what they’re looking for as far as a youthful return. Dunn won’t be their point guard of the future (that’ll be Morant) but he could pan out as an above-average leader of a second unit, while Porter has already shown to be a capable 3-and-D guy who’s just paid too much.
The Bulls certainly didn’t look ready to win last year, but at the bare minimum, Conley would provide mentorship for their quartet of young players that represent the future of the franchise. Wendell Carter Jr. flashed at times last year, Lauri Markkanen is a true sharpshooter, and Zach LaVine can get buckets if nothing else. It isn’t an ideal fit, but it’s the kind of move the Bulls would make.