Mike Conley will be the best free agent point guard next summer, and it’s a big drop to No. 2.
For a team that wants to win now and needs a point guard, Conley is clearly the top choice.
Nobody fits that bill more than the Nets, who are rolling with Jarrett Jack and Shane Larkin at point guard. Brooklyn owns none of its next three first-round picks, making a deeper rebuild impractical.
If the Nets waive the partially guaranteed Jack and renounce all their free agents, they could clear about $43 million in space below a $95 million salary cap. That’d be enough to give Conley a max contract and lure a quality wing (maybe a re-signed Joe Johnson) to play with Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young up front.
A great team? No, but one that could compete for the Eastern Conference playoffs – about as high as Brooklyn can dream right now.
In fact, a Conley-led team might be the Nets’ top plan.
Conley is thought by those around the team to be the most likely top target
Would Conley leave the Grizzlies, though?
He won’t sign a contract extension with Memphis, which should at least give the Nets an opportunity to make a pitch. Marc Gasol is already recruiting, but current former Grizzlies coach and current Brooklyn coach Lionel Hollins is close with Conley. He could make a difference.
Conley has been a part of some very good teams in Memphis, but this era might be ending. The Grizzlies are aging, and they’re just 2-2 with a 30-point loss to the Cavaliers and 50-point loss to the Warriors on their résumé.
It’s possible Conley – frequently overlooked behind Gasol and Zach Randolph – wants a change. He could appreciate the chance to be the Nets’ best player and play in a location where the perception of stars is inflated.
That choice becomes much easier if the Grizzlies continue to struggle. Their best recruiting tool isn’t Gasol’s friendliness, but their winning culture. Maintaining that will do more than anything, presuming they’re ready to pay up.
Even if Memphis stumbles this season, though, how much worse can the picture look than Brooklyn? Will a talent deficit and lost draft picks, the 0-4 Nets will have trouble selling themselves to free agents.
Conley might be their best hope, but he still looks like a longshot.