Mike Conley knows he has a great opportunity with the Utah Jazz and, perhaps most importantly, realizes how meaningful it would be to bring a championship to Salt Lake City.
In a league that’s become all too closely associated with teaming up with star players and forming super teams, for those of us who lean towards supporting the underdog, the 2019-20 NBA season looks like it finally might provide a bit of a breath of fresh air. While there are undoubtedly several daunting teams and some incredible dynamic duos, there’s no lone clear cut favorite as several teams appear poised to compete for a championship.
Among those teams is the upstart Utah Jazz, a perennial small market underdog that has a reputation for fielding a good team, but not one that can truly compete at the highest level. Other such small market teams that may find themselves in that mix this season are the Denver Nuggets and Portland Trail Blazers who were both prolific a season ago.
But Utah could very well have the edge over their small market competition and find themselves in the same tier as the behemoth LA Clippers and Los Angeles Lakers who boast some of the league’s best players in Kawhi Leonard and Paul George on the former and LeBron James and Anthony Davis on the latter. The Jazz got significantly better this offseason, and one principal way they did so was by adding point guard extraordinaire Mike Conley to their ranks.
Conley has consistently been one of the best point guards in the game and is arguably the best active NBA veteran to have never appeared in an All-Star Game. Flying under the radar in Memphis hurt his prospects in that regard, but his talent most definitely isn’t lacking.
And ever since Conley learned that he would be joining the Jazz, he’s been nothing but upbeat and optimistic. Clearly he sees just how high this team’s ceiling can be and how much potential they hold, and he’s excited to be a part of it.
In fact, in a recent article from J. Michael of the Indy Star describing the current situation for small market teams, he gathered some highly meaningful quotes from Mike Conley regarding how he feels about his new team and opportunity. In comparing SLC to other markets, the Jazz point guard had the following to say:
“You have cities like Miami or L.A., New York, big-time markets. There’s a lot of growth that guys see. There’s a lot of things outside of basketball that guys see that can entice them. I didn’t know anything about Salt Lake City. It’s an unbelievable city. It’s an unbelievable place to be. Guys don’t get to spend time in these areas and communities to realize how good the opportunity would be if they went there.”
Man, that’s got to be music to Jazz fans’ ears. Not only is Conley praising the often overlooked and underappreciated Salt Lake City, but he realizes the opportunity he has to make a difference in such a community, even if it is a smaller one than many players might prefer.
But as if that wasn’t already enough, Conley added another bit of great insight that should excite Jazz fans even further. When asked about the tougher path that small market teams have to follow, here was his response:
“You’ve got to do the right things through the draft. It makes it a little bit of a harder road, but also I think it would be more enjoyable to ultimately win a ring in a place you have to work so hard for it.”
In an era where players have been more prone to seek out the easy way to a championship (looking at you Kevin Durant) rather than working through trials and building something special and meaningful albeit in a perhaps difficult situation, Conley’s point of view is a breath of fresh air.
Today’s society is predicated on instant gratification, handouts and taking the easy way out. Lost in that mindset is an attitude of working hard to defy the odds and experiencing the joy that comes from overcoming those obstacles with diligence and integrity. But Conley is one of the rare few who still gets it. He knows that the harder the journey and the more daunting the path, the greater the reward will be.
In other words, he wants to win a championship, but he wants to win it the right way. He wants that enjoyment that will come from taking an under-appreciated and overlooked team all the way to the top of the ladder in spite of all the challenges that surround them.
Fortunately, the Jazz have put themselves in about as ideal of a situation to do so as they could have. They have a loaded and well-rounded roster with great shooting around defensive star Rudy Gobert and budding star Donovan Mitchell. They’ve added an experienced floor general in Mike Conley and a sharpshooter extraordinaire in Bojan Bogdanovic.
They’ve played their chips just right to bounce back majestically from the Gordon Hayward fiasco of a few summers back. And now they, with Conley leading the charge, have a chance to raise their small market squad to the ultimately glory.
It’s hard to imagine a joy that will be greater than that for the team and the Salt Lake City faithful. Winning a championship in Utah is something that to this day many would say is impossible. The players likely recognize that general sentiment as well, which is why winning it all would be so rewarding, as Conley pointed out.
Mike Conley knows how special this next season could be with the Jazz and he’s excited to get underway in a new city in which he’s making the absolute best of his opportunity. His viewpoint thus far should have his teammates and fans totally thrilled with the exciting season that lies ahead.
Can it be October already?