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Utah Ready For The Mike Conley Chapter

Mike Conley is one of the biggest acquisitions in franchise history and that’s why Utah is all too giddy to have him aboard, writes Matt John.

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They just need another creator.

That was what everyone said about the Utah Jazz after their season ended. Utah had a championship-caliber level defense led by an all-time rim protector, one of the league’s most promising young guards, an excellent basketball mind calling the shots and a supporting cast of guys who knew exactly what their roles were on the team.

And it wasn’t enough.

As far as inspiring stories go, there aren’t much better ones than the Utah Jazz over the last two years, but the stories that inspire can grow old if nothing comes of it. Utah was good, but it was clear that they needed someone else who could handle the load offensively if they were to get to the next level. That someone else had to be a veteran capable of carrying the offense when Mitchell couldn’t — but, at the same time, an athlete that wouldn’t take away from their elite-level defense.

But where were they going to find an offensively-savvy, defensively-stout grizzled veteran with leadership material? The only way they’d acquire an all-around gamer like that was if another team happened to coincidentally blow up the remainder of a once-glorious roster around the exact same time.

Sometimes life really does work out like a sitcom. The Jazz got their guy in Mike Conley Jr. on Jun. 19 and, since then, the excitement has been palpable. On sheer talent alone, Conley wouldn’t excite a fanbase as much as Anthony Davis would, but in knowing just what the Jazz needed, he and Utah were a perfect match.

The Jazz know it too. Conley has yet to play a single minute in a Jazz uniform, but when Utah held its annual Media Day, everyone involved — from players to coaches to the front office — sung his praises.

“Mike Conley is an elite point guard,” Head coach Quin Snyder said. “Watching him play, being around him, seeing how he interacts. When I say elite, that manifests itself in a lot of different ways.”

Those different ways revolve around the idea that Conley brings just about everything a point guard should to the table. A court-leading general that knows how the game is played and one that can excel within the team’s gameplan.

“Some of the things that he does and the feel he has for the game and for the players around him is really unique,” Snyder said. “You have a guy in Mike that’s unselfish but also a guy that can play without the ball.”

Should his reputation in Grind City hold up in Salt Lake, Conley’s presence on the team will do so much for everyone in the Jazz rotation this season. Because of that skillset on the offensive end, the one player that Snyder believes will benefit from playing with Conley should be Donovan Mitchell, Utah’s other star, and vice versa.

“Because Mike is such a polished point guard in terms of his efficiency, his playmaking, his instincts . . . there [will be] opportunities for him that will be created from playing with Donovan in addition to opportunities for Donovan playing with Mike.”

Mitchell, who wasted no time working out with Conley this summer, echoed Snyder’s sentiments, praising both Conley’s poise and skillset on the floor.

“He’s a guy who goes at his own pace,” Mitchell said. “It’s not really always about getting [down the court] and scoring. He’s great at finding guys who are open . . . Mike has shown in his career that he hit both guys in the corner on the wing and guys going to the basket.”

It isn’t just his abilities as a player that has impressed the Jazz. His abilities as a salesman have also dazzled everyone in the franchise. His influence as a player apparently swayed some of the other new additions in Salt Lake, leading to Dennis Lindsey, Utah’s President of Basketball Operations, to give him a new nickname.

“Mike is a little bit of a Pied Piper,” Lindsey said. “[He’s] more Tim Duncan-like in what he does more so than what he says. That created a little forward momentum with Ed Davis, Jeff Green and Bojan [Bogdanovic].”

What’s perhaps most amazing about Conley’s integration is that — despite a reputation in the league as strong as his — he’s willing to mentor any willing member on the Jazz roster. Justin Wright-Foreman, Utah’s second-round pick that is currently on a two-way contract, praised the long-time guard for his influence and support over the offseason.

“He answers every question that I have for him,” Wright-Foreman said. “He’s a great person first and a great basketball player as well. He’s just been helping me through this process of me being a point guard but also learning how to create my own shot and everything so he’s been a major help to me so far.”

Now that he’s in Utah, Conley will have to start over in his career for the first time since he entered the NBA back in 2007. Even though he’s got a new team in a new city, Conley does see a few similarities between this year’s Jazz team and the Grit-and-Grind Grizzlies he led when they were a playoff contender.

“The principle of defense is really huge here,” Conley said. “In Memphis, that was something we hung our hat on. That was something that could travel in the playoffs when you’re playing not-so-well or not making shots, defense will get you through.”

Defense was definitely one of the calling cards of those Memphis Grizzlies teams from half a decade ago and this Jazz team is very much familiar with sporting an elite defense. However, there’s one other roster feature that Conley believes will serve them very well going forward: Depth.

“We didn’t rely on one or two guys,” Conley said. “We relied on the team aspect of it and got different performances from different guys each night. So, here I feel like we have similar qualities. We have a lot of different guys we can lean on, which makes it pretty hard to defend.”

With Conley onboard, everyone in the Utah area is thinking championship for the title-less franchise. Despite all of the expectations that have come as a result of Conley’s trade to the Jazz, he just hopes to be himself and, in so doing, add to an already great team culture.

“I’ve just come in to be myself. I’m not going to try to come in and be overwhelming or take over the room because these guys have played together for a while,” Conley said. “Donovan’s turned into a great leader. Joe’s a great leader. Rudy, all these guys lead in different ways.

“In my particular way might be a little bit different. I demand a lot out of myself which means I demand a lot out of the team in the same aspect. I basically just practice what I preach.”

Matt John is a staff writer for Basketball Insiders. He is currently a Utah resident, but a Massachusetts native.

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