Mike Conley Jr. proved to be a human-highlight reel Saturday night in Memphis, carving up the Brooklyn Nets with precision passes, hesitation crossover dribbles, left-handed 3-pointers and right-handed floaters. He even took a crucial charge late in the Grizzlies' 101-91 victory, while finishing with 22 points and eight assists.
Conley is basically everything the Nets need -- which is why they seem like a virtual lock to pursue the 28-year-old point guard when he becomes an unrestricted free agent over the summer. Brooklyn has a massive need at the position, cap space to offer a max contract and a coach in Lionel Hollins who Conley has said was “like a second father almost to me.”
It makes too much sense. But it will still be a difficult sell.
Conley has spent his entire career -- eight full seasons and counting -- in Memphis. His relationship with fellow cornerstone Marc Gasol is strong, and the Grizzlies will be able to offer him an extra year and some $30 million-plus more in salary compensation based on how the CBA works (exact numbers after the national TV deal kicks in and the cap spikes as a result, pending).
Factor all of that in and the chances of him leaving seem unlikely. Nevertheless, the Nets should still try to convince him to come to Brooklyn.
If they do get a meeting in July, they should take him up to the rooftop of their brand new, state-of-the-art Brooklyn waterfront practice facility, which is slated to be completed in February, and show him the stunning views of downtown Manhattan and how it all can be his. They should tell him that playing in the Eastern Conference is a lot better than playing in the Western Conference, where he can’t even crack the All-Star team. His paths through the playoffs should conceivably be easier, too.
The Nets previously gave Deron Williams $100 million to be the face of their franchise, and it didn’t work out -- partly due to injuries and attitude. But Conley has been pretty durable, while also maintaining the reputation of being a good teammate and leader.
If the Nets are going to attract any premiere free agents -- of which there will be few -- they’re going to need to show some progress in 2015-16. Their young players need to develop. Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young need to show they were worth the massive money the Nets invested in them.
Brooklyn certainly has some good bones -- as Kevin Garnett used to say -- but the NBA has become a point guard’s league, and the Nets are in need of a difference-making point guard.
Conley fits the bill. And they are likely to pursue him -- however unlikely their chances are of actually landing him. Their will probably be other suitors too.
And yet maybe something unexpected will happen. After all, LaMarcus Aldridge was never going to leave Portland ... well ... until he actually left Portland.