In Twilight Years, Conley Enjoying Veteran Role

Oct 13, 2022, 3:49 PM | Updated: 5:13 pm


Veteran Mike Conley shoots against Collin Sexton (Photo: Deseret News/Scott G Winterton)

(Photo: Deseret News/Scott G Winterton)

SALT LAKE CITY – Mike Conley is not ignorant of the fact that the Utah Jazz’s goals this season are not what they once were.

Conley was acquired by the Jazz in 2019 with hopes that his veteran leadership could push the team to its first-ever NBA title.

Now, just three summers later, Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell, the two All-Stars he was brought in to mentor, are gone, and Conley is one of the few familiar faces left in the locker room.

Even though the Jazz are no longer title contenders, Conley is enjoying his place with the team.

“With Will [Hardy] coming in, I’m learning new things,” Conley admitted. “And that’s the fun part just continuing to grow with these younger guys, especially in the leadership role.”

Having turned 35 on Tuesday, Conley’s voice has taken on a bigger role within the young Jazz locker room. The guard can regularly be seen offering advice to the team’s younger players, even stepping onto the court during a rare game off against the San Antonio Spurs to give Jared Butler tips on the nuances of the game.

The second-year guard out of Baylor described the types of things he’s learned from Conley on the floor.

“Just thinking the game, thinking plays ahead, thinking about what happened on the last three plays,” Butler said. “Did we get a good shot, what’s the flow of the game going? And basing your decisions on what to call next based on those past few plays.”

Butler benefited from the help, dishing out seven assists against the Spurs and looking more like a point guard than he ever did in college.

But it’s not always about the cerebral parts of the game. Conley is still arguably the Jazz’s most talented player and works with the guards around him to perfect the details of making plays on the court.

“Working with Collin [Sexton] this morning and we were just working on literally jump stops in the middle of the paint,” Conley said. “Two pump fakes and fake pass out, finish a floater or pass out to the corner and like stuff like that. It just allows the game to be slower for you.”

While Conley has perfected the details of the point guard position, he didn’t learn them on his own.

Damon Stoudamire Was Conley’s Veteran

Conley has been generous in sharing his vast knowledge of the game with the Jazz’s younger players in part because of the veteran leadership he got as a young player with the Memphis Grizzlies.

The fourth overall pick in the 2007 NBA Draft, Conley joined the Grizzlies in the same season longtime NBA point guard Damon Stoudamire was preparing to call it quits.

Stoudamire carved out a 12-year career despite standing just 5-foot-10, small even then for an NBA point guard. In Conley’s rookie season, he sat next to Stoudamire in the locker room and learned a valuable lesson about humility.

“He had a stool, like a little stepstool, and I was like what is that?” Conley asked himself. “It said Mighty Mouse on the bottom of it, and it was so he could get to the top of his locker. It was so funny to me, but it was pretty cool and neat to see that sense of humor and the kind of guy he was.”

Though he stands taller than Stoudamire at six feet tall, Conley is still one of the smaller guards in the league, making his Memphis teammate the ideal veteran to learn from.

“He was the perfect guy for me to mold myself and my game around,” Conley said. “Honestly he’s been coaching me even to this day. It’ll text me on some things saying ‘What are you doing? Why would you do that?’ or just kind of like checking in n me. So it’s really cool.”

Conley was a popular name thrown out in trade talks during the offseason with the veteran guard still holding value for teams looking to make a deep run in the playoffs. And, if the right package were to be offered to the Jazz, there’s a very real likelihood he could be on the move.

But for now, the guard has carved out an important role as a leader for the younger players in the locker room, and one he’s gladly leaned into.

“It’s really cool just them reaching out and knowing that they trust you and your opinion,” Conley said. “So I’m always trying to pull them aside and teach them one or two things that can help them develop a little bit faster.”

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In Twilight Years, Conley Enjoying Veteran Role