The Memphis Grizzlies were one of the NBA lottery’s big winners when they beat the odds and moved up from the eighth pick to number two on Tuesday.
With the team now locked in on Murray State point guard Ja Morant, that leaves franchise icon Mike Conley in an awkward position. His tutelage could prove invaluable for the rookie, but it may be even better for Morant to run the team by himself.
Conley may be tough to move considering the $67 million he is owed over the next two seasons. Although he’s past his prime at 31, he’s still a quality starter. In 70 games last season, he scored a career-high 21.1 points and nearly matched his career best with 6.4 assists.
The Grizzlies were reportedly looking for a pair of first-round picks during the season for Conley and could not find a taker at that price. They were able to trade longtime center Marc Gasol, although they didn’t recoup significant draft-pick compensation.
How could Mike Conley fit on the Heat?
The Sporting News' Sean Deveney reported on Friday that Heat president Pat Riley has long sought Conley, dating back to at least 2016 when he tried to sign Conley before settling on Goran Dragic.
Dragic, who has a $19 million player option he is likely to exercise, would seem like a natural part of any return, since NBA rules require teams to match salaries in trades. The only other Heat players with sizable contracts are Hassan Whiteside and Ryan Anderson, and all three players will be on expiring deals next season, which should be appealing for the Grizzlies.
Memphis would most likely be interested in the Heat’s No. 13 overall draft pick and a young player like Bam Adebayo, since Miami likely does not want to give up Josh Richardson or Justise Winslow.
Although the Heat missed the playoffs this season by two games, Riley is not looking to rebuild. Miami is no longer the free-agent destination it was earlier this decade, and Conley could help propel the team back atop the Southeast Division.
How could Mike Conley fit on the Jazz?
The Jazz were perhaps the team closest to landing Conley before the trade deadline, and The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor reported that they are expected to pick up trade talks again.
Earlier trade rumors centered around Conley for fellow point guard Ricky Rubio with significant draft picks coming back, although Memphis’ likely addition of Morant makes Rubio less necessary to add. Still, there aren’t a lot of options to match salaries — maybe Derrick Favors — since Utah only has five players making $10 million, and several of them won’t be available.
Utah is picking 23rd in this year’s draft but also owns the rights to all of its picks going forward, so they could be used as major trade pieces. Memphis could also be potentially interested in 2018 first-rounder Grayson Allen as part of a trade.
Conley would form an excellent backcourt pairing with star sophomore Donovan Mitchell, who was runner-up for Rookie of the Year last season. Mitchell is one of 10 players with a usage rate above 30 percent, so finding another capable scorer could do wonders for the Jazz’s chances in the Western Conference.
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