Remember the decade basketbloggers and analysts spent appending the word “underrated” to every single mention of Mike Conley’s name? Then he signed what was, at the time, the largest contract in NBA history, and everybody stopped calling him “underrated” for a while. Heh, well, about that.
According to a tweeted report by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Memphis Grizzlies just traded Conley to the Utah Jazz. It’s a deal that has been rumored since at least as far back as this past all-star break, as the Grizzlies continue their shift into a rebuild that has little place for a 31-year-old due $66 million in salary over the next two seasons, and the Jazz seek to break into legitimate championship contention while they’ve still got Donovan Mitchell on a rookie-contract salary.
It’s what the Jazz are sending back in the trade that’s noteworthy here. The return for one of the NBA’s best and most consistent lead guards, a fantastic, playoff-tested two-way star still in his prime and coming off one of the best individual seasons of his career: Grayson Allen, Kyle Korver, Jae Crowder, the 23rd pick in tomorrow’s draft, and a protected future first-round pick. That’s... it? That appears to be it. That is not a lot.
Allen is a deeply unimpressive 23-year-old second-year player whose ceiling appears to be “Matthew Dellavedova, but a psychopath.” Korver is 38 years old; his play fell over a cliff whole entire years ago and he probably ought to retire. Crowder comprehensively sucks, peaked at making it marginally harder for LeBron James to dunk the Boston Celtics into the toilet four years ago, and is a few weeks from his 29th birthday. Korver and Crowder will be unrestricted free agents after this coming season, wiping something like $15 million off the Grizzlies’ books; that’s nice, I guess. Allen’s on a cheapo rookie deal and might still be overpaid. Tomorrow’s 23rd pick stands little chance of netting a genuine building block out of a thin draft class, and given the (reported) protections on that future pick, it likely won’t convey until 2022 at the earliest.
Could the Grizzlies have demanded more? It’s hard to say. Point guard remains the NBA’s deepest position; most if not all of the teams that need one are on rebuilding and/or tanking timelines that make them bad fits for Conley’s age and salary, and most if not all of the teams that might be shopping for an established veteran to push them over the top are already set at the position. (The Jazz don’t qualify for that latter category: Ricky Rubio will be an unrestricted free agent on July 1, and he’s not as good as Conley anyway. Apart from just making the Jazz straight-up better, this trade also gives them negotiating leverage with Rubio if they want to bring him back.) Moreover, the reports from the last few days about the Houston Rockets—that they’re melting down internally and Chris Paul, a better but even older and more expensive point guard than Conley, wants out—might have complicated things somewhat for Memphis: If they wouldn’t take Utah’s modest offer, it’s at least vaguely plausible that Houston might’ve accepted some other version of it, just to get out from under Paul’s nightmarish contract by any means necessary.
In any event, jeez, that sure doesn’t seem like a lot to get back in return for, if not the best, then certainly the most constant and emblematic player the Grizzlies ever had! Congratulations to the Jazz, anyway.
Oh hey, also, one last thing. This trade marginally increases the extremely long but nonetheless non-zero odds that the Boston Celtics—spurned by their own free agents, left out of the Anthony Davis trade they’d spent years building toward, on the verge of a precipitous plunge from the upper ranks of the Eastern Conference, lacking a point guard and faced with the prospect of waiting for a rookie to develop at the sport’s most demanding position—will freak out and trade for Chris Paul. That would be pretty hilarious, and I hope it happens.