Should the Indiana Pacers Trade for Mike Conley?

The Memphis Grizzlies have finally figured out that they’re not very good, and not just when guys like Mike Conley and Marc Gasol are hurt but also when they’re healthy.

After starting 12-5, the Grizz have gone into a tailspin, posting a pathetic 7-23 record since Thanksgiving. And they’re finally sellers on the trade market as the Feb. 7 trade deadline approaches.

And one of the most attractive landing spots for Conley is his hometown of Indianapolis, where a local-boy-makes-good story potentially awaits for the weak-at-point-guard Pacers.

Conley’s a bona fide star, one of those guys who’s never made an All-Star Game due mainly to playing guard in the star-heavy Western Conference; if the Grizz had just traded Conley straight-up on draft day to the Wizards in 2010, we might be having this same conversation about “best non-All-Star” with regards to John Wall instead.

Who Will the Pacers Ship Out?

Let’s first consider the Trade Machine-compliant who-gets-shipped-out implications. An intriguing trade that hit Twitter yesterday had the Pacers sending Tyreke Evans, Cory Joseph, and Kyle O’Quinn to Memphis in exchange for the highly-paid Grizz guard.

Any move that gets Tyreke out of Indiana can’t be a bad thing; Evans has been a Dumpster fire, one of the worst finishers at the rim (a comically bad 52.2 percent from three feet and in) in the entire league, a guy who simply can’t shoot (39.5 percent FG on the year.)

O’Quinn is a misfit piece in Indiana, getting run only as an injury replacement for Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis when one of them gets hurt or sits a game out for rest. He’s a solid backup center on a team that simply already has the best backup center (Sabonis, who ESPN’s Zach Lowe even mentioned as a potential All-Star and who is a solid contender for Sixth Man of the Year) in the NBA.

CoJo is a stickier wicket, since he and Sabonis have fantastic synergy on the Pacers’ second unit, and if Conley gets to town, pushes Darren Collison into the backup role, and Collison doesn’t jell with the bench (or complains about his playing time), that will upset the Pacers’ delicate chemistry that has so far propelled them to a 31-15 record and third place in the East.

How Good Is Conley, Anyway?

Well…Conley is 31, and guards are rarely good for long after they pass 30.

Plus Conley is injury-prone; he hasn’t played even 70 games in a season since 2014-15.

And his shooting has been mediocre at best—42.2 percent from the field, 35.4 percent from three, and he’s as bad as Evans (53.1 percent) at the rim.

In terms of the scoring load, he’d be a huge net negative, putting even more pressure on Victor Oladipo to make backcourt shots and probably throwing Aaron Holiday into the deep end of the pool and putting him under extreme pressure to perform out of all proportion to a late first-rounder rookie.

On the other hand, Conley’s bound to get better looks when he doesn’t have to be the primary backcourt shot creator on that plug-awful Memphis team.

But it sure looks like Conley’s on the downside of his career, and…

Oh Dear Gods, That Salary

Conley is owed over $97 million over the next three seasons including this one. He won’t be off the books until 2021, and the early termination clause in his contract becomes fully guaranteed if he plays 55 games in either of the next two seasons; he’s played 46 already this year.

Do the Pacers really want to ship out a well-constructed roster to make an intermediate-term commitment to a guy who, as good as he is, isn’t anywhere near $34 million good?

Next time you see Monta Ellis (still on the Pacers’ cap until Seattle gets an NBA team again or the heat death of the universe, whichever comes first), ask him how overpaying a guy on the downside of his career worked out for the Pacers.

Conley was 8th in Offensive Box Plus-Minus in 2017. But that was two years and a major injury ago.

He’s lost his touch defensively, becoming a minus on-ball defender, and it doesn’t matter how good Turner is at dropping back on the pick-and-roll, Conley is going to get used and abused, opening up paths to the rim or good looks on the perimeter for the Pacers’ opponents.

Mike Conley’s still good, but he’s not $34 million good.

THE VERDICT!

Indiana is not a major free agent destination. If the Pacers want to get better, they have the draft and trades with which to do it.

But trading for a marquee star means a certain amount of gambling that the star is going to be good. Ideally, you find a way to luck into a franchise cornerstone from a team having a fire sale.

But Conley isn’t Bradley Beal or Anthony Davis. At this point in his career, he’s more like that milk you’ve got in the fridge that is fine now, but you’d better eat cereal for breakfast for a couple of days in a row before it goes off.

So no, the Pacers shouldn’t trade for Conley. All signs point to it ending very badly.