Marc Gasol and Mike Conley have been teammates in Memphis for seven seasons, a pairing that’s paying off big time in terms of the team’s recent success.
The Grizzlies have been to the playoffs in each of the last four seasons, and are currently sitting at third place in the very competitive Western Conference — thanks in no small part to All-Star caliber campaigns from both players.
Early on in their respective careers, it was far from certain that things would turn out this way. Conley has been perennially underrated, and the team finished under .500 and out of the playoffs in each of his first three seasons.
Conley was selected with a high draft pick, and in just his second season in Memphis, the team was considering trading him away. But Gasol wouldn’t have it, and used an unorthodox tactic to try to make sure his teammate would be sticking around.
From Ian Thomsen of NBA.com:
When Gasol heard that the Grizzlies were on the verge of trading Conley to the Milwaukee Bucks, he reached out to Ron Tillery, who covered the team for theMemphis Commercial Appeal.
“I had no idea what I was doing,” recalled Gasol. “I said, ‘Write this down: We cannot trade Mike Conley. He is the one guy who actually cares about the team, that actually is trying to play the right way.’ Well, supposedly a rookie is not supposed to do that. So I got a call from the owner, I got a call from everybody. And rightfully so. Rightfully so.
“But I felt like I had to protect the one guy who I felt actually cared about winning and losing — because a lot of people say, ‘I want to win.’ But are you going to do the right things it takes to win? Do you want to win on your own terms, or do you want to win on the team’s terms?”
“There were times we came close to trading Mike, because his development was so slow, and thank goodness we didn’t,” said Grizzlies GM Chris Wallace. “He never ever deviated from who he is. He’s someone who is very good with the fans. He’s very respectful and courteous, has a smile on his face, and if he does get down you don’t see it. There was never any petulance or moodiness when he was young and this wasn’t working.”
What this shows more than anything is just how fragile the construction of an NBA roster can be. The Grizzlies were impatient with Conley’s development early, and had no idea he’d emerge into the All-Star point guard he is today.
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This is also an example of how stability can be so important in building a winning team, especially among the star players. You need guys who can be cornerstones of a franchise for years to come, and it seems as though this bonding experience between Conley and Gasol early in their Memphis tenure was a key factor in the team’s current state of success.