During the NBA offseason there was a major bag alert. With the salary cap raised, team owners were blowing through money like rappers at Magic City.
When all was said and done, Memphis Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley ended up with the biggest total value contract ever doled out in League history, inking a five-year, $153 million deal to stay in the M-Town. Mike Conley? Yes. Mike Conley.
Most people scratched their heads at the massive number (he joins legends Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant as the only three players to pull in $30 million in a single season), and the 10-year vet had to answer questions about his worth all summer.
“I’m thankful. I’ve worked very hard for [the contract], and I feel like I deserve it,” Conley told ESPN during the offseason about his huge pay day.
That still didn’t stop people from asking. Mike Conley?
Now it’s really time to show and prove.
Don’t get it twisted. Conley can hoop. The former No. 4 overall pick in the 2007 Draft has consistently been one of the better PGs in the NBA for the last few years, in a League currently dominated by a batch of top-notch lead guards. He has career averages of 13.6 ppg, 5.6. apg and 2.9 rpg, and has guided his team to the Playoffs in each of the last six seasons.
Last season, the 28-year-old averaged 15.3 points, 6.1 assists and 2.9 rebounds per contest, missing the final third of the season with a foot injury. Luckily he didn’t need surgery.
While Conley’s obese off-season coup seems excessive, it was more of a necessity move on Memphis owner Robert Pera’s part, as there were very slim pickings on point guard market. Locking Conley up only made sense. The price tag is just a sign of the times.
Last year, Conley came in at N0. 32 in the SLAM Top 50. This year, his rank remains unmoved. That doesn’t mean dependable lefty won’t improve. He should be expected to—by himself and the Grizzlies’ front office.
Memphis has a stout, albeit aged, core of grizzled vets with three out of five projected starters who are 31 or older. The addition of Chandler Parsons, a long player who, when healthy, can contribute in a lot of ways from the small forward position gives Conley another viable option to dish the peel to.
Whether he will be able to raise his assist total in the range of the elite distributors in the League remains to be seen.
With new coach Dave Fizdale presumably bringing a faster-tempo offensive scheme with him from Miami, Conley could also see an uptick in overall production.
If injury luck goes in their favor, Conley and the Grizz both have a chance to be improved next season and add to their win total of 42 in 2015-16. There are just too many elite point guards in the League, and players who look to make substantial jumps, for Mike to get a bump in the order.
Will he play like a $153 million man? No. But, if Memphis can stay healthy and make a deep run in the Western Conference Playoffs next season, and in the near future, it will be on the back of their high-priced ball handler.
“That’s why I’m coming back to Memphis,” Conley wrote in The Player’s Tribune shortly after signing his contract. “Not just for a year or two. I signed a five-year deal because we’ve just barely scratched the surface on the things we’re planning to accomplish.”
We’re sure the bag was also a major key.
Rankings are based on expected contribution in 2016-17—to players’ team, the NBA and the game.
Follow the entire #SLAMTop50 countdown.