After watching his team smash its head on its playoff ceiling for the third straight season, Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey knew this team needed a third star to pair with Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert, preferably at the point guard spot.
Mike Conley checks both boxes, and comes at the perfect time with the Warriors vulnerable and the league feeling wide open for the first time in a decade.
The Jazz had two options to address their big need for an upgrade: on the trade market or in free agency. This deal essentially punts on Utah’s free agency plans, since Conley will earn $32.5 million next season and has a $34.5 million early termination option for 2020-21.
However, bypassing free agency is hardly an issue given the two-way talent Utah is adding to its ranks. The Jazz were already one of the NBA’s stingiest defenses last year, ranking second in defensive rating, and while Conley has lost a step on that end compared to his prime, he’ll still be a stalwart on a team with more serious playoff aspirations.
He’ll also be a boon on the offensive end, where the Jazz needed the most help last season as the NBA’s 14th-ranked offense. Last season, Conley averaged a career-high 21.1 points, 6.4 assists, 3.4 rebounds and 1.3 steals per game.
He shot a competent 36.4 percent from 3-point range on 6.1 attempts per game and should take a ton of pressure off Mitchell in the backcourt … as long as he can remain healthy.
Therein lies the biggest potential flaw with Mike Conley: Between his age, injury history and hefty contract figure, there’s a very real scenario where he’s too banged up to make an impact and winds up bogging down Utah’s flexibility to make moves to adjust.
Conley will turn 32 before the start of the upcoming season and over the last five years, he’s missed 12, 70, 13, 26 and 12 games, respectively.
With that being said, Conley has long been one of the NBA’s most underrated players, and assuming he can give the Jazz around 70 games and stay on the court for their inevitable playoff run, this is a huge acquisition addressing several areas of need.
Even better, Utah didn’t have to give up Derrick Favors in the exchange, giving them a terrific starting five of Conley, Mitchell, Joe Ingles, Favors and Gobert. They shed some depth in the process, but Allen hardly looked like a potential difference-maker for next season in his limited minutes, and Crowder and Korver were both expendable with this kind of upgrade in mind.
The Jazz will now need to round out their bench, and could regret the way the protections are structured for that 2020 first round pick if it winds up conveying in the highly anticipated 2022 “double draft.” But with the West wide open, Utah’s window burst open. This on-the-rise team was wise to jump through it by adding Mike Conley to a playoff-ready roster.