Ask Memphis Grizzlies fans what the teamâ€™s most important goal for the offseason should be, and the majority will likely give you one common answer â€” re-sign Mike Conley.
The Grizzly veteran has played all nine of his NBA seasons in Memphis and has blossomed into a top-10 point guard in the league, so it seems like a no-brainer that the team should do everything in their power to bring him back, but itâ€™s not quite that simple. While Conley is certainly an excellent basketball player, there are multiple factors that could put the Grizzlies in a tough spot within a few years, if he signs back on with the team.
First is the issue of the contract. The expectation is Conley will be offered a maximum contract, or something close to it. Per the NBAâ€™s collective bargaining agreement, the Grizzlies are allowed to offer an extra year and more money than any other team, potentially putting the max in the range of $125 million over five years, or about $25 million per season.
The NBAâ€™s salary cap is expected to take a massive jump next season. The official number isnâ€™t yet known, but on April 17, 2015, Draft Expressâ€™ Jonathan Givony tweeted the projections sent out to NBA teams, which had the cap for the 2016-17 season at $89 million. If Conley is given a max contract, he and center Marc Gasol will take up about half of the teamâ€™s available cap space, severely limiting teamâ€™s ability to bring in free agents.
The Grizzlies are already an old team that isnâ€™t getting any younger, and if Conley and Gasol are hogging all the cap space, it would take a few unexpected happenings for Memphis to avoid being stuck in the middle of the Western Conference, earning around a 6-8 seed each season â€” too good to land useful draft picks but not good enough to truly contend.
Further, in recent years, Conley has developed a concerning injury history, and heâ€™s missing more and more games every year. In the 2012-13 season in which Memphis made the Western Conference Finals, Conley was able to play 80 of 82 games, but that number has continued to dwindle â€” 73 games the following year, 70 the year after and 56 this season.
Even more concerning is that most of the injuries have been to the same area of the body. Conleyâ€™s feet and ankles have repeatedly taken a beating, with minor sprains and nagging injuries stacking up. This season, an Achilles injury in March kept Conley out for the duration of the season.
Prior to that injury, Conley was posting his worst stats since the 2012-13 season. He wasnâ€™t bad by any stretch, but a line of 15.3 points and 6.1 assists on 42 percent shooting overall and 36 percent from three lags behind the numbers he was able to put up over the last two seasons. And while Conley did have injuries to deal with, this performance came in a contract year, when most players typically perform above expectations.
I donâ€™t have doubts about how good Conley is as a basketball player, but with the injuries continuing to stack up, itâ€™s a definite possibility they could cause his game to come quicker than most, and by the end of the five years, a max contract for Conley could potentially be one of the worst deals in the league if the injuries continue and start to affect him.
When itâ€™s all said and done, Memphis will most likely re-sign Mike Conley this summer. On the Chris Vernon Show last week, Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace said theyâ€™re going to bring him back, and if they throw the house at him, itâ€™s hard to imagine him taking less money to play somewhere else.
Thereâ€™s just a lot of risk in Memphis giving max money to Conley, and those risks are probably worth taking, but itâ€™s not an easy decision.