Jazz Have Options With Mike Conley
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Mike Conley is on the verge of becoming the most highly sought-after Utah Jazz free agent since Gordon Hayward left the franchise for the Boston Celtics in 2017.
The Jazz acquired Conley in the summer of 2019 in exchange for rookie Grayson Allen, veteran Jae Crowder, and two future first-round draft picks, going all-in on their championship push while Donovan Mitchell was still underpaid on his rookie contract.
Now, with Mitchell’s max contract extension set to kick in during the offseason, and Conley free to sign with any team he chooses, the Jazz find themselves in a difficult position.
If they let Conley walk, they’ll avoid paying a massive luxury tax bill but miss a key piece in their contending roster. If they resign him, they will move deep into the luxury tax for a veteran guard who has struggled with injuries throughout his career.
With free agency fast approaching, the Jazz will have to choose between these few options on how to continue with, or without Conley on the roster.
Option One: Let Conley Walk
Under previous ownership, it would have felt like a forgone conclusion that the Jazz would have let Conley walk and not risk venturing into the luxury tax to field a championship contender.
However, those plans may have changed when Ryan Smith purchased the team in October, and showed a willingness to operate in the luxury tax (albeit at a much lower level) this season, even when the Jazz could have made cost-cutting moves at the trade deadline.
Letting Conley walk would take the least amount of work for the Jazz, but would also have the direst consequences. The veteran guard has flourished under Quin Snyder’s offensive system, being named to his first All-Star team 13 years into his NBA career.
With Conley injured during the second round of the playoffs, it was painfully obvious just has badly the Jazz missed a fellow playmaker and scorer next to Mitchell in the team’s rotation.
If Conley were to leave the Jazz, it’s not difficult to imagine similar struggles through the regular season and playoffs as long as the team remains without a high-level backcourt mate for Mitchell.
Though Mitchell is under contract with the team for at least the next four seasons, showing a lack of commitment to providing him help on the perimeter would be a costly gamble.
Option Two: Re-Sign Conley
The second option for the Jazz and the move that would likely benefit the roster the most would be to re-sign Conley, even if it means going into the luxury tax.
All-Star point guards don’t grow on trees, especially guards that seem to fit into the Jazz culture and style of play so seamlessly. With Conley and Mitchell on the floor, the Jazz looked like true contenders to come out of the West.
With Conley out of the rotation, the Jazz attack was easily solved by a short-handed Clippers roster that cruelly ended their season in the second round.
However, even before signing Conley, the Jazz will have little headroom before hitting the luxury tax. Depending on the cost to bring him back, the Jazz could incur serious financial penalities just to keep him into the fold.
The risk of re-signing Conley stretches beyond financial implications. At 33 years old and with a recent history of hamstring injuries, the guard simply may not be able to stay healthy at this point in his career, which would make him a financial albatross that can’t help the team if he can’t stay on the floor.
Option Three: Sign And Trade Conley
The Jazz also have the option to sign and trade Conley, understanding that the move doesn’t have to be a true “sign and trade.” A traditional sign and trade means the Jazz should sign include the Jazz signing Conley with the full intention of moving him to a team he would have preferred to sign with as a free agent, with the Jazz getting an asset back.
This is what the Golden State Warriors and Brooklyn Nets did in the D’Angelo Russell and Kevin Durant trade.
Durant could have signed in Brooklyn with the trade, but rather than letting him leave the franchise for nothing, they took back the contract of Russell in order to retain an asset.
Similarly, this is how the Boston Celtics and Charlotte Hornets completed their trade that landed Kamba Walker in Boston and Terry Rozier in Charlotte.
Instead of watching an All-Star point guard leave the roster with nothing to show in return, the Hornets acquired Terry in a sign and trade when sending Walker to Boston.
The Jazz could look to pull off a similar maneuver in the off-season, bringing a proven player back in exchange for Conley, even if it too puts them over the luxury tax, rather than watching him leave the roster with nothing in return.
However, that’s not the Jazz only option for signing and trading Conley.
Rather than doing an immediate trade that would send Conley elsewhere, the Jazz could sign the guard simply keeping him on the roster, with the understanding that he could be moved later on in his contract.
While the Warriors acquired Russell in a traditional sign and trade, they did so with the intention to flip the guard to another team for future assets.
The Warriors moved Russell to Minnesota less than a year after acquiring him, taking on the contract of Andrew Wiggins and a future first-round pick in the deal.
While the Warriors certainly didn’t get equal value in return for a superstar in Durant, they gained a valuable salary trade chip in Wiggins and a lottery pick from the Timberwolves, rather than watching their former star leave with no compensation.
Even if Conley doesn’t factor into the Jazz long-term plans, they could choose to bring the All-Star guard back, understanding that his value as a future trade piece is better than losing him with zero return.
It’s a gamble, and one that would push the Jazz over the luxury tax line, but would also allow them to potentially rebuild their asset bank which they emptied to bring Conley in the first place.
The Jazz face a tenuous summer with Conley and one that could see him leaving the team empty-handed. But if they learned from anything from the free-agency fiasco with Gordon Hayward, they’d be wise to find a way to get value for Conley, either on the roster or in a trade.
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