Clarkson, Kessler, Hardy Discuss Emotional Conley Trade

Feb 8, 2023, 11:05 PM | Updated: Feb 9, 2023, 10:46 am

SALT LAKE CITY – The Utah Jazz shipped out four players including veteran Mike Conley on Wednesday and the reverberations were felt both on the floor and in the locker room after the trade.

The Jazz were crushed 141-118 by the shorthanded Timberwolves on the court and clearly subdued in the locker room after the loss.

Conley, the longest-tenured member of the Jazz and the lone holdover from last year’s starting lineup has been the team’s key decision-maker on the floor and the emotional leader off it.

“He’s an unbelievable pro, he’s very steady in his approach and his mindset every single day, and he’s a great sounding board for me,” Jazz coach Will Hardy said of Conley.

The veteran appeared in 213 games for the Jazz and made three trips to the Western Conference Playoffs. He averaged 13.9 points in Utah to go with 5.7 assists in 29 minutes per game while shooting 42 percent from the floor and 39 percent from three.

Beyond his steady play on the court, his Jazz teammates praised him as a person.

“The guy was like Yoda, honestly,” Jordan Clarkson said. “He has so many stories and had such a very enlightened part about him that you just listened to him.”

Conley entered the season as the team’s most proven player and was tasked with bridging the gap between last year’s playoff roster and this year’s rebuilding unit.

After Lauri Markkanen’s hot start to the season, Conley gracefully acquiesced his role as the face of the team to the up-and-coming Finnish forward.

“It was a pleasure to play with him as part of the NBA,” Markkanen said, “but just off the court [it was] great talking to him, being next to him locker room, spending time kind of picking his brain — [he’s] the best guy around.”

Conley began his career in Memphis playing alongside forward Rudy Gay who signed with the Jazz in part because of a chance to rejoin his former teammate.

Gay, a well-traveled veteran in his own right discussed the difficulty Conley, his wife Mary, and their three children face after the trade.

“It’s definitely tough, but it’s something we sign up for and it’s part of the league,” Gay acknowledged. That’s more of what we’re worried about, these people as people. Mike is somebody I’ve known going on for 20 years, I know it’s hard for him to move his family.”

Perhaps no player on the team has benefited more from Conley than rookie Walker Kessler who found quick chemistry with the veteran guard.

Kessler, who has been traded twice already in his young career, explained how hard it was to say goodbye to multiple teammates in-season.

“I’m a very empathetic person so you just kind of feel for them,” Kessler said. “Once again, I’m not calling anyone out or saying anything was done wrong because it’s part of the business but it’s definitely a hard thing to go through.”

Hardy, also in his first year with the Jazz praised Conley as a confidant and trustworthy leader for the team.

“He has been somebody that you can count on in terms of not only an understanding of what’s going on in the game but an understanding of where we are in the season and what the team needs,” Hardy said.

The Jazz will now have to figure out what life looks like without Conley over the final 26 games of the season.

After Wednesday’s loss, the Jazz sit in the 10th seed in the West but are tied with the 11th and 12th-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder and Portland Trail Blazers and have a daunting four-game road trip beginning Friday.

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Clarkson, Kessler, Hardy Discuss Emotional Conley Trade