Which teams might make offers for Mike Conley and Marc Gasol?
ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported Tuesday that the Memphis Grizzlies will listen to offers for their two veteran stars leading up to the Feb. 7 trade deadline. Now the question is who might call the Grizzlies about Conley and Gasol and be willing to meet the threshold return Memphis would need to make a move.
As accomplished as both Conley and Gasol are, the limited number of teams in need of starters at their positions might make finding the right fit challenging. Let's take a look at possible suitors for both players and what those teams could offer.
Gasol's player option complicates market
The Grizzlies probably face more urgency to trade Gasol this season because of his $25.6 million player option for 2019-20, which gives him the ability to become an unrestricted free agent this summer. At the same time, Gasol's player option could be an issue the other way for potential trade partners, who would probably rather acquire a player in the final season of their contract so as to maintain flexibility for free agency next summer.
That concern applies to both the Dallas Mavericks and LA Clippers, two teams in the hunt for playoff spots in the Western Conference who can clear max-level cap space this July. Dallas could upgrade at center by swapping DeAndre Jordan, who's in the final year of his contract, for Gasol. At the same time, that prospect looks less appealing now that the Mavericks have lost four in a row since J.J. Barea's injury to drop five games out of the eighth seed in the Western Conference.
The Clippers are tied for the seventh seed in the West, and Gasol would massively improve Jordan's former team, which has been starting veteran Marcin Gortat in the middle. (Set aside, for now, the jarring prospect of Gasol playing for a longtime playoff rival.) The Clippers have been far better with backup center Montrezl Harrell on the court, and a Gasol-Harrell duo would help solidify their currently tenuous playoff spot. However, the Clippers can't risk cutting into their cap space if Gasol picks up his option, which would dash their dreams of signing two max free agents this summer.
If those two teams are out of the mix, there are relatively few playoff contenders in need of a center. The Detroit Pistons ( Andre Drummond) and Miami Heat ( Hassan Whiteside) could consider offering up their highly-paid centers for Gasol, but it's unclear how much good those swaps would do Memphis. Maybe there's a surprise Gasol bidder out there -- perhaps the Washington Wizards -- but creating a trade market may be more difficult than you'd think for a three-time All-Star.
More options for Grizzlies with Conley
By contrast, Memphis should get more interest in Conley despite the $67 million he'll make over the next two years. While he probably won't make the roster (again), Conley continues to play at an All-Star level and would be an upgrade at point guard for plenty of teams.
To get Conley, teams might more likely be willing to sacrifice cap space under the assumption they couldn't sign a point guard nearly as good in free agency. That could make the Mavericks an option if they want a traditional point guard alongside rookie star Luka Doncic, particularly if the Grizzlies are interested in second-year Dallas point guard Dennis Smith Jr., who has been on the trade block. A deal built around Smith and either Jordan or wing Wesley Matthews would save Memphis $28 million next season and give the Grizzlies a useful prospect at the point.
A return by Conley to his native Indianapolis could also make sense. The Pacers' top two point guards, Darren Collison and Cory Joseph, are both free agents. Though Indiana is high on rookie Aaron Holiday, adding Conley as a stepping stone to Holiday as a starter would work if the Pacers could find enough expiring salary to make a deal. Matching Conley's $30.5 million would probably require trading both Collison and Joseph, plus reserve Tyreke Evans and the draft picks necessary to sell Memphis on a deal.
Other possible Conley suitors might have a tough time providing the Grizzlies cap relief. Conley would be a huge addition for the Pistons as they try to return to the playoffs, but because the Pistons are so close to the luxury tax, they'd probably have to include both starting point guard Reggie Jackson and either Langston Galloway or Jon Leuer in any workable deal. Detroit's draft picks might not make up for the hit in terms of both salary and talent. Something similar would be true if the Phoenix Suns wanted to accelerate their timetable with a Conley deal, which would necessitate the inclusion of power forward Ryan Anderson.
If the Orlando Magic were interested in Conley as the team's best point guard since at least Jameer Nelson, they could build a deal around forward Aaron Gordon, whose descending contract might be worth taking on even if Memphis is rebuilding. Gordon and rookie Jaren Jackson Jr. would make a versatile frontcourt of the future for the Grizzlies.
Perhaps the most intriguing possible Conley destination is Milwaukee if the Bucks think he moves the needle relative to current starting point guard Eric Bledsoe, an unrestricted free agent this summer. As of the deadline, Milwaukee could offer Bledsoe -- who would ideally be rerouted to a third team in need of a starting point guard -- and George Hill for Conley. Bledsoe has been nearly as effective as Conley this season, so the Bucks would have to either distrust him in the crucible of the playoffs or fear he'll leave or become too expensive in free agency to consider such a move.
It's unclear how much Memphis is expecting to get for Conley, but the Grizzlies should have options to trade him.