Mike Conley is often characterized by NBA insiders as the best point guard in the league that no one ever hears about or mentions. Though most of the attention the past two months has focused on the impending free agency of players such as Kevin Durant, Al Horford, DeMar DeRozan, and Hassan Whiteside, Conley is also an unrestricted free agent, and there is speculation that he will be hotly pursued by several top tier franchises including the San Antonio Spurs, Dallas Mavericks, and Miami Heat.
Conley may not be Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, or Chris Paul, but he is extremely talented and a clear improvement over any point guard the Lakers have right now. Any team that wants to be competitive needs a bona fide leader at the point guard position, someone who gets everyone involved, plays defense, and can score when needed. Conley will fit the bill for some lucky team next season.
Should the Lakers join these other teams in the pursuit of Conley this summer? There has been no link between the two so far, but perhaps there should be, especially if the team is again spurned by the likes of Durant, DeRozan and Whiteside. Of course, the Lakers may shy away for fear that he might stunt the growth of D’Angelo Russell who is set to get another chance to prove next season that he is a true point guard.
Still, when a point guard of Conley’s stature becomes available, any franchise like the Lakers, that does not already have an elite player at the position, should at least give careful thought to whether he is a worthwhile target.
Though he battled Kyle Lowry for minutes early on in his career, Conley really blossomed once Lowry was traded in the middle of the 2008-09 season. Since then he has teamed with center Marc Gasol, power forward Zach Randolph, and defensive specialist Tony Allen, to make the Grizzles a perennial playoff team in the west.
The Grizzles have made the playoffs five years in a row. In 2010-11, they shocked the basketball world when, as the number 8 seed in the West, they defeated the number 1 seed San Antonio Spurs in the first round of the playoffs and in 2013 they made the Western Conference Finals.
Conley has, in recent years, averaged around 15 points and 6 assists per game in the regular season. Along the way, he made the second team All-NBA defensive team and is currently the third leading scorer in Grizzles history.
Gasol was a free agent last year, and there were some who thought he might test the market because the Grizzles had arguably peaked and were probably not going to get any further in the playoffs than they had already achieved. Yet, as soon as teams could start signing players, Gasol re-signed with the Grizzles and did not even meet with any other team. There are many who think that Conley might do the same this summer.
However, it is equally plausible that after the Grizzles suffered through an injury-plagued season and lost in the first round of the playoffs, he might opt for a different path for the same reason that Gasol probably should have done so last year (but did not).
Which leads to the question, should the Lakers be interested in Conley if perhaps he is interested in the Lakers? He is still only 28, though one downside is that he has been injured off and on in recent seasons including last year. However, if the Lakers are looking for veteran leadership from an outstanding NBA point guard who can facilitate, score, and play defense, and still has a few prime years left, Conley could be that player.
Conley playing alongside Russell is an intriguing idea, and since he is an unrestricted free agent, the Lakers would not have to part with any of their current young players to get him. It bears repeating that there have been no rumors that he is interested in the Lakers, and the competition to get him will be fierce as point guards with his ability do not come along every day in free agency.
But if it turns out that Conley is interested, and Mitch Kupchak is true to his word that his number one priority this offseason is improving the team’s miserable roster from last season, the Lakers should give serious thought to how Conley might fit in and complement the existing core.