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If the door in Memphis was already cracked open for a Mike Conley trade, landing at No. 2 overall in the 2019 NBA draft lottery should burst it wide-open for the Grizzlies.
According to ESPN’s Jonathan Givony, Memphis plans on selecting Murray State point guard Ja Morant with the second pick, a major sign that Conley’s 12-plus years with the Grizzlies could be coming to an end.
This could either mean a summer trade that completely resets the franchise following the previous Marc Gasol trade to the Toronto Raptors or waiting until closer to the 2020 trade deadline while allowing Morant to gain experience for a few months.
Predicting Conley’s value, however, is complicated.
At age 31, he put up a career-high 21.1 points per game last season while chipping in 6.4 assists, 3.4 rebounds and 1.3 steals and slashing a respectable .438/.364/.845 in 33.5 minutes per game. He’s owed a sizable $32.5 million in 2019-20 and $34.5 million in 2020-21, a number that falls to $22.4 million if he plays in 54 games or fewer.
Teams in the market for Conley should be craving a veteran floor general and have the cap space or matching contracts to send back to offset his hefty salary.
For the Grizzlies, the future is all about Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr. and whatever young talent or draft picks they can get for Conley either this summer or closer to the February deadline.
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Pistons Receive: PG Mike Conley
Grizzlies Receive: PG Reggie Jackson, PF Jon Leuer, SG Bruce Brown, 2019 No. 15 overall pick
The Pistons made the 2019 playoffs despite having little talent outside of Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond. If they want to climb any higher than the eighth seed, help at guard is a must. With no cap space to use, Detroit’s best option to upgrade is through trade, using its expiring contracts and its current first-round pick.
This wouldn’t be the first time the Pistons made a play for Conley, as they offered up Jackson and a first-rounder before the 2019 trade deadline, per John Martin of The Athletic. Memphis passed on the deal because Detroit wouldn’t include second-year wing Luke Kennard.
If the Pistons want Kennard that badly, they’ll need to swap in a different young guard instead. Brown started 56 games as a rookie this past season, while Jackson and Leuer represent $27.5 million of cap space coming off the books next summer.
The main draw for Memphis is the 15th overall pick this June, a spot that could land the club a player like Kevin Porter Jr., PJ Washington or Brandon Clarke.
For Detroit, Conley would be a huge upgrade over Jackson, and a trio of Conley, Griffin and Drummond could be one of the Eastern Conference’s best.
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Suns Receive: PG Mike Conley
Grizzlies Receive: SG Tyler Johnson, SF TJ Warren, 2020 first-round pick (top-five protected)
There may be no team more desperate for point guard help than the Suns.
Getting Conley isn’t as much about making a playoff run (which could happen with major leaps from Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton) but more so bringing in a true floor general to maximize the potential of a young roster.
Conley brings stability to a franchise that’s had a revolving door of head coaches and front-office members. New head coach Monty Williams knows how to get the most out of his point guards (though it’s helped that he’s coached Chris Paul and Jrue Holiday in New Orleans).
For this trade to be completed, Johnson needs to pick up his $19.2 million player option for next season. Coming off a year where he averaged just 10.9 points and 2.9 assists on 41.3 percent shooting, that shouldn’t be a problem.
His expiring money helps Memphis clean its books, while Warren, 25, put up 18.0 points on 42.8 percent shooting from three last season and is young enough to fit into the Grizzlies’ rebuilding plans.
The Suns have the No. 6 overall pick to include now, but that seems a bit much for Conley. Instead, offering up their first next season with a protection lets Phoenix add in one more young core piece for Conley to help mold.
San Antonio Spurs
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Spurs Receive: PG Mike Conley
Grizzlies Receive: PG Derrick White, PG Patty Mills, SG Marco Belinelli, PF Davis Bertans, 2019 No. 29 overall pick
Before Conley signed his five-year, $153 million contract with the Grizzlies in 2016, the Spurs were interested in his services.
San Antonio is quietly stockpiling some good, young guards with Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, Bryn Forbes and Lonnie Walker IV. Will Gregg Popovich, the NBA’s oldest coach at 70, want to wait on their development?
Getting Conley means one last hope at a sixth championship in the Popovich era, as he’d be joining a veteran core of LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan.
For Memphis, White is the star of this package following his breakout playoff performance against the Denver Nuggets. The 24-year-old averaged 15.1 points, 3.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists in just 27.3 minutes per game over San Antonio’s seven-game, opening-round series loss. Morant and White would be an exciting backcourt for years to come.
Bertans, 26, fits into a rebuild and nailed 42.9 percent of his three-pointers for the Spurs last year. Mills becomes the veteran backup to Morant, and Belinelli’s $5.8 million deal is expiring.
San Antonio missed out on Conley once but could put a strong package together for him now.
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Celtics Receive: PG Mike Conley
Grizzlies Receive: Gordon Hayward, 2020 first-round pick (via Grizzlies)
This deal would be predicated on Kyrie Irving‘s departure in free agency.
With not enough space to sign any of the top free-agent point guards, Boston would have to choose between bringing Terry Rozier back with a significant raise or trading for help. Since Rozier didn’t exactly have glowing things to say about the team, a trade for outside help may be the Celtics’ best bet.
If Irving leaves, a trade for Anthony Davis seems unlikely as well. That means keeping and building around Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart, with someone like Conley to tie it all together.
Boston has something Memphis would love to have back: its own 2020 first-round pick that’s sure to fall in the lottery once again.
Swapping Conley for Hayward, who almost has an identical $66 million remaining over the next two years, means getting an All-Star-caliber point guard for Boston without increasing the payroll.
For the Grizzlies, they get their own rebuilding piece back.
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Jazz Receive: PG Mike Conley
Grizzlies Receive: PF Derrick Favors, SG Grayson Allen, 2019 No. 23 overall pick
Utah tried to trade for Conley before the February 2019 deadline, and “multiple league sources said this week that the Jazz are expected to make another push for him,” per The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor.
A deal for Conley only makes more sense now for Utah, as Ricky Rubio will become an unrestricted free agent this summer. Conley’s megadeal also aligns with the rookie deal for Donovan Mitchell before his inevitable max extension kicks in.
Getting bounced in the first round by the Houston Rockets in five games should be the wake-up call Utah needs. While Rudy Gobert is an annual candidate for Defensive Player of the Year, he shouldn’t be a team’s second-leading scorer like he was this past season behind Mitchell.
Conley gives Utah a pair of 20-plus point-per-game scorers in the backcourt and helps take the pressure off the 22-year-old Mitchell.
Memphis could put the No. 23 pick to good use this summer with someone like Nassir Little, Grant Williams or Cameron Johnson. Allen was the 21st overall pick last year and should become a sharpshooter off the bench.
Favors has a team option of $16.9 million that would need to be picked up by July 6 in order for the trade to work. Favors is a good center on an expiring deal that the Grizzlies could try to trade during the season for additional assets or simply use the cap-space savings next year.