The Dallas Mavericks may be undergoing a huge change in the front office for the first time in a generation, but there is one thing that could calm the nerves of any Mavs fan who’s feeling rattled by the shakeup: landing an aged superstar five years after we initially tried to sign him. You know, playing the hits. First it was Darren Williams. Then came DeAndre Jordan. Mike Conley would be the ultimate end cap to that trilogy.
Dallas’ prior interest in Conley was noted by John Hollinger on his June 30th podcast with Nate Duncan. At about the 51 minute mark, Hollinger notes “The team to watch with Conley is Dallas, though. I mean, they were the team that was after him when he was a free agent last time and he re-signed with Memphis. Yeah, I would definitely keep an eye on Dallas.” So there may already be some smoke in the Conley to Dallas fire.
Mike Conley, of grit n’ grind fame in Memphis, became a first-time all star last season in Utah. He’s long been deserving of the honor, but the West has been a bloodbath at the guard position for a decade. That he’s still got the juice at age 33 to finally earn an appearance (even if it was as an injury replacement) proves he’s still got something in the tank.
For a guy like Conley who seems singularly focused on winning at this point in his career, luring him away form the Jazz and their league-best regular season record seems like a tall order. However, Utah’s unceremonious exit at the hands of the Clippers may open the door just enough for him to doubt the Jazz’s title aspirations. Not to mention, bringing in highly sought-after free agents was sort of the impetus for the big front office change in the first place, now wasn’t it? So consider this the first litmus test of the Jason Kidd/Nico Harrison era.
He’ll be 34 relatively early on in the upcoming season, so Conley is no spring chicken. Nevertheless, he still posted an elite 99.5 defensive rating, which led all guards in the league who played in at least half the games this season. Yes, it helps that Utah was the third best defensive team, but having talented individual defenders — especially in the back court — has been a pain point in Dallas for years and been the casus belli behind two underwhelming trades. (Hello, Delon Wright and Josh Richardson.)
On top of his defense, Conley would instantly become Dallas’ second best ball handler and playmaker. Coming from the Jazz and playing alongside Donovan Mitchell has primed Conley for how to play next to another high-usage player in Luka Doncic. (Mitchell had the NBA’s sixth highest usage rate last season at 32.7% while Doncic claimed the number two spot with 35% — a number many would like to see reduced.)
On top of all of that, Conley is coming off one of his best, and perhaps most efficient, offensive seasons in his career. He posted a career-best .552 effective field goal percentage, buoyed by another career-best 44% mark from three while attempting a career-high 6.6 shots from distance per game. Conley has all the markings of a vet who’s game will hold up nicely through his next contract, despite nearing 35 years of age.
It’s hard to find much of a flaw in Conley’s game from a basketball perspective. No player is perfect, but Conley just fills so many holes on the Dallas roster that have gone unaddressed for years now. That said, as is with any player, injuries are the key. And Mike Conley has had his share in recent seasons.
Conley played in 47 of the Jazz’s 72 games in last year’s shortened season, and 51 of the team’s 72 games during this regular season. Crucially, he missed all but the elimination Game 6 of the Jazz’s series against the LA Clippers in the playoffs. Conley was sidelined by a hamstring injury that, while perhaps not as devastating as an Achilles or ACL injury, has lingered around enough to rob him of a sizable chunk of games in each of his last two seasons. Dallas has a premiere training team led by Team USA trainer Casey Smith, but, in the course of an NBA season, injuries are often unavoidable.
Fit with the Mavericks
It seems like time spent worrying about how two ball-dominant players will function together on the same team is a thing of the past. Conley played with Mitchell to great success. Bradley Beal and Russell Westbrook made it through a season without one killing the one another. Damian Lilland and C.J. McCollumn have kept the Trail Blazers relevant in Portland for years, and perhaps the biggest evidence of this is what we’re seeing now in Phoenix. The addition of Chris Paul to Phoenix’s Devin Booker-powered offense has shattered their post-season glass ceiling. Nevermind just winning a series; the Suns are fighting for the NBA championship.
Doncic, one of the league’s highest usage players and lone shot creator on the Mavericks roster, would often get run down by the time the fourth quarter rolled around. He still performed admirably, but it’s unquestionable that adding someone — anyone — who could let Doncic take some time off without the offense devolving into ugly iso possessions would be a god-send to this team. To address Dallas’ defensive woes and playmaking shortcomings with a single free agent addition would be a helluva way for new GM Nico Harrison to usher in a new era in Mavericks’ basketball.