Mike Conley

And-Ones: Olympics, Croatia, Rights Fees, Option Decisions

Free agency issues could limit the roster for Team USA at the Olympics next summer, writes Tim Reynolds of the Associated Press. That wouldn’t have been a significant concern this year because of a relatively weak free agent class, but Reynolds notes that LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Chris Paul, Bam Adebayo, Kyle Lowry and others could be on the open market in 2021.

The Olympics are set to open on July 23 of next year, meaning that training camp will begin early in the month, which marks prime time for free agency decisions. Reynolds suggests that could lead to situations similar to what happened in 2012 with Deron Williams, who couldn’t participate in contact drills until his deal with the Nets was signed.

The U.S. won’t be the only nation affected, Reynolds adds. Greece’s Giannis Antetokounmpo and France’s Rudy Gobert can both opt out in the summer of 2021, while another year of wear and tear could affect Marc Gasol‘s desire to play for Spain.

There’s more from around the basketball world:

  • Croatia’s top division has become the latest international league to call off its season, according to Emiliano Carchia of Sportando. No champion will be declared, and the teams that played in the top division this season will be able to do so again next year.
  • Alex Sherman of CNBC examines how networks are handling the rights fees they paid for games that have been canceled because of the coronavirus. The NBA doesn’t have a provision in its contracts for networks to receive refunds, sources familiar with the deals tell Sherman. While “force majeure” provisions exist, they may not apply to a pandemic. Sherman speculates that even if they can make the argument that they’re entitled to money back, some networks may not pursue it so they can preserve their relationships with the NBA and other leagues. He notes that payments for broadcast rights haven’t been refunded when seasons have been reduced because of labor disputes. “Let’s say it’s a one-time only event, obviously you’re not going to pay,” said former CBS Sports president Neal Pilson. “But what you’re talking when you have a 10- or 15-year agreement, year after year, you work it out in an accommodation of some kind.”
  • In an article for The Athletic, former NBA executive John Hollinger offers predictions on all 41 player and team options for the upcoming offseason. Among the richest deals, Hollinger expects Mike Conley to stay with the Jazz for $34.5MM, Gordon Hayward to opt in for $34.187MM from the Celtics and Andre Drummond to remain with the Cavaliers for $28.75MM. Hollinger predicts Anthony Davis will turn down $28.55MM from the Lakers and sign a new deal with the team, unless the cap number falls so low that it will benefit him to wait for next year.

And-Ones: BIG3, Pierce, Free Agency, VanVleet

With the BIG3 planning to hold a quarantined basketball tournament that will double as a ‘Big Brother’-style reality show, Chris Herring of FiveThirtyEight spoke to UCLA infectious disease epidemiologist Anne Rimoin to get a sense of whether the league’s plans are realistic. Dr. Rimoin is unconvinced that the BIG3’s testing process will be thorough enough and skeptical that the format of the event would be viable.

“Even if you test them (for COVID-19), they could be incubating for up to 14 days,” she said. “They would need to be in complete isolation, put in an isolation chamber — meaning no contact with anybody — for 14 days prior. They wouldn’t be allowed to have contact with anybody during that period, or while they’re playing. That’s the science of it. But I don’t see that happening. These people have families, friends. They might need to get groceries.”

Dr. Arthur Reingold told Herring that the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health may also need to give the green light to the BIG3’s plan, so there will be hurdles for the league to overcome if it wants to hold its quarantined tournament.

Here are more odds and ends from around the basketball world:

  • Appearing on ESPN’s The Jump (video link), Paul Pierce claimed he was intrigued by the idea of playing in the BIG3’s tournament, given the rumored seven-figure prize and the fact that it may take place in Los Angeles. His former Celtics teammate and fellow ESPN analyst Kendrick Perkins, meanwhile, argued that the tournament shouldn’t even take place.
  • In an in-depth Insider piece for ESPN.com, Bobby Marks previews the offseason questions facing all 30 NBA teams, breaking down each club’s needs, draft assets, cap situation, and free-agents-to-be.
  • Danny Leroux of The Athletic takes an early look at the free agent market for point guards this offseason. With no max-caliber players expected to be available, Leroux identifies Fred VanVleet and Mike Conley as the players most likely to do better than the mid-level. Of course, Conley has a $34.5MM early termination option for 2020/21, so he seems like a good bet to put off free agency for another year.

Northwest Notes: Conley, Grant, Reid, Daniels

Jazz guard Mike Conley has finally regained his health and is reminding everyone just how talented he is, Aaron Falk of NBA.com writes.

Conley recorded 25 points, five assists and three steals in a road victory over the Celtics on Friday, demonstrating his value at the point guard position.

“It’s just funny how people work,” teammate Donovan Mitchell said of Conley, as relayed by Falk. “Y’all can continue to hate and say what y’all want. I see it. I know he does, too. But that’s Mike Conley. He’s a Hall-of-Famer, one of the best to play at his position.”

Utah acquired Conley from Memphis last July in exchange for Kyle Korver, Jae Crowder, Grayson Allen, the draft rights to Darius Bazley and a protected first-round pick, solidifying its backcourt by pairing him and Mitchell together.

Conley had a slow start to the 2019/20 season, but the 32-year-old has increased his production in recent weeks as the team gears up for a playoff push. In total, he has averaged 13.9 points, 4.3 assists and 0.8 steals in 28.4 minutes per contest.

“There’s way less thinking,” Conley said of his team’s recent surge. “I’m just playing the game. After playing together for a while now, I’m feeling in charge, knowing how you can put guys in position to be successful and make plays, knowing what times in the game that I can be aggressive.”

There’s more out of the Northwest Division today:

  • Nuggets forward Jerami Grant is fitting in seamlessly with the team, Mike Singer of the Denver Post writes. “We’ll see how it goes in the offseason,” said Grant, who holds a $9.3MM player option for next season. “It’s definitely all situational, but I’m definitely comfortable here. I love my teammates, love the coaches, everything.”
  • The Timberwolves are rallying around rookie big man Naz Reid as he continues his impressive play, Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic writes. “Naz is great,” teammate James Johnson said. “Right now he’s not focused on one aspect of the game, he’s doing so many things that stats won’t ever show or that fans won’t ever see. The locker room feels it. Real basketball fans feel it. I’m sure you guys feel it. He keeps doing that, his job’s going to get more and more and his responsibilities are going to be more and more and he’s going to be ready for it.”
  • Eric Spyropoulos of NBA.com examines what Troy Daniels could bring to the Nuggets, with Denver signing the 28-year-old to a contract this past week. Daniels, known as a valuable three-point threat during his NBA career, is expected to provide depth off the bench as the Nuggets gear up for a postseason run.

Western Notes: Conley, Turner, Howard, Suns

After a long, successful run with the Grizzlies, Mike Conley was viewed heading into this season as the player who was going to help turn the Jazz from a solid playoff team into a bona fide contender. However, it has been an up-and-down first season in Utah for Conley, who is averaging just 13.5 PPG on 39.8% shooting.

Speaking to Tony Jones of The Athletic, Conley admitted he hasn’t been able to entirely block out the criticism he has faced this season, and that he understands that criticism.

“Nobody is more frustrated than me,” Conley said. “Not the fans, not the media, not my teammates. I’m not a guy who runs from looking in the mirror. But, at this point, I have to control what I can control. I have to stay locked in. I have to focus on what I can handle. I know what’s being said. But in a big way, it’s not in my control what people may think.”

As Conley gears up for the home stretch and looks to become a consistent, reliable contributor for the Jazz, let’s round up a few more notes from around the Western Conference…

  • The Timberwolves and Evan Turner “came close” to reaching a buyout agreement by Sunday night, but couldn’t finalize a deal, tweets Darren Wolfson of SKOR North. According to Wolfson, Turner would still like to play this season, but that seems unlikely to happen with the Wolves, who are prioritizing the players they expect to be longer-term pieces.
  • Discussing Dwight Howard‘s initial stint with the Lakers, team owner Jeanie Buss singled out former Lakers – and current Rockets – head coach Mike D’Antoni as a reason why the veteran center didn’t succeed and chose to leave in free agency. “We hired a coach that didn’t respect his game and wasn’t going to put him in a position to succeed,” Buss said (video link via The Los Angeles Times).
  • Duane Rankin of The Arizona Republic examines how Jordan McRae could fit with the Suns this season and potentially beyond. Phoenix reportedly intends to place a waiver claim on McRae, but there’s a possibility Detroit will do so as well, and the Pistons would have the higher priority.
  • NBA fans interested in the league’s salary cap minutiae will enjoy Jeff Siegel’s latest article at Early Bird Rights, which details the unusual case of the Kings‘ buyout agreement with Anthony Tolliver and explains why it could indirectly cost the Trail Blazers a little money.

Jazz Moving Joe Ingles Out Of Starting Lineup

3:33pm: The Jazz have changed their minds on removing Conley from the starting lineup and will instead move Ingles to the bench, according to Charania and Jones (via Twitter). The move will have a similar effect on the rotation balance, with a defensive specialist who doesn’t need the ball replacing a ball-handler in the starting five.

2:01pm: The slumping Jazz are shaking up their starting five, according to Shams Charania and Tony Jones of The Athletic, who report that forward Royce O’Neale will replace point guard Mike Conley in the team’s lineup. The change will go into effect beginning on Wednesday night against Boston, per Charania and Jones.

Conley is Utah’s highest-paid player and was the team’s major acquisition in the summer of 2019. However, he has struggled to adjust to his new NBA home this season, battling injuries over the course of the year and underperforming when he’s healthy enough to play. In 34 games (27.9 MPG), Conley has averaged just 13.4 PPG, 4.1 APG, and a .394 FG%, all of which are among the worst marks of his 13-year career.

As Charania and Jones explain, the Jazz believe that the lineup change will balance their rotation a little better, allowing Joe Ingles to take on more of an offensive role with the starters while O’Neale – the team’s best perimeter defender – handles the toughest assignments on the other end of the court. Conley will come off the bench and look to provide an offensive punch alongside Jordan Clarkson.

It has been an up-and-down season in Utah not just for Conley but for the Jazz as a whole. After a modest 13-11 start, the club won 19 of 21 of its next games. Since pushing their record to 32-13 though, the Jazz have endured a pair of losing streaks, winning just four of their last 12 contests. The roller-coaster season has left the team searching for an identity, Tim MacMahon of ESPN wrote today.

Despite their recent struggles, the Jazz are still fifth in the Western Conference, just one game back of the Rockets for home-court advantage in the first round. Utah will hope that its latest lineup change has a positive impact on its push for a top-four seed.

USA Basketball Announces 44 Finalists For 2020 Olympic Roster

USA Basketball has formally announced a preliminary group of 44 players who are candidates to be part of the program’s roster for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

The final roster will only consist of 12 players, so most of these finalists won’t actually play for Team USA at the Olympics. Some will likely withdraw from consideration, while others simply won’t make the final cut. However, these players have all expressed interest in being involved in the process.

“This is the first step in USA Basketball identifying the 12 players who will represent the United States as members of the 2020 U.S. Olympic Men’s Basketball Team in Tokyo,” said USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo.

“… Over the course of the remainder of the NBA season we’ll continue to monitor all of the athletes. Selecting the 12-man USA roster will obviously be an extremely challenging and difficult process, and we will again attempt to select the very best team possible to represent our country and who we hope will be successful in our difficult mission of repeating as Olympic champions for a fourth consecutive Olympics.”

Although the U.S. men’s team has won three consecutive Olympic gold medals, the program had a disappointing showing at last year’s World Cup, finishing in seventh place. Team USA will be looking for a bounce-back performance in Tokyo this summer, with many players from that World Cup squad among the 44 finalists announced today.

Here’s the full list of players who are candidates to play for Team USA at the 2020 Olympics:

  1. Bam Adebayo (Heat)
  2. LaMarcus Aldridge (Spurs)
  3. Harrison Barnes (Kings)
  4. Bradley Beal (Wizards)
  5. Devin Booker (Suns)
  6. Malcolm Brogdon (Pacers)
  7. Jaylen Brown (Celtics)
  8. Jimmy Butler (Heat)
  9. Mike Conley (Jazz)
  10. Stephen Curry (Warriors)
  11. Anthony Davis (Lakers)
  12. DeMar DeRozan (Spurs)
  13. Andre Drummond (Cavaliers)
  14. Kevin Durant (Nets)
  15. Paul George (Clippers)
  16. Draymond Green (Warriors)
  17. James Harden (Rockets)
  18. Montrezl Harrell (Clippers)
  19. Joe Harris (Nets)
  20. Tobias Harris (76ers)
  21. Gordon Hayward (Celtics)
  22. Dwight Howard (Lakers)
  23. Brandon Ingram (Pelicans)
  24. Kyrie Irving (Nets)
  25. LeBron James (Lakers)
  26. Kyle Kuzma (Lakers)
  27. Kawhi Leonard (Clippers)
  28. Damian Lillard (Blazers)
  29. Brook Lopez (Bucks)
  30. Kevin Love (Cavaliers)
  31. Kyle Lowry (Raptors)
  32. JaVale McGee (Lakers)
  33. Khris Middleton (Bucks)
  34. Donovan Mitchell (Jazz)
  35. Victor Oladipo (Pacers)
  36. Chris Paul (Thunder)
  37. Mason Plumlee (Nuggets)
  38. Marcus Smart (Celtics)
  39. Jayson Tatum (Celtics)
  40. Klay Thompson (Warriors)
  41. Myles Turner (Pacers)
  42. Kemba Walker (Celtics)
  43. Russell Westbrook (Rockets)
  44. Derrick White (Spurs)

Jazz Rumors: Trade Market, Davis, Carroll, Conley

The Jazz probably won’t do anything too drastic at this week’s trade deadline, but they’d like to “upgrade around the margins” if possible, league sources tell Tony Jones of The Athletic. Having already dealt Dante Exum and a pair of second-round picks for Jordan Clarkson, Utah no longer has as many expendable assets that could be included in a trade, but would “jump” at any opportunity to improve its roster, says Jones.

One player who could be on the block is Ed Davis. As Jones points out, things haven’t worked out for Davis in Utah so far — he’s averaged a career-worst 1.3 PPG and 3.8 RPG in 25 games (10.7 MPG). The veteran center would like to play more and the Jazz are open to moving him, according to Jones. However, if they can’t find a trade they like, the two sides figure to move forward together, since a buyout isn’t a realistic option due to the big man’s guaranteed $5MM+ salary for 2020/21.

Here’s more from Jones on the Jazz:

  • Utah’s front office has at least “superficially” discussed the idea of targeting veteran forward DeMarre Carroll, who is on the trade block in San Antonio. Jones notes that there’s uncertainty about how much Carroll has left in the tank, given his down year with the Spurs.
  • Sources tell The Athletic that the Jazz don’t want to move any “core” players. That group includes Mike Conley, who is unlikely to be discussed at all in trade talks this week, according to Jones.
  • If the Jazz don’t end up doing anything by the trade deadline, they’d like to be active on the buyout market, Jones writes.

Northwest Notes: Porter Jr., Blazers, Nuggets, Conley

For Michael Porter Jr., focusing on the postseason is significantly more important than being snubbed from the Rising Stars Challenge this past week, Mike Singer of the Denver Post writes.

“He knows I deserve to be a Rising Star, be in that game, but I’m gonna be playing in the playoffs, and that’s worth a lot more to me than playing in that game,” Porter said, mentioning that he sent coach Mike Malone a lengthy text after the Rising Stars rosters were announced. “So I’m just gonna keep working, get my rest during that All-Star break and be ready for that second half of the season.”

As noted by Singer, six of the 10 players selected to the annual game for the United States are currently out of the playoffs. Porter has given consistent production in his first NBA season, averaging eight points, 4.4 rebounds and 14.3 minutes through 39 contests.

“I’ll use it as motivation, but I don’t really try to play the game out of anger,” Porter said. “Like I’m not going to go out there and be mad I didn’t make it, so try to go score a bunch of points. Like I just go out there and try to play the game that I love. To not get picked, it definitely adds some fuel to the fire. It is what it is. Man, that’s other people’s decision.”

The Nuggets currently have a 34-16 record through the season’s first 50 games, good for the third-best record in the Western Conference. Porter missed the team’s game against Detroit on Sunday due to an ankle injury, with Denver losing in overtime 128-123.

Here are some other notes from the Northwest Division:

  • Trail Blazers president Neil Olshey should take the week off and not make any monumental changes to his team, Jason Quick of The Athletic opines. Portland has been red hot over the past 1-to-2 weeks, led by Damian Lillard‘s incredible production (48.8 points per game in his last six contests). The team has won four straight games and is 7-3 in it’s last 10 outings. “I think it’s definitely a conversation,” Lillard said when asked if this group needs to be kept together to continue its momentum, according to Quick. “We are moving, and it’s against good teams. Golden State, Indiana, Houston, Lakers, Utah … I mean, good wins, so there’s something to be said about it.”
  • Nick Kosmider of The Athletic explores various trades the Nuggets could consider ahead of Thursday’s trade deadline, labeling Jrue Holiday, Robert Covington and others as potential targets. Denver is 34-16 and sports one of the league’s best offenses.
  • The Jazz shuffled their lineup against Portland on Saturday, choosing to start Mike Conley at point guard and bring Royce O’Neale off the bench, ESPN’s Tim McMahon writes. Utah thrived off a Mitchell-O’Neale-Ingles-Bogdanovic-Gobert starting lineup without Conley, who missed several games due to a hamstring strain. “I know how frustrated he’s been because he’s wanted to play,” coach Quin Snyder said. “You hear about someone’s character, and until you go through things with them and you see how they react to that adversity … that’s what he’s demonstrated in my mind.”

Northwest Notes: Grant, Millsap, Anthony, Conley, Napier

What the Nuggets decide to do with Jerami Grant and Paul Millsap provides an intriguing subplot to the offseason, Mike Singer of the Denver Post writes. Millsap will be an unrestricted free agent and Grant can join him on the market by declining his $9.35MM option.  Grant is undersized at the power forward spot but brings more agility and shot blocking to the four spot. The Nuggets will probably try to re-sign Grant but could also bring back Millsap if he’s willing to meet their price, Singer adds.

We have more from the Northwest Division:

  • Trail Blazers forward Carmelo Anthony is still too distraught over Kobe Bryant’s passing to take the court, especially at the Staples Center. Anthony will sit out the Portland-Los Angeles Lakers game on Friday, Stadium’s Shams Charania tweets, as he continues to grieve over the loss of his close friend.
  • The Jazz are close to returning point guard Mike Conley to the starting lineup, according to Charania. Conley has come off the bench in six games since he recovered from an aggravated hamstring strain. Utah wants Conley to reestablish chemistry with the other starters, most notably backcourt partner Donovan Mitchell and center Rudy Gobert, Charania adds.
  • The lack of a good plan regarding their point guard rotation has been the Timberwolves’ biggest issue, Michael Rand of the Minneapolis Star Tribune opines. Jeff Teague wasn’t a good fit prior to being traded to Atlanta because Minnesota needed a floor leader adept at pushing the tempo. Shabazz Napier has been a good pickup but he’s probably best suited for a 15-20 minute backup role while Jordan McLaughlin is more of an emergency backup than a second-unit player, Rand adds.

After Lengthy Absence, Conley “Ready To Go” For Jazz

After a left hamstring injury caused Jazz point guard Mike Conley to miss 19 of the team’s last 20 contests, the 32-year-old is probable to return to action in a home tilt against the Kings tonight, according to Aaron Falk of UtahJazz.com.

“I’ve been waiting a long time,” Conley told gathered reporters following a Saturday morning Jazz shootaround. “I’m ready to go.”

The Jazz thrived in Conley’s absence, going 16-4 without him, including a recently-snapped 10-game win streak. They are 12-9 with Conley in the lineup.

Expected to be the missing piece that could vault the Jazz into championship contention after the team had been a recent also-ran in the crowded West, Conley has been a disappointment thus far in Utah. He is averaging just 13.6 PPG, his lowest scoring mark since 2011/12, shooting a career-low 36.5% from the field.

“I try to play defense and be an unselfish teammate,” Conley said of his fit when he returns to the floor for the Jazz. “I think it will be easy to conform to what we’ve got going and try to elevate it as much as I can.”

Conley is in the fourth year of a five-year, $153MM contract he inked with the Grizzlies in 2016. He has a $34.5MM early termination option for the 2020/21 season. Given his recent decline with the Jazz, it is probable that he will opt in for the final year.