The Memphis Grizzlies have been widely expected to retain Mike Conley as a free agent this summer, despite interest from other teams for months. One of the only potential holdups involved what kind of money they were willing to offer Conley. Reports surfaced last week that Conley's decision could come down to whether Memphis was willing to offer him the five-year max.
Just hours after agreeing with Chandler Parsons on a max contract, the Grizzlies proved to indeed be all in on retaining their playmaker:
Memphis and Mike Conley have agreed in principle on a five-year, $153 million deal, league sources say. Finer points "nearing conclusion."— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) July 1, 2016
That $153 million will be the largest contract in the history of the NBA. That's obviously a lot for a player who has never been the best player, or even top three, at his position.
Yet, it makes a lot of sense.
The Grizzlies' advantage in talks is being the only team to be able to offer that kind of contract. Conley has been their franchise star point guard and they have billed themselves as building for the short-term future with Conley and his friend Marc Gasol. Conley's combination of game management, shooting, passing and defense means that he is not elite in any one regard to put up the kind of star performances that would identify him as a true star. But that doesn't make him less valuable, especially to Memphis.
The Grizzlies are unlikely to be able to sign any point guard of that caliber, for any amount of money, over the next 10 years. This is a deal they had to make.
This deal would be less about Conley's market worth (though other teams were willing to offer the four-year max, reportedly) and more about what he's worth to Memphis. This also represents a monster step-up for Memphis in terms of spending. The Grizzlies now have three max players on their roster if Conley agrees to the deal. They're still able to have about $8 million in cap space after those moves, so it's still unlikely they wind up in the luxury tax, but this is still a major investment for Memphis, if Conley accepts it.
The sticker shock is phenomenal, but in the end, this is the new financial reality of the NBA, where Mike Conley is worth $153 million.
Here are five things to know about Conley's mega deal:
1. This is the biggest deal in NBA history
Michael Jordan made more in a single season, but for total value, this is the most an NBA player has been paid, ever. Conley being the one to receive it is going to cause a lot of jokes and faux outrage, but it's important to keep this perspective.
Yes, the sticker shock is outrageous, but that says more about the amount of money the NBA generates and is obligated to pay the players than it does about Conley or the deal. If you're truly amazed by this, your issue is with sports economics, not at how good Conley is.
The Grizzlies had to give Conley this deal to keep him. If he doesn't stay, they likely don't get Chandler Parsons and the team is effectively facing a rebuild and having to trade Marc Gasol. Given their history both in the draft and in free agency, this would be a total disaster. Memphis' big draw, beyond the comfort and support that they've given Conley and their status as a perennial playoff team over the past six seasons, is that they could give him more money than anyone else. That meant this deal.
Conley is making roughly 33 percent of the NBA salary cap. Would you pay a third of your space for a player who is either the best or second-best player and one of the three-best players in franchise history, in his prime, at a crucial position? The number is shocking. The details make it less so.
2. Conley was worth this deal
Beyond the economics of it, Conley has been the Grizzlies' best shooter, floor leader, a phenomenal defender, and is the one that makes sure the offense works. He has no All-Star appearances to his name, yet he's the guy who Team USA wants every single year for their training camp for what he brings to the floor.
Conley isn't a dominant scorer, passer, or athlete. He's just a terrific basketball player who makes the Grizzlies the best they can be, and carries with him the highest character as well.
3. The Grizzlies have re-loaded
After everyone buried them saying that the end was nigh for this core of players, in keeping Conley, adding Chandler Parsons, and filling the cupboard with young players like Deyonta Davis and Wade Baldwin in the draft, the Grizzlies have dramatically altered their outlook. They are transitioning to a new era, but they've also kept very good players and added very good players, while also hiring a potentially great coach in Dave Fizdale.
The Grizzlies won their summer.
4. The injury bug is a concern
Conley has dealt with foot injuries over the past four seasons which have hampered him, and an Achilles soreness ended his season early this year. He's missed time, and that continues to be an issue. There's no ligament damage to suggest that this isn't something he can work through, and Conley is known for playing through pain, but it is a factor that should be considered.
5. Conley was never likely to leave Memphis
There were reports constantly of other team's interest, but never from him. He helped pitch Marc Gasol last year, he helped pitch Chandler Parsons this year, and he's talked openly about wanting to build a legacy in Memphis. GM Chris Wallace said publicly the Grizzlies have not failed in this era to re-sign their key free agents and once again they came up big.
Conley and Memphis have been a great fit, and that's going to continue for the foreseeable future.