Grit and Grind is gone.
The (relative) glory years in Memphis were already in the rear view mirror, but with yesterday’s report that the front office is now willing to listen to trade offers for cornerstones Mike Conley and Marc Gasol we have confirmation. The Grizzlies are tanking.
It’s an admittedly slim one, but the situation does present an opportunity for Orlando. Desperate to break the playoff drought that stretches back to Dwight, any move that would shift the team into a position of relative strength in the playoff chase is one the front office is likely to give some thought to. Point guard has been a long and obvious need for the team, and here we have a very good one hitting the market. Conley hasn’t ever been an All-Star or made an All-NBA team, but that says more about the quality of play in the league (and Western Conference) than it does his ability. He’s a high-tier point.
So the question now is whether or not it behooves the Magic to try and make a move for the 31-year old veteran playmaker. His acquisition would undoubtedly be a gamble, as Conley is due a lot of money in the years to come and is possessed of a worrying injury history. It’s frighteningly easy to envision a future in which he comes to Florida but barely sees the court, his absence sinking the team in the standings while his contract sinks the team in their efforts to add talent in free agency or via trade.
Yet, Conley is good enough that it’s also easy to envision a future in which his presence in pinstripes propels the Magic into the playoffs both this year and in the seasons to come. He’s currently pouring in almost 20 points a game, is a reliable distributor, shoots from range effectively, and remains a defensive irritant. He would be an immediate upgrade at the position, a talent injection, and a galvanizing leadership force. His playmaking would undoubtedly create better looks for young wings like Aaron Gordon and Jonathan Isaac, while also easing the playmaking burden felt by Nikola Vucevic and Evan Fournier. Also, for the first time in a long time, Orlando would have depth at one of the league’s most important positions.
Conley has the potential to turn the Magic into something they haven’t been for a long time now: winners.
If the Magic are indeed determined to win now -- and it appears that management certainly is -- this is the type of all-in move that could create the improvement necessary for a playoff push. It would signify an abandonment of the rebuild, while almost certainly creating for Orlando a ceiling of ‘good but not great’. Again, for a team desperate to just reach the postseason this might be enough.
So while the theoretical on-court fit might look okay, do the Magic even have the assets necessary to bring a deal like this to fruition? Honestly, the answer is ‘err … probably not.’ Much of this is going to depend on Memphis’ desperation.
Mozgov/Simmons/Grant. This would be scorched-earth for Memphis. Ignore the players, it would be about the savings/cap relief.— Orlando Pinstriped Post (@OPPMagicBlog) January 23, 2019
Renounce Grant, waive Simmons (save $5million), Mozgov expires in 2020. Save over 40 million dollars over two seasons in the deal.
In this scenario the Grizzlies are building for the future, which means their primary interest is young players and draft picks; veterans with big contracts are only there to balance the books. This, of course, is where the Magic stumble. Outside of Isaac and Mo Bamba the team doesn’t really have much on the current roster to kick-start the conversation. One would have to imagine that a lot hinges on what other teams are offering.
But, for the sake of discussion, let’s assume Memphis likes the potential of either Isaac or Bamba and can envision them growing alongside their current gem, Jaren Jackson Jr. To make the money work any theoretical deal likely also includes Timofey Mozgov and Jonathon Simmons. Isaac or Bamba alone probably won’t be enough to get them to bite, so this is where future firsts start getting thrown into the equation? The Grizzlies would undoubtedly push for a later conveyance date (like, say, 2021), but would Orlando’s protected 2019 first move the needle? Does the OKC pick hold some relevant value?
Conley would be a massive get for the Magic, but one that doesn’t come without disclaimers. Such a move would be somewhat short-sighted, eerily reminiscent of past management mistakes, and awash in risk this year and beyond. Despite all this, the upside is real. The path forward crystallizes. Add Conley, hold onto Terrence Ross, re-sign Vucevic in the offseason, battle it out for the fifth-through-eighth seed for the next three seasons.
Is that good enough? Is it even possible?
With the trade deadline rolling around on February 7, we might have an answer sooner rather than later.