Mike Conley would be worth it to the Indiana Pacers

Mike Conley and Jrue Holiday (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
Mike Conley and Jrue Holiday (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images) /

Everyone knows the reasons the Indiana Pacers should not trade for Mike Conley. I’m here to tell you why the Pacers absolutely should do it.

$67 million dollars over 2 years. 32 years-old in early October. Only 6’1 and 175 pounds. Has had seasons of 56 games and 12 games in the last 4 years. We’ve heard it all. Mike Conley has certainly heard it all. He’s the 5th highest paid point guard in the entire NBA.

The Grizzlies flirted with trading “Money Mike” (thanks Basketball Reference) last year at the deadline, but the price was said to be prohibitively high.

However, Marc Gasol was indeed traded, and the Grizzlies are ready to bury the Grit and Grind teams Memphis so dearly loved and start their rebuild in earnest. They will almost certainly move on from Conley either before the season or at the deadline.

Despite the aforementioned issues, the Pacers should make a push to return Conley to the 317.

Why the Pacers should trade for Mike Conley

Let’s get this out of the way – Conley will almost certainly not be worth $67 million over the next two seasons. It’s not an overpay in the 2016 center frenzy way — Bismack Biyombo, Joakim Noah, Timofey Mozgov, and Ian Mahinmi’s contracts will live on in infamy because none of them have been particularly good players. That’s point number one, and one that gets lost in the “bad deal” shuffle: Mike Conley is a really good basketball player.

Conley averaged a career-high 21 points per contest last year for a moribund Memphis team featuring not very many players who needed to be guarded. Despite being Memphis’ number one option for much of the year (and not really being a score-first kind of guy), Conley also had the second most efficient season of his career.

Even better news for a prospective buyer — his most efficient year (and second highest scoring year) was just 2 years back. With the exception of the injury-marred 2017-18 year, he’s only getting better on offense as he ages.

While Conley is overpaid, he’d be paired with a shooting guard in Victor Oladipo who is certainly underpaid now. Oladipo is probably a $25-30 million player if he returns to the guy he was in his first year with the team. Conley might only be worth ~20 million as is, but with Vic being underpaid, their contracts about even out to what they’d be worth as a starting backcourt.

Obviously overpaying a player isn’t optimal, but there are 4 critical pieces of this to remember.

One, the Pacers have trouble getting free agents to even take their money. Their biggest free agent signing in history is David West, and there’s not even a close second. There are really only two avenues to obtaining All-Stars for the blue and gold. They either trade for them or draft them.

Secondly, it’s just as important that Mike Conley’s contract expires at the same time as Victor Oladipo’s. When it’s time to pay Vic, Mike Conley’s monster contract will come off the books. For two seasons, the Pacers would operate as an over the cap team, but would realistically have to go a bit wild to even approach the tax.

There are even tertiary benefits that go along with this! Being over the cap allows the Pacers the use of the full mid-level exception (MLE), which will likely be a bit over $9 million, and can be up to 4 years. Compared to the room mid-level for under the cap teams (approximately $5 million), this option opens up a ton of possibilities for the Pacers.

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Many good players wind up taking the MLE, and this would be a great opportunity for the Pacers to grab a really solid rotation piece. Even after this, the Pacers would likely be able to sign one of the Bojan Bogdanovic/Thad Young/Darren Collison (please no) trio using their bird rights.

Third, Mike Conley is just a Pacers guy. Even without the Indiana connection (begrudging shout out to Lawrence North from a Perry Meridian graduate), Conley plays like a Pacer.

He always plays hard, is unselfish, and works on defense. Like many incoming Pacers, he’s not coming in as an All-Defense team type defender, but the Pacers turn bad defenders reasonable, and reasonable defenders good.

Conley is not a bad defender by any means, and could very possibly look downright good next to a defender like Oladipo. Even if he stays at a middling level, he gets steals, he plays hard, and he plays smart. He’s a Pacers guy to the core.

Lastly, and this one’s easy: Vic can’t do it alone. He’ll get better at dealing with double teams and traps. The strategy the Cleveland LeBrons used to beat him in the playoffs won’t work for long. Oladipo is too smart and skilled.

However, he’s still going to need help. Money Mike may not be a $30+ million dollar player at this stage in his career, but he’s still like an Eastern Conference All-Star and a great fit next to Oladipo in the backcourt. He’s a proven playoff performer and would raise both the floor and the ceiling of this iteration of the Pacers.

It all depends on what Memphis wants in return, of course. It’s impossible for us to gauge that from the outside. However, if they’re looking to recoup draft picks and rebuild, the Pacers could build an enticing package centered around a young piece and this year’s first-round pick while also offering Memphis salary relief. In this instance, the trade would be far more likely to happen before the NBA draft.

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A pick that “could be anybody” is often times immensely more valuable than a pick already made by another team. Time is likely of the essence for this trade to satisfy the Grizzlies. If they do get it done — a Pacers team starting Mike Conley, Victor Oladipo, Bojan Bogdanovic, and Myles Turner would be dangerous and unpleasant to play against, and I’d bet that’s Dan Burke’s favorite kind of team.