To me, trading Kyrie Irving for Mike Conley seems like a no-brainer for all parties involved. The Grizzlies get a superstar who is nationally recognized, would put fans in seats, and is an absolute gamechanger on the court. The Cavaliers get a guy in Mike Conley who can help them win a championship immediately, and hopefully convince Lebron James to resign in Cleveland. Conley is a better floor general than Irving, and is known for making the players around him better, which could make him a better fit in Cleveland than Irving has been in the past.
While Conley would hate to leave Memphis, going to Cleveland would give him a chance to make the NBA Finals, a dream that seems out of the realm of possibility in Memphis. Playing alongside Lebron would lead to heightened national recognition for his skills and talents, which he has to be craving at this point in his career, although he would never admit it. Throughout his career, Conley has been labeled as the “most underrated PG in the NBA”. This title would immediately be gone as he would constantly be the topic of conversation on ESPN and NBA TV every night while playing alongside Lebron. From Irving’s perspective, this trade should give him what he has been wanting. He would be the “go-to guy” in Memphis, but still be on a team that is built to compete for a playoff spot as presently constructed. He could shoot at a higher volume than with the Cavaliers and probably still average 30 pts and 6 assists like he has without Lebron on the court.
Irving was previously reported as saying he would prefer to be traded to the Spurs, Knicks, Heat, or Timberwolves. The Spurs do not seem likely to give up what would be needed to land Irving. The Timberwolves just signed Jeff Teague and appear to be too messy of a trade partner for this to work. The other two could work but do not have the roster built for as much immediate success for Kyrie as the Grizzlies do. Reportedly, the Suns appear to be the most likely landing spot for Irving, although supposedly these trade offers from Cleveland have included Eric Bledsoe and Josh Jackson, the #4 pick in the draft and a guy the Suns are very hesitant to trade. A deal with the Suns not including Jackson makes this trade less appealing in my eyes than a trade for Conley would be.
However, it all depends on the outlook of both teams. Do the Cavaliers believe they will be able to resign Lebron, or will he opt out after this season? If they are preparing for life after Lebron, this trade with Memphis makes no sense. Cleveland would be much more interested in bringing in young talent and trying to build a deep, young team for the future without Lebron. If they believe they can resign Lebron, trading for Conley makes more sense. Conley is signed for four more years and would keep the Cavaliers as the team to beat in the East.
For the Grizzlies, there are a lot of factors at play here. A major faction of the fan base would be angry with this trade at least for a while. Conley is beloved in Memphis and has been part of a team that has made seven straight playoff appearances. However, this team is stuck in the worst possible spot for an NBA team. Mediocrity. They are just good enough to compete for a 6-8 seed in the Western Conference, but definitely not good enough to beat any of the top tier teams in the conference. They aren’t bad enough to get the high draft picks needed to effectively rebuild either and have a terrible history of finding value through the draft anyways. Trading for Irving would bring excitement to a team that is slowly losing interest and relevancy and can do little to stop the bleeding. Irving is signed for three years instead of Conley who is signed for four. The Grizzlies would love to sign Irving again after this deal, but should it not happen, is it really that bad? The Grizzlies would finally have freed up some cap space and would be able to begin to rebuild in a time in the NBA where there are less than 5 teams that can legitimately win a championship, making it the best time to be rebuilding. At some point, the Grizzlies are going to have to get really bad before they can get better, so why not bring in Kyrie Irving for a few years to make it entertaining in the meantime?
A minor hiccup in this trade is the salaries of both players. Irving makes $18 million per year, while Conley makes $28 million. Both teams have little financial flexibility, so the salaries exchanged would have to virtually equivalent. So, a player such as Channing Frye, or more likely Iman Shumpert would have to be included for this trade to work. With the Grizzlies already signing Tyreke Evans and Ben McLemore this offseason, along with having Troy Daniels and Wayne Selden already on the roster, the Grizzlies would have little need for Shumpert. So, either a third team would need to get involved, or the Grizzlies would either waive Shumpert or immediately start looking for another trade partner for him. As you can see from the ESPN Trade Machine below, this trade keeps both team relatively equal in terms of wins and losses. But, it does present a small problem in terms of cap room for the Grizzlies, which is why Shumpert would most likely never dress out for the Memphis Grizzlies should this trade happen.
The last question that needs to be answered in this situation is if a trade were to go through, would the Grizzlies retire Mike Conley’s number? The Grizzlies recently decided to retire Zach Randolph’s number after eight solid years and seven consecutive playoff appearances during his time with the Grizzlies. Conley has been with the Grizzlies for ten seasons, including those seven playoff appearances. An argument can be made for either player having a greater contribution during those playoff seasons, but all in all, they were of relatively equal importance. Conley meant just as much to the Memphis community as did Zach Randolph, so I do not see how you can retire one’s number without the other. However, this does raise an interesting question of where do you draw the line with retiring numbers? Gasol has been with the Grizzles for eight years, and Allen for seven. Both have been around for all the great moments in recent Grizzlies history, but is it legitimate to retire four players number from one team from an era where no championships were won? No way. But how do you distinguish the level of importance of each player when realistically the Grizzlies could not have accomplished what they have without any of them?
This trade is a win-win for both organizations and needs to happen. The Cavaliers get a player in Conley who can help them compete for championships for years to come as long as Lebron sticks around. The Grizzlies need to face the writing on the wall and begin to move in a different direction. Z-Bo is gone, Tony is most likely gone too. The Grit-N-Grind era is over. Irving makes this team much more exciting and should the Grizzlies in playoff contention. He frees up salary cap room quicker and makes this team younger and gives them a legitimate superstar, something that has been lacking in Memphis since its very creation.
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