The Memphis Grizzlies have made it known to the rest of the league that point guard Mike Conley and center Marc Gasol are available to trade for. This metaphorical waving of the white flag signals the end of the patented “Grit’n Grind” era in Memphis, a team that made the playoffs for seven consecutive seasons. Conley and Gasol out on the market were a possibility even before the season started, but this new reality brings two high-level players into the trade market. Could the Pistons use one of them?
Let’s start with Gasol. The answer is no. Andre Drummond, though he is having an up and down year, is unlikely to be supplanted by Gasol. Out of the positions of need the Pistons have, center is not one of them.
But what about Conley? Detroit has been crippled by the point guard position all season and no organic help appears to be on the horizon. Reggie Jackson’s issues have been well-documented and Ish Smith has dealt with injuries all season. Jose Calderon looks every part of 37-years-old and is no longer viable. Head coach Dwane Casey has said to The Athletic that second-year guard Luke Kennard is “the team’s second or third-best playmaker”.
Conley, who has never made an All-Star appearance in the loaded Western Conference, would be a breath of fresh air in Detroit. Here are his side-by-side per-game statistics via Basketball-Reference.
What the Pistons lack at the moment is shooting. Conley could provide that over Jackson and in a big way. While Jackson has been better at the rim this season (61.7 percent for Jackson versus 53.1 percent for Conley), outside three feet is where Conley is a big upgrade.
While Jackson is better near the rim, Conley offers upgrades all over the floor in terms of shooting. With capable shooters around him in Kennard and Reggie Bullock, plus the stretchiness of Blake Griffin, the Pistons would be able to generate more breathing room on offense. Conley is also a better distributor this season, assisting on 31.9 percent of his teammates’ field goals compared to Jackson’s 22.9 percent. Considering that the Pistons have a better roster, Conley could be the facilitator that Detroit has been hoping Jackson could have been. Defensively, Conley is also a plus. Jackson has a 109.6 defensive rating (his career-worst is 109.9) while Conley is 103.7. While not great, when considering the offensive upsides, Conley would still be a net gain. Jackson has a net rating of minus 4.3, while Conley is a plus 0.5.
Here comes the tough horse pill to swallow. Conley is expensive, earning $30.5 million this season and $32.5 million next year. In 2020-2021, Conley’s $34.5 million becomes fully guaranteed if he plays in 55 games this season or next. Breaking news: he will. Much like Griffin’s contract, Conley’s could be equally difficult to swallow. Hypothetically, Griffin and Conley could be getting a combined $69 million in 2020-2021. This is assuming that Andre Drummond does not have his option picked, which would sink the Pistons even deeper into salary hell.
The assets needed to get Conley would likely put the Pistons into win-now mode entirely, with Kennard and draft picks likely going to Memphis. While this is seemingly what team owner Tom Gores wants, some limits have to be drawn. The salary, age, and required assets to make this exchange happen are too much albeit tantalizing. Blake Griffin is having his best season as a professional and, as of now, the Pistons are wasting it. But a move cannot be made for the sake of making one.
There are other, younger potential point guards that the Pistons could go after. Most recently they looked into Dennis Smith Jr., who is much younger and offers more potential. They have so few assets compared to other teams that they must use them carefully, and for the right players. Mike Conley is a good player, but perhaps not the right player Detroit needs to be looking into.
Featured Image: Erik Williams/USA Today Sports