Mike Conley has done an exceptional job as a recruiter for the Utah Jazz, as his influence was key in the team landing free agents this summer.
The Utah Jazz have never been thought of as a free agent destination. Between a small market size, it’s widely unfamiliar location and some stigmas about the area – most of them unfair or unheralded – several factors have prevented the team from being able to be a major player in luring summer talent.
But that wasn’t about to stop the likes of Dennis Lindsey, Quin Snyder and the rest of Jazz brass from working hard to change that perception and the organization’s fortune. For years, the team has worked relentlessly to alter their culture to a degree that other players would find them appealing and want to join their ranks.
One of the first major dominoes that fell showing a change in the winds was the acquisition of Joe Johnson in 2016. Despite the fact that he was at the tail end of his career, he was still a reputed All-Star and easily one of the most high-profile free agents the Jazz had ever landed. But when Gordon Hayward left – a stark reminder that the Jazz struggle to lure or keep talent – it seemed as if perhaps all their work had been for naught.
But then came the emergence of Donovan Mitchell. His rise from late lottery pick to blooming star was monumental for the Jazz in so many ways. Of course, the majority of those came on the court where his play helped the team remain a winner and gave them a promising player to build around to ideally put the team in a solid place moving forward.
But beyond that, Mitchell was a likable star with an enjoyable personality that quickly made him popular around the league. Before long, he was hugging it up with big-name stars after nearly every game and soon relating stories about fellow friends around the league and sharing jabs with them on social media. Amidst this burst of popularity, a new hope emerged in Mitchell — perhaps he could be the team’s player recruiter that could finally help bring talent to the Jazz.
He talked about doing as much in his first NBA offseason, claiming in a podcast with ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski that he planned on chatting with Paul George about that very topic. Of course, whatever conversations may have taken place between the two ultimately didn’t come to fruition as George agreed to stay in Oklahoma City, only to one year later request a trade and find himself dealt to the LA Clippers who have become the favorite in the West and potentially one of Utah’s greatest nemeses.
But the idea was still there and the hope for Mitchell’s ability to continue to lure talent into the mix remained strong. We’ve seen several players do it before to enhance their team, and it was only feasible that the charismatic Mitchell could be the one to turn that tide in Utah.
Such may be the case in the very near future. And it’s entirely possible that Mitchell already has played an enormous role in helping lure the players that signed this summer into the mix. However, in regards to who has been Utah’s major recruiter this summer, all signs point to Mike Conley taking over – and thriving in – that role.
The Jazz traded for Mike Conley well before the start of free agency, sending away Jae Crowder, Grayson Allen, Kyle Korver and picks to up-level their point guard position in a big way. He was sure to instantly improve the Jazz in terms of talent, but the Jazz might not have known how much he would impact the team from a recruitment standpoint.
As much as the Jazz organization has hoped that Mitchell could turn into their player recruiter – and he very well could and still will – it appears that for now that role has been solidly filled by Mike Conley.
Tony Jones of The Athletic (paid subscription required) first reported that Jeff Green largely joined the Jazz due to a relationship with former teammate Mike Conley. That sentiment was reaffirmed in a recent introductory press conference where Green had the following to say:
“It’s just a friendship that’s been going since my time in Memphis. He’s a good guy. He’s somebody who’s going to be there for you and always lend a helping hand. That’s a good friend and a good teammate.”
The Deseret News article from which that quote was pulled also mentioned that the wives of Green and Conley are good friends and have children the same age, further motivating the union. Ed Davis also noted that the chance to play with Conley, who he also formerly played with on the Memphis Grizzlies, was an enormous factor. He added,
“There’s no ego, he’s just a good person all the way around. He’ll come in every day and there’s no bulls— with him. You can’t do nothing but respect that. He definitely gave me the confidence that this team was ready, so that helped out a lot for me. He’s one of the reasons why I made my decision so quick.”
Both apparently conferred with Conley prior to joining up with Utah. And while both cited other reasons that they were excited to join the Jazz such as the steadiness of the organization, the chance to play with Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert, and an opportunity to legitimately compete for a championship with a well-rounded team, even those likely wouldn’t have been enough without the persuasion of Conley.
He was able to instill confidence in both of them that choosing the Jazz, in spite of any lingering stigmas they might have heard about it, was going to be well worth it. And, well, playing with him would be the icing on the cake.
To that point, Green further gave Conley high marks by stating:
“He’s a guy who fights for his team, loves his team, supports his teammates,” Green said. “A guy with no ego who’s gonna play hard every night and try to win.”
Green and Davis aren’t the only ones that were impacted by Conley before joining the Jazz ranks. Bojan Bogdanovic, by far Utah’s biggest acquisition of the summer and arguably their best ever, mentioned that the chance to play alongside Conley was a key motivator in his decision. In a recent sit down with UtahJazz.com’s Aaron Falk, Emmanuel Mudiay had the same message, mentioning that Conley reached out to him and instilled him with further interest to join a Jazz team with its sights set firmly on a championship.
In other words, Conley is already showing just why he was named the NBA’s Teammate of the Year last season. He’s proving his worth in full force before even having suited up for a single game with the Jazz. Each of the Jazz newcomers has wanted to play with Conley. His fingerprints are already all over this roster as he continues to be a stand-up guy and an exceptional teammate that players want to join forces with.
In so doing, he’s surprisingly become the team’s main recruiter – a role many presumed would be held by Donovan Mitchell, but instead has been taken over by the savvy veteran point guard. Fortunately, I don’t think anyone’s complaining about him stealing the job from Mitchell. After all, he’s done a tremendous job.
And perhaps Mitchell will learn a thing or two from Conley, both on the basketball court and in the recruiting sphere. Either way, Conley’s addition has directly helped the Jazz add more talent and should make them a dangerous team for the foreseeable future. His ability to recruit has made the Jazz significantly better this summer and, who knows, could potentially elevate the team to a new level where their free agent struggles dissipate forever.
This offseason has been monumental for the Jazz in so many ways. They attracted impactful free agents. They put together a roster that appears ready to compete in a championship. They’ve started to knock down the long-held ideas that Utah isn’t a destination for meaningful players.
And on top of it all, perhaps unexpectedly, they added a magnificent recruiter in Mike Conley. A guy that other players want to play with and who can convince top players to come join the Teammate of the Year. Even before Conley has played a single game in a Utah Jazz uniform, he’s already proving just how valuable he’s going to be.