With the Golden State Warriors‘ defeat in the NBA Finals at the hands of the Toronto Raptors, in large part due to major injuries to Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson, their dynasty has been toppled. And with Durant out for next season, and Thompson set to miss a majority of it, the Western Conference is once again wide open.
Sensing their opportunity to finally break through in the West, the Utah Jazz became the latest team to bolster their roster on Wednesday, for veteran point guard Mike Conley. In exchange, the Jazz sent Grayson Allen, Kyle Korver, Jae Crowder and two first-round picks to the Memphis Grizzlies.
There is still plenty of action to come both in the draft and in free agency, but at least for now, SportsLine’s projections have the move vaulting the Jazz from the No. 7 seed in the West to the No. 2 seed, and increasing their chances of winning the conference by over 10 percent. This deal may not be a blockbuster in terms of starpower, but it could be more impactful than most moves that go down this summer.
Here are the trade grades for each team.
- Two first-round picks, including No. 23 overall in 2019
Utah trade grade: A
The Jazz have been quite successful in the regular season recently, winning at least 48 games in each of the past three seasons. They haven’t been able to translate that success into the playoffs, however, where it quickly becomes clear that they’re overmatched against the elite teams.
But heading into next season, the two teams that have knocked them out in each of the past three postseasons, the Warriors and Houston Rockets, are in disarray. Meanwhile, the only other team to emerge as a contender, the Los Angeles Lakers, have just three meaningful players on their roster (LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Kyle Kuzma), and plenty of work to do to build out a supporting cast.
While there’s still plenty of change to come this summer, the West looks wide open, and the Jazz were in as good of a position as anyone to jump into contention with one big move, and that’s exactly what they’ve done by dealing for Conley.
The veteran point guard will slide right into the team’s starting lineup, where he’s not only an upgrade over Ricky Rubio, but a better fit. A strong defender, he’ll help maintain, and possibly even boost one of the best units on that side of the ball, while also improving their offense in a big way. So much of the Jazz’s struggles in the playoffs have revolved around not being able to find enough scoring, and Conley will be a big help in rectifying that problem.
Conley is another player who can create his own shot, scoring over 60 percent of his field goals unassisted last season, which is vital for a Jazz team short on shot creators. In addition, he’ll be a much bigger threat playing off the ball than Rubio was. Though not an elite shooter, he’s made 37.5 percent of his 3-point attempts for his career, and shot just under 40 percent on catch-and-shoot 3s last season. Opposing defenses won’t be able to ignore Conley around the perimeter and clog the paint to the extent that they could when Rubio was on the floor. That alone will make life much easier for the Jazz on offense.
Plus, the best part of the deal for the Jazz is they didn’t have to give up much to get him. Allen doesn’t appear to be any sort of high-end prospect, Korver is nearing the end of his career and Crowder is a replaceable wing. Plus, if things work out the way they hope, those draft picks will be late in the first round.
The window to getting out of the West is as open as it’s going to be for the next few seasons, and credit to the Jazz for trying to go for it.
Memphis trade grade: C
As a small-market franchise, the Grizzlies made the decision to hold on to their longtime stars, Marc Gasol and Mike Conley, for as long as possible to try and stay competitive. That was a reasonable decision, and though things fell apart the last few seasons, they had as good of a run as they could have expected over the past decade or so.
The consequence for holding onto Gasol and Conley for that long was that when they finally decided to trade them, their value had diminished to the point that they could no longer command any sort of major return. We saw that with the Gasol deal to the Toronto Raptors, and we’re seeing it again with the Conley trade.
This isn’t a disaster or anything; the Grizzlies didn’t get swindled, this is just a reflection of where Conley’s value is at now. He’s soon to be 32, on a huge contract and recently missed nearly an entire season due to injury. So, in return for him they got one middling prospect, some salary filler and a few late first-round picks. They probably weren’t going to be able to do any better than that at this point.
Allen is worth a look, but he’s about to be 24 and didn’t look all that great in his rookie season. If they aren’t able to flip Korver for some additional draft assets, they may just buy him out. Crowder is a hard worker and will be a good veteran to have around, and they may be able to flip him at some point to a contender looking to bolster their team ahead of the playoffs. And as a rebuilding team, getting additional first-round picks is never a bad thing.
With Conley gone, the Grizzlies are in full-on rebuild mode, and are expected to take Ja Morant to replace him as the team’s point guard of the future. In Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr., their first-round pick from last season, the Grizzlies look like they might have the first components of a bright future. Still, there’s a long road and plenty of hard work in front of them before they reach the heights that Conley and Co. took the Grizzlies.