Utah Jazz Guard Mike Conley faces Game 1 of the team’s second round of NBA basketball playoff series against the Los Angeles Clippers in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, June 8, 2021. Conley suffered a minor hamstring strain in Game 5 against the Grizzlies and was excluded from Tuesday night’s game. (Rick Bowmer, Associated Press)
SALT LAKE CITY – It didn’t take Joe Ingles long to bring up the free agency issue with Mike Conley
“I’ve already talked about it a bit over (Friday) night, hoping that I could get some answers from him,” Ingles said.
Given that Friday night was the same night the jazz season ended, it’s no surprise that Conley didn’t have many answers. But Conley won’t be the only one making a choice. Jazz will also have to decide whether it is worth keeping the guard, who turns 34 at the start of the season, or whether there are other options.
Does Conley want to come back? And if so, can jazz even afford it? These are the questions that will shape Utah’s offseason.
“Of course you know how I feel for our team, the city and the fans,” said Conley on Saturday. “It’s been a wonderful two years. Definitely two years up and down, but wonderful – no matter how it ended last night. Free agency is free agency; it’s the business we live in. It’s something I have to sit back and think about with my family and, when the time comes, make the decision that is best for us and me. “
Conley’s first season was far from perfect, but since jazz returned from the Orlando bubble, he’s been playing at an all-star level – evidenced by his first all-star selection this season. But while the Jazz were at their best with Conley, he also missed 45 games, including the top five in the second-round loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, with a right hamstring injury. All of this makes for some tough decisions that both sides have to make.
Situation of the upper salary limit
Any conversation about the return of Conley must begin here.
The Jazz has done a lot of work over the past off-season: they gave both Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell monster extensions, re-signed Jordan Clarkson, and brought back Derrick Favors on a multi-year deal. But because of all of these deals, the Jazz have little to no flexibility other than a few major core changes.
The Jazz have promised nine players just under $ 129 million for the next season – well above the planned salary cap of $ 112 million and just under $ 7 million below the luxury tax.
That means there is nothing the Jazz can do to replace Conley other than the draft (they’re number 30) and a $ 5.9 million exemption for middle-class taxpayers. You will have a hard time finding an all-star caliber player.
The Conley Cost
Conley will command significantly less than the $ 34 million he made last season, but should still be on a contract of around $ 20 million a year. While the Jazz have no room for the cap, they are allowed to cross the cap to sign their own free agents, but doing so comes with a heavy tax bill.
New owner Ryan Smith has made it clear he’s ready to pay the luxury tax, but bringing Conley back could mean hooking him for an additional $ 40 million – all for a team that just got knocked out in the second round. That could make him pause.
“He has made a huge financial commitment this off-season, and the next season is always in the multi-year planning,” said Jazz boss Dennis Lindsey.
The good news is that not many teams need a skilled point guard and fewer who have the space to sign one (the Miami Heat and New York Knicks make up the list), so at least the jazz shouldn’t have to worry worrying about paying too much to keep.
“He’s got to check his market,” said Lindsey. “We have to be convened, and as soon as it’s legal, we’ll have talks with free agents. … We’re just going to have a really honest conversation and see if a marriage works, but we couldn’t be more proud of him.
“I can speak for Ryan Smith in that regard, he really appreciated Mike trying to (play in game 6).”
Does Conley want to stay?
Conley said his # 1 goal, unsurprisingly, was to win a title. And despite a disappointing year-end, he would have a hard time finding a team to sign with that would be in a better position than jazz.
Maybe it will help the heat regain its bubble shape for 2020? Or maybe he could take the Knicks to the next level? Or maybe the Dallas Mavericks will sign him to work with Luka Doncic to create an all-star tandem line of protection that will push them to the forefront of the west?
But going back with the team that ended on the best record is not a bad option to pursue championship aspirations.
“I had a great time here and great experiences, coach and coach Quin and the players and Don and Rudy and everyone,” said Conley. “We’ll just see what happens. Of course I can’t see into the future and what exactly will happen. This is my first time as a real free agent. So it’s going to be interesting, but I loved it here and we’ll” see what happens.”
Cost aside, does jazz want it back?
Conley’s season ended on a bitter note as he had to sit out for most of the Clippers second round loss, but he was an All-Star. There will obviously be some concerns about Conley’s health, but given the cap situation, it’s likely a pretty straightforward decision for anyone who doesn’t sign the checks: bring the point guard back.
“From our point of view, who he is, what he stands for, the speed, the skill, the experience, the intelligence, the character and the poise he adds to the group are all we pinch ourselves,” said Lindsey. “It’s an honor to have him on the program.”
Said Ingles: I’ll do whatever I can – whether I have to give him FaceTime or fly to his mansion in Ohio and have lunch with him or something – whatever it is, I’ll try. I think everyone saw the impact they had on our group on and off the pitch. “
Coach Quin Snyder said: “He’s not only a great player, he’s also one of the best people I’ve ever been with on a daily basis.”
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