Moving on from a pillar of your franchise over the past 12 years is never an easy decision. Especially since prior to his arrival, the franchise had made the playoffs just three times in their history over 12 seasons. But that is what the Memphis Grizzlies have needed to do and now must do with one of the originators of the Grit ‘N Grind Grizzlies, Mike Conley.
The beginning of the deconstruction of the Grit ‘N Grind Grizzlies came at the end of the 2016-2017 season when Zach Randolph signed away to the Sacramento Kings in free agency. Tony Allen followed suit with a decision to join the New Orleans Pelicans that same offseason. Conley remained, as did franchise center Marc Gasol. The Grizzlies were hoping to remain competitive, but an injury to Conley 13 games into the 2017-2018 season cost him the rest of the year. Memphis finished 22-60, ended up with the 4th pick in the draft, and all indications of a teardown of the roster from top to bottom were there.
Instead, they decided to run it back. They held onto Conley and Gasol. They started JaMychal Green ahead of Jaren Jackson Jr., who they drafted with the fourth pick, although that only lasted two games before Jackson joined the starting unit after scoring 24 points in the second game of his NBA career.
Conley was healthy and posting solid numbers. Gasol was steady as expected. Yet the Grizzlies still struggled. Going into the all-star break, Memphis was 23-36, and the writing was on the wall that their season, competitive-wise, was over. The team finally made a move that had been hinted at for a couple of years when they dealt Marc Gasol to the Toronto Raptors for a package centered around Jonas Valanciunas and Delon Wright. All indications were that they would move Conley next. They had numerous suitors, including the Utah Jazz and Detroit Pistons. But the Grizzlies set a price point that neither team would match for the 31-year-old point guard.
He finished the season averaging 21.1 points, a career-high, and 6.4 assists per game. He played 70 games, the most he appeared in since the 2013-2014 season, and shot 36.4% from the 3-point line.
On Tuesday night, the Grizzlies were awarded the second pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, courtesy of the new lottery system put in place by the league. With the New Orleans Pelicans lasered in on Zion Williamson with the first pick in the draft, the Grizzlies have found their guy in Murray State point guard, Ja Morant, according to Shams Charania of The Vertical.
Morant is an explosive player both athletically and as a scorer. He averaged 24.5 points per game on 49.9/36.3/81.3 percent shooting. He dished out ten assists per game and corralled 5.7 rebounds per contest. He recorded three triple-doubles last season. He threw down countless emphatic jams.
Don't sleep on Ja Morant 😤
From under the radar to national spotlight, the mid-major prospect from Murray State now is projected as a unanimous NBA lottery pick 👏 pic.twitter.com/oo1orOiPJ1
— ESPN (@espn) May 14, 2019
He has all the tools to be a great player. He is a versatile and electric scorer with great vision as a passer. Mix in his athleticism and IQ and you have what has become the second overall pick in this upcoming draft. Like all draft prospects, there are areas to him that need improvement, most specifically his fragile frame, but a large number of rookies come in with that same issue, so it is not one to be all to worked up over.
The self-proclaimed “point god” will be handed the keys to the franchise alongside Jaren Jackson, forming a thrilling young duo for Memphis to build their future around.
But with the addition of Morant, and the assumed desire to re-sign restricted free agent Delon Wright, as he was the main young piece of the Gasol trade, the Grizzlies have a logjam at point guard when you add Conley to the equation as well. Memphis has balked at opportunities in the past to move Conley and acquire multiple assets to help restructure the team with, but now, it appears to be a dire situation on that front.
If they hold onto Conley, they will be limiting the growth of Morant and/or Wright in the process, and as a team not in the position to win, that decision would make no sense.
Mike Conley has had an outstanding tenure with the Grizzlies, and although he somehow never made an all-star game, he certainly belonged in the upper echelon of top players in the league during the prime of his career. But when you look at his durability, his age, and his contract, which at a point in time, was the most expensive contract in the league, the returns will only continue to be more diminishing for Conley.
Nonetheless, a handful of teams at the least would place phone calls to Memphis inquiring about the price tag on him. Plain and simple, Memphis has to lower their expectations for what they believe they should receive in return for him.
In February, the Grizzlies wanted Reggie Jackson as well as both Luke Kennard, Detroit’s best young player, and a first round pick from the Pistons for Conley. Ed Stefanski, and the rest of Detroit’s front office wisely let the deadline pass without meeting Memphis’ demands.
The asking point appeared to be a combination of a useful player in the now, and then either young prospects, draft picks, or both. They’ll have to settle for less. Detroit will still be interested, as will Utah, especially after being handled swiftly by the Houston Rockets in the opening round of the Western Conference Playoffs.
The Dallas Mavericks, a team who had ties with Conley back when he was a free agent years ago, could show interest in him as he would be a good fit alongside Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis. If the Los Angeles Clippers miss out on big-name free agents such as Kawhi Leonard and Kemba Walker, they could turn their attention to him.
The Miami Heat are always looking to remain competitive, and Conley would help them do that. The Magic made the playoffs and will certainly be looking to improve their roster to continue in the direction they have set themselves in. Teams will be calling for Conley’s services, this time around though, Memphis has to make the gut-wrenching decision to finally move him.
Times have changed in Memphis, and the franchise is heading in a different direction. The rebuild is in full effect and with that, the franchise has to do what is best for their future. That means they have to move on from Mike Conley, their star point guard, who spent the first 12 seasons of his career there. His career will forever be remembered with him most famously as a founding father of the Grit ‘N Grind Grizzlies.