Mike Conley and Donovan Mitchell, the Utah Jazz’s new and vaunted backcourt, want to hit the ground running when the two take the court together come October.
So while the trade bringing Conley to Utah hasn’t even been completed yet — it won’t be until at least July 6, when the NBA’s moratorium ends — the work between the two star guards has already begun in earnest.
This week, they worked out together with NBA skills development trainer Chris Johnson in Los Angeles. The two guards took turns weaving through pop-up defenders, chaining dribble moves together to get to the rim. Mitchell might connect a spin move with a split-step in the paint, while Conley might try out a spin move one way before spinning back the other way. Later, Mitchell would assist Conley as the two worked on pull-up threes, the kind the two might connect on during fastbreaks next season.
“The competitive nature of him in the summer time is what you look out for. I got to work out with him, to see his mindset and to see him not cut any corners: asking for another rep, asking questions,” Conley said about his new backcourt mate Mitchell. “Everything that he showed me when we worked out is what I heard, and what I expected, from a star player like him. You can’t really understand it until you get around him.”
Conley was also in L.A. to win two of the league’s NBA Awards handed out Monday night: the Twyman-Stokes Teammate of the Year award and the NBA’s Sportsmanship Award. Conley received votes from 238 out of 383 possible NBA players in order to win the former. The latter asked players to rank Conley among six of the league’s best citizens, and over 73% of players voted Conley in the top three. He’s never received a technical in his NBA career save for one that was rescinded by the league the next day.
When former teammate Marc Gasol won the championship with Toronto, he made sure to bring Conley in on the experience, FaceTiming him during the celebrations.
“It was like watching your son or daughter do something, you’re just so proud,” Conley said. “You wanted it so bad for them.”
That Gasol’s trade at the deadline came earlier than Conley’s did wasn’t necessarily easy for the point guard, though. “I think there was a lot of stress, even if I didn’t feel it, it was still there subconsciously the last six months or so, even the last year,” Conley said. “Just happy that it’s all over and I can finally go in a direction confidently and know what’s going to happen and where I’m going to be.”
Conley knew the Jazz were interested at the deadline, of course; that was splattered all over the media. He knew a deal before the draft was possible. On the night of Tuesday, June 18, he received word from the Grizzlies that the Jazz were “being aggressive” about acquiring Conley, and he figured he’d receive word of a trade on draft day. Instead, it came sooner: the next morning while he was on a flight back to his mother’s house in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Conley didn’t know until he got off the plane.
“You try to prepare yourself for that moment, but you really don’t know how you’re going to react to it,” he said. “Once it happened, you know, you just reflect on all the memories. Memphis, I was there for 12 years, and it was a great 12 years, and I’m going to miss that city a lot.”
He got home, and wanted to send a message to his former and future friends. That’s when he sent out his first tweet, the one that included the “city of Utah” line. “It was an honest mistake! I was rushing when I was typing it, I was in a place where I couldn’t use my phone,” he said. "It’ll be my last turnover, I promise.”
After an entire career spent in Memphis, that Conley’s leaving one set of teammates wholesale, and getting another group is a little new to him. But after researching the community and team he’s moving into, Conley says he’s not particularly worried about the fit.
“Honestly, I don’t think it’s anything I will have to try to do; I think it’s my personality. It’s who I am. Already the whole organization, the Utah Jazz, they do so much in the community that I will just fit right in,” Conley said. “I want to fit in seamless and be that player that everybody is used to being around in the city.”
But the basketball is the priority: the reason Conley’s even excited about moving to a new place after all of these years in Memphis. He thinks it’s a roster that, like Gasol’s, can win an NBA championship.
“It’s a very well constructed roster with great guys, coaching, and the whole way it meshes I think is perfect. The system there is perfect,” Conley said. “We have young talent in Donovan and Rudy, and we have some great vets there, and a lot of young guys that have already done great things like Royce O’Neale and Dante Exum who are still going to improve a lot more. We’re excited. I’m very excited to get a new challenge, a new opportunity, and a new home.”
“It was one of the first things I thought about: I’m so glad I don’t have to play Rudy or Donovan ever again,” Conley said.
Well, only in practice.