Update: The Utah Jazz have traded Grayson Allen, Kyle Korver, Jae Crowder and draft picks to Memphis for Mike Conley. This is Option 2, detailed below.
Mike Conley and the Utah Jazz are back in the news together again. Given the occasion, and the questions we’ve received, The Salt Lake Tribune thought we’d explain how a Conley deal could work. At the trade deadline, it was all a little simpler, but the schedule of the NBA’s offseason would make things a bit more complicated now.
Why are we talking about Mike Conley again?
In short, because the Jazz are. Over the weekend, The Tribune reported that “trade negotiations with the Memphis Grizzlies over point guard Mike Conley look likely to reignite..." and it appears they’ve done exactly that.
According to Shams Charania at The Athletic, “The Grizzlies are intensifying talks to potentially move franchise cornerstone Mike Conley Jr... Memphis has been in conversations with the Jazz and Utah is a frontrunner to acquire Conley should the Grizzlies trade the point guard during draft week, league sources said.” Tony Jones reported that the talks were “very serious,” but that Jazz big man Derrick Favors was not currently involved in the team’s discussions on Monday.
While the two teams weren’t able to agree on a deal in February, the Jazz still like Conley and what he’d bring to the team: scoring, shooting and tough defense.
For the Grizzlies, they’re looking to continue their rebuild. They’ll almost certainly draft Murray State point guard Ja Morant with the No. 2 pick, and it makes sense to give him minutes right away rather than continue giving them to an effective veteran that may not be part of the next good Memphis team.
How do the Jazz make the trade work?
The main reason talks are happening now is that the Jazz’s No. 23 pick would be a large part of any trade offer for Conley. There could also be other draft assets included in the trade, obviously a key piece of negotiation between the Jazz and Grizzlies. The most complicated question, though, is what else the Jazz would include.
The NBA’s salary cap system means that the Jazz have two mechanisms they can use to acquire Conley: by including at least 80% of Conley’s salary in the package they send to Memphis, or by bringing him into cap space they’d open for this purpose.
Back in February, conversations centered around Ricky Rubio as a key piece of the deal, but Rubio can no longer be traded because he is an impending free agent. Obviously, Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell are off the table.
Option No. 1 — Matching salary
Conley’s salary is $30,521,116 for the 2018-19 season, and $32,511,624 for the 2019-20 season. If the Jazz trade for him before July 1, they’ll have to trade out $24.34 million or more to make the deal work. If they trade for him after July 1, they’ll have to trade out $25.93 million or more. Here’s the Jazz’s current salary structure among players under contract for next season, according to Basketball Insiders:
There’s one quirk to know, though: see how the salary amounts for Favors, Kyle Korver, Raul Neto, Georges Niang, and Royce O’Neale are in red? That means their contracts are non-guaranteed for next season. Under NBA rules, only the guaranteed contract amounts count as outgoing salary. Until they are guaranteed, they count as $0 salary out (except for Kyle Korver, who is guaranteed $3.44 million no matter what.) So if the Jazz want to use those players, they’ll need to guarantee their contracts first.
How do you get to $24.3-$25.9 million going out? If you want, you can get a calculator out and see how you can complete the deal. Including a guaranteed Favors or Ingles in the deal makes the math a lot easier. Favors plus Dante Exum works, but Favors plus Jae Crowder falls just short — you’d need to add in a smaller money player like Tony Bradley. Ingles plus Exum plus one of Neto or Grayson Allen works if you complete the deal before July 1, but not after.
Without Favors or Ingles included in the deal, Memphis would have to take at least Exum, a guaranteed Korver, and Crowder. If the deal is consummated after July 1, they’d need to add in an additional small salary, like Bradley’s. Would the Jazz do a four-for-one trade? How would they fill out the roster? This path is possible, though.
Option No. 2 — acquiring Conley into the cap
Or, the Jazz could complete the trade by waiting until after July 1, opening up cap space, and then trading for Conley into the space they have under the cap. As The Tribune reported in April, here are the approximate cap space amounts the Jazz would have under each of the following scenarios:
Without Rubio: $13.8 million
Without Rubio and Favors: $31.4 million
Without Rubio, Favors, and Korver: $34.5 million
Without Rubio, Favors, Korver and Neto: $36.7 million
I’ll also note that stretching Korver’s contract over three years — a relatively obscure elective in the CBA — would mean only $1.15 million of his contract would count against the cap in 2019-20, rather than $3.44 million if they waived him or $7.5 million if they keep him.
The Jazz could renounce Rubio’s rights, waive Favors and Korver, and have enough to acquire Conley for just the pick, nothing else. Or, they can trade away some players’ salary ballast in order to make up the difference.
So, for example, the Jazz could use the $13.8 million in cap space they have by only losing Rubio, then trade away an additional $20 million or so in salary to have room to get Conley. Or, they can waive other players to gain more cap space, then they’d have to trade even less.
That might be a path to keeping Favors, and perhaps even Exum. Here’s one path that does both, for example: the Jazz could waive Neto, waive and stretch Korver, and then trade Crowder, Allen, and the No. 23 pick for Conley. It fits — just barely. Such a deal would also give Memphis a pick, a young player, and an asset in Crowder they can either play or forward to a contending team later.
What could the Jazz do in free agency if they get Conley?
Under either Option No. 1 or Option No. 2, the Jazz won’t have enough salary room to acquire another marquee free agent or big salary piece. If the Jazz get Conley, that means no Kemba Walker, Tobias Harris, D’Angelo Russell, etc.
In either scenario, the Jazz will have a mid-level exception available to them.
But if they choose Option No. 1, the mid-level exception available is far bigger. The cap MLE starts at about $9.2 million, and the Jazz could presumably get a pretty decent role player with that chunk of change. They’d also have the bi-annual exception available: about $3.6 million, it can be used once every two years. If they use Option No. 2 and go under the cap to get Conley, though, the room MLE is only $4.7 million. That gets a bench player.
They’d also be able to sign players to the minimum salary in either case.
Is a Mike Conley trade going to happen?
It’s certainly a possibility. Such a trade would guarantee the Jazz were able to get a high quality acquisition this offseason, without relying on a big-name free agent coming to Utah. While the Jazz feel confident that they’re among the top candidates for Tobias Harris and D’Angelo Russell, it’s not a certainty that one would end up choosing the Jazz.
If a Conley trade does happen, it’s likely to be agreed to in principle in the days before Thursday’s draft, which would allow Memphis to select their preferred player at No. 23. It’s likely — though not 100% certain — that the deal would be officially completed later, though, meaning that the No. 23 pick would wear a Jazz hat on draft day. We’d spare them the interviews, though.