Mike Conley’s not leaving. The show goes on.
The All-Star guard is set to return to the Utah Jazz for the next three seasons, after quickly agreeing to terms with the Jazz after the NBA’s free agency period opened at 4 p.m. MDT on Monday.
“Blessed to continue this journey with the [Utah Jazz],” Conley wrote to his followers on Twitter and Instagram — along with a video based on a scene from 2013′s Leonardo DiCaprio vehicle The Wolf of Wall Street.
The Athletic’s Shams Charania was first to report the deal and said the contract would pay Conley $68 million over the course of the three years, or about $22.6 million per season. A later report from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski stated the deal would be worth $72.5 million in total. That’s not an unusual discrepancy in the land of NBA contracts, where deals are reported with or without the various incentives players can earn. Exact details are likely to remain unknown to the public until Conley can officially put pen to paper on the contract once the NBA’s moratorium on August 6.
Regardless of whether Conley is making $22 million or $24 million per year, it still represents a pay decrease from the approximately $34 million per year he made the past two seasons with Utah. Nevertheless, it’s a sizable investment into the 33-year-old point guard, who helped form one of the best backcourts in the NBA last season along with the younger Donovan Mitchell.
Conley had interest from Chicago and Dallas, sources told The Tribune, but ultimately decided to stay with the Jazz given the level of the team. The Jazz owned the league’s best record last season, but faltered in the playoffs’ second round after injuries to Conley and Mitchell sapped the team of much of its effectiveness. That injury to Conley, a recurring hamstring strain that cost him time in both of his seasons with the Jazz, could still be a concern moving forward — though Conley has expressed confidence in his hamstring and the Jazz’s medical staff.
If Conley had chosen to go elsewhere, the Jazz would have struggled to replace the veteran point guard’s production. Conley made his first All-Star team in 2020-21. He averaged 16 points and six assists per game last season, and finished second in the NBA in total plus-minus, just behind teammate Rudy Gobert. Nor would the Jazz have any collective bargaining agreement-approved way of adding a starting point guard.
Speaking of which, the NBA also announced the salary cap and luxury tax levels along with the start of free agency on Monday. The NBA’s soft salary cap will be at $112.4 million dollars, while the luxury tax level will be set at $136.6 million.
With Conley’s new contract on the books, the Jazz will have a payroll of about $146 million — with four roster spots to fill. In other words, the deal confirms that the Jazz will be a luxury tax team for the 2021-22 season, just as they were for the 2020-21 season. Higher “repeater tax” penalties kick in after a team has been in the luxury tax for three out of four seasons.
Because the team is over the cap, the only amount they have at their disposal in this free agency class now is the $5.9 million per year contract represented by the taxpayer mid-level exception. The Athletic reported that the Jazz were interested in signing free agents Otto Porter or Rudy Gay with that contract, but there has been no word on their preferences. Sharpshooting power forward Georges Niang is unlikely to return. The Jazz would have to fill the other spots with minimum-contract players.
Conley’s contract, though, looked like a relative bargain next to two other big deals that were agreed to on Monday. The 36-year-old point guard Chris Paul and the Phoenix Suns came to terms on a 4-year, $120 million deal that will pay one of the best point guards in NBA history until he’s 40. And the Miami Heat were able to find a sign-and-trade deal with 35-year-old Kyle Lowry from the Toronto Raptors; he’s been paid $90 million over the course of three seasons.
Conley’s deal also represents a trend of increased success of the Jazz in retaining their free agents since the departure of Gordon Hayward in the summer of 2017. Rudy Gobert, Jordan Clarkson, Royce O’Neale, and Joe Ingles all signed new contracts or extensions that kept talent in Utah; Bojan Bogdanovic was a major new addition to the team in free agency as well.
Conley was initially acquired by trade in the summer of 2019, in a deal that cost the Jazz Jae Crowder, Kyle Korver, Grayson Allen, and two first round picks. The final pick is likely to be sent to the Grizzlies next summer in 2022, unless the pick turns out to be in the draft’s top six.
That seems unlikely, given the talent that remains on Utah’s roster. With Mitchell, Gobert, and Conley all coming back, plus a solid supporting cast, this roster seems poised to once again be one of the league’s best regular season teams.
Finding ultimate success in the playoffs, though, is the more important goal, and multiple sources expected the Jazz to make further moves that would impact the rotation in this offseason with that in mind. Such an addition could come via the mid-level exception, or a substantial trade that would involve one of their rotation players being sent out in exchange for another useful player in return. Ingles was most frequently mentioned in those talks; the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers were among the two teams that expressed interest in the 33-year old Australian.