Rudy Gay and Mike Conley first played together 14 years ago, both as young pieces of an upstart Memphis Grizzlies team. In November of 2007, when they first played an NBA game against the Seattle SuperSonics, Instagram had yet to be founded, no one had yet thought to tweet about Rudy Gay, and the Grizzlies were coming off of a season — Gay’s rookie year — in which they owned the NBA’s worst record.
But the pair worked together, they grew up together, they improved together. For five and a half more seasons, they toiled together to bring the Grizzlies to Western Conference contention.
Fast-forward to August of 2021. Now, Conley and Gay, both in their mid-30s, just flew to Las Vegas together to finalize their new contracts with the Utah Jazz, watch some summer league basketball, and get to know their new teammates. What explains the connection?
“Having another guy that went through the same thing I did at the same time — the whole ‘Grit and Grind,’ the way we had to kind of fight and claw for everything to even get noticed as a team and a city — that mentality kind of lives with you and sticks with you,” Conley told the Commercial-Appeal.
The pair have stayed in constant communication, even after Gay’s trade to the Toronto Raptors in 2013.
“Me and Mike always text and talk. We’ve been talking ever since I left the Grizzlies,” Gay said during a news conference Monday. “He’s always been the guy that I’ve talked to about, whether it’s injuries or situations or anything, I always tried to keep in contact with him. And it’s funny now that we’re teammates again.” Now, Gay said that Conley has been his “tour guide,” showing him the best options for where to live in Salt Lake City.
Of course, for the reunification to happen, both unrestricted free agents had to turn down other offers to choose the Jazz. By all accounts, Conley’s decision came first. Conley had numerous teams interested in his contributions as an All-Star level point guard, but none offered the competitive chances at winning an NBA title that the Jazz did.
“Last year had a disappointing end to it. But all the strides we’ve made along the way allow us to come into this season still chasing that championship, the ultimate goal. It’s something that is truly attainable, something that we can grasp. We’re right there, we’re knocking on the door.”
Gay, though, was waffling for longer, with similarly competitive offers from other contending teams — such as both teams from Los Angeles. Conley said he spent “a few hours” on the phone with Gay in recruiting his services.
And Conley made good points that appealed to the 34-year-old forward from the University of Connecticut.
“Rudy was open to it. Rudy asked a lot of questions to try to get a feel of, you know, how he’d be used, the system, Utah as a whole and our team,” Conley said. “He made the decision to come and play with us, and I couldn’t be more excited.”
Gay said, in particular, that he could help the Jazz with his positional versatility. After starting his career as a wing — sometimes even playing at shooting guard, Gay has moved down the positional spectrum to play at the four and five roles as he slows down and the game changes around him. But depending on what the Jazz need, he could be a valuable piece to the puzzle.
“It’s just the culture. The ownership group is great. Coach Quin [Snyder] is great. They really sold me on it. But even more than that is — a lot of really, really good teams were coming after me and wanted me to be there — but I think this team was the team that had the most need for what I can do,” Gay said. “And when you’re looking for a team or looking for a place to play, that’s the biggest thing.”
Also notable: After the two signed their contracts, the exact details have proved to be a bit different than originally reported. Conley’s deal does make him a base of $68.5 million over the course of three years of the deal, but the third year of his deal — worth $24.3 million if played in full — is actually only guaranteed for $14.3 million. The Jazz will have to decide whether to keep Conley for that third season, or cut him for that $10 million in savings, before 48 hours after the 2023 NBA draft.
Gay’s deal, meanwhile, is actually a three-year deal, with the third being a player option for Gay. Gay’s contract will make him $5.9 million in 2021-22, $6.18 million in 2022-23, and, if he chooses, $6.48 million in 2023-24. (All contract info via Spotrac.)
Conley will also have the ability to make an extra $1.5 million per season in his three seasons, through bonuses that are based around the Jazz making or winning the NBA Finals.
And that’s a goal that the pair would both like to achieve.
“This is my legacy, you know? What do you do this for? What makes you go? And, you know, after 15 years, obviously well, I’m in Salt Lake City to win a championship. That’s it,” Gay said.