For one of Phoenix’s fellow Western Conference counterparts, the end of an era has finally arrived. According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Memphis Grizzlies are now listening to offers on Mike Conley and Marc Gasol prior to the Feb. 7 trade deadline.
For first time, Memphis will begin listening to trade offers on franchise stars Marc Gasol and Mike Conley, league sources tell ESPN. Memphis has reached a crossroads and is preparing to weigh deals involving one or both of its cornerstone veterans. Story soon on ESPN.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) January 22, 2019
The Grizzlies have endured a massive slide this season after expectations were raised with Conley and Gasol returning from injuries being paired with top-5 pick Jaren Jackson Jr. But instead of sitting in the midst of the Western Conference’s tight playoff race, Memphis is 19-28 leading only Phoenix in the standings after losing 12 of their last 13 games.
Now, from the Suns’ point of view, this opportunistic window has opened again. Finally, a starting-caliber point guard, let alone an above-average All-Star quality one, is on the trade market for the first time in what seems like ages.
Conley is no Kyrie Irving. Conley is no Kemba Walker. But Conley is a name who actually makes plenty of sense in Phoenix the more you think about it with a team starved for relevancy.
With another painful season over halfway through, the Suns are nearing a decade-long playoff drought. No progress in the win-loss column has been witnessed, even though they intentionally tanked for two seasons to accumulate more lottery balls. That means they need a shot of adrenaline, which Conley would provide in spades over this new competitive window of Suns basketball.
After initially reporting it Tuesday evening, Wojnarowksi appeared on SportsCenter Wednesday morning with a news hit to update this ongoing situation with Memphis. What Wojnarowski had to say about Conley and Gasol might indicate the market for either one of these players, both who are over age 30 by the way, might be even shallower than originally thought.
“There’s a market for Mike Conley,” Wojnarowski said. “There are teams who his contract lines up with their payroll ... but can Memphis get a package back of young players, draft picks, expiring contracts? They may get one of those three. I think they’re hopeful to get two of those three elements. The prohibitive costs of these salaries is going to make it trickier to trade either or both players.”
Alright, so the Grizzlies want young players, draft capital, and expiring deals for Conley and Gasol. For someone of Conley’s caliber, it’s surprising to see he might not be able to fetch back much picks and young assets. The thing is, Memphis is completely at fault for not hitting the reset button even earlier. Being 32 at the beginning of the 2019-20 season, Conley’s window might not last too much longer. The same goes for Gasol with more urgency attached since he’s a 7-footer quickly approaching his mid-30s.
If this is truly the market value for Conley, Phoenix has to be inquiring immediately. Opportunities don’t come around too often where you can get a point guard in his prime who can help advance a young core forward while also not hampering it’s long-term salary flexibility. That’s indeed the case with Conley, because his contract would expire the same summer Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges would be extension eligible.
From an on-court value standpoint, why should the Suns trade for Conley? Well, first off, it allows Phoenix a 2.5 year window to push themselves back to possibly being an attractive destination to stars via free agency or trade. Unless something goes horribly wrong, a trio of Booker / Ayton / Conley with talented role players surrounding them would win games and make this team at least respectable moving forward with more upside on the back end as the Suns’ young duo progresses.
Phoenix would still also have enough room to pursue veteran free agents this summer — anywhere between $8-11.7 million (T.J. Warren or Josh Jackson being moved in a hypothetical Conley deal brought this final number range) when factoring in cap holds for Kelly Oubre Jr. and Richaun Holmes — so using their mid-level and bi-annual exceptions could be vital to helping secure much-needed help off the bench.
Depending on if they were re-signed or not over this next two-year span (Oubre Jr., Holmes, and De’Anthony Melton), the Suns would have all of the following players under contract to keep stability and help build their new culture: Conley, Booker, Ayton, Bridges, Oubre Jr., Holmes, Melton, Okobo, Jackson or Warren. That’s huge, and it could go a long way to helping finally flip things around in the Valley.
With that being said, what type of deal even makes sense for the Suns to roll the dice on Conley helping steer the ship in the right direction? Here’s what I came up with for an appealing offer:
Mike Conley for Ryan Anderson, T.J. Warren or Josh Jackson, 2020 Bucks 1st, 2019 Suns 1st (top 5 protected)
Based off of Wojnarowski’s latest intel, it seems like that package could be paying too high of a price for a 31-year-old point guard with an injury history. The 2019 draft class outside of Zion Williamson plus maybe R.J. Barrett and Ja Morant is barren at best. Compared to the previous two crops of prospects, this years definitely lags behind. Who knows, though, maybe Phoenix could even get away with swapping out their 2019 first here for a 2020 protected pick instead since it will still likely be in the lottery range anyways.
The Suns won’t be a championship contender with Mike Conley around, but it will at least show that this team is trying to take significant steps forward in improving around Booker and Ayton. At all costs, they can’t afford to have that duo’s years together be wasted. Conley fills that hole while also being a viable Booker backcourt fit from a playmaking and defensive angle who can play either on or off the ball.
This move would be about maintaining long-term stability while simultaneously pushing the short-term accelerator button. Conley maybe improves Phoenix by 4-5 wins over the second half of this year, but it could lead to a gigantic jump for 2019-20 as chemistry is grown and young players advance forward under improved player development programs.
Phoenix’s roster construction around Booker would now have three chapters to it once Conley’s contract expired after the 2020-21 season. It would be the three tanking years trying to accumulate elite lottery talent around Booker, the Conley/Booker/Ayton ascension, then coming out the other side finally as a destination in 2021 when they easily have max cap space again for superstar unrestricted free agents like Giannis Antetokounmpo, Damian Lillard, and Paul George.
Conley might not be the sexiest name to trade for, but it’s one that would have the greatest impact on the Suns’ organization. Not only would the on-court production be there averaging around 17-20 points and 6-8 assists per game along with stellar defense, but the leadership factor is huge with Conley as the new foundation of solid playoff-like habits are set around Booker and Ayton.