Conley Chapter Closes; Opens The Door For A New One

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LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski

On Wednesday morning the Memphis Grizzlies' all-time leading scorer, Mike Conley Jr., was traded to the Utah Jazz for Jae Crowder, Kyle Korver, Grayson Allen, the 23rd pick in Thursday night's draft, and a future conditional first-round pick. This came as no surprise. The Grizzlies had been trying to move their franchise cornerstone since before last season’s trade deadline. The Jazz were reportedly one of the teams with heavy interest in Conley but offered a rumored trade package — at the trade deadline — that was different than the one the two teams agreed upon this week. The trade was a culmination of both teams' interests, as well as what seemed to be a national campaign to get Conley to Salt Lake City. Utah beat writer (for the Athletic) Tony Jones may have written and tweeted more about Conley since February than anyone in Memphis.

The two teams seem to have gotten what they desired from the deal as the Grizzlies now have a young shooter, playmaker and scorer in the controversial and volatile Grayson Allen (he of recent Duke fame), a proven hard-nosed 3-and-D player in Jae Crowder, and one of history's best long-range spot-up shooters in Kyle Korver. Korver and Crowder come with the added bonus of being expiring contracts that can easily be moved again to acquire future assets. Korver also has a partially guaranteed contract that can allow him to easily be waived, but there could be benefits in keeping him around even at the age of 38. Korver played for new Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins, and his shooting ability could be a welcome fit to his offensive system.

The Grizzlies can now draft another potential young talent to add to their future core, or use that pick to move forward or backwards in the draft. The future pick could turn into a jewel in 2022, which is also the first year that it would likely convey, if the Jazz begin to decline around that time. Another not-so-obvious plus for the Grizzlies is that they created an NBA-record $25 million trade exception that allows them to basically trade someone’s contract into this quasi-cap space.

The most significant result of the trade is that it signals the official end of an era. Memphis fans watched Mike Conley grow from a 20-year-old kid to a man in front of their eyes as he came to the franchise after eliminating the Memphis Tigers — as an Ohio State freshman — in the 2007 Elite Eight. He was met with a ton of unfair criticism being that he was the consolation prize to a draft that the Grizzlies hoped to land either Greg Oden or Kevin Durant. Many even hoped that Conley would go to Atlanta at number three, allowing Al Horford to fall to Memphis to pair with Pau Gasol. But the Hawks took Horford instead. Conley’s slow start led to several seasons of criticism before he would make a dramatic increase in production that led to many eating crow and having to take an about face with those early opinions. Conley would prove to be a pivotal part of the franchise's turnaround and a member of the Core Four that spearheaded the Grizzlies' most successful era. That era has now officially come to a close.

With the second pick in Thursday's draft, the Grizzlies chose Murray State superstar and self-proclaimed “Point God,” Ja Morant. The pairing of Morant and second-year player Jaren Jackson Jr. seems like an enticing one-two punch. The sky is the limit for these two and hopefully they will not only serve as a bridge to the next era but as a potential rocket ship into a stratosphere that this organization has never seen. Morant and Jackson represent two hybrid mixes of talent the league is not accustomed to. Morant is a uber-athletic point guard with elite ball-handling skills and court vision. Combine that with Jackson Jr. who has shown the ability to be an elite level defender as well as score inside and from deep range. Those two surrounded by shooters and role players could lead to a Grizzlies rebuild that bears fruit faster than expected. Something we might call a new era.

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