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How Mike Conley's free agency will shape the Jazz's offseason

Utah Jazz guard Mike Conley stands on the court before Game 1 of the team's second-round NBA basketball playoff series against the Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday, June 8, 2021, in Salt Lake City. Conley suffered a mild right hamstring strain in Game 5 against the Grizzlies, and he has been ruled out of Tuesday night's game.

Utah Jazz guard Mike Conley stands on the court before Game 1 of the team's second-round NBA basketball playoff series against the Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday, June 8, 2021, in Salt Lake City. Conley suffered a mild right hamstring strain in Game 5 against the Grizzlies, and he has been ruled out of Tuesday night's game. (Rick Bowmer, Associated Press)



SALT LAKE CITY — Joe Ingles didn't take long to broach the topic of free agency with Mike Conley

"I was talking about (Friday) night already a little bit about it, hoping that I could get some answers out of him," Ingles said.

Considering Friday night was the same evening the Jazz saw their season come to an end, it's not surprising that Conley didn't have many answers. But Conley won't be the only one making a choice. The Jazz will also have to decide if a hefty luxury tax bill is worth keeping the guard who will be 34 years old when the season begins again, or if they have any other options.

Does Conley want to come back? And, if so, can the Jazz even afford him? Those are the questions that will shape Utah's offseason.

"Well, obviously, you know how I feel about our team and the city and the fans," Conley said Saturday. "It's been just a wonderful two years. Definitely an up-and-down two years, but wonderful — regardless of how it ended last night. Free agency is free agency; it's the business we live in. It's something I have to sit back and consider with my family and, when that time comes, make the decision that's best for us and myself."

Conley's first season was far from perfect, but since the Jazz got back together from the bubble in Orlando, he's played at an All-Star level — evidenced by his first All-Star selection this season. But while the Jazz were at their best with Conley, he also missed 45 games, including the first five in the second-round loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, with a right hamstring injury. That all makes for some tough decisions upcoming for both sides.

Salary cap situation

Any talk about Conley coming back has to begin here.

The Jazz did a lot of work last offseason: They gave monster extensions to both Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell, re-signed Jordan Clarkson and brought back Derrick Favors on a multi-year deal. But because of all those deals, the Jazz have little to no flexibility, barring some major core changes.

The Jazz have just north of $129 million committed to nine players for next season — well above the $112 million projected salary cap and just about $7 million shy of the luxury tax.

That means the Jazz can't do anything to replace Conley except for the draft (they have the No. 30 pick) and a $5.9 million taxpayer midlevel exception. You'd be hard-pressed to find an All-Star caliber player with those.

The cost of Conley

Conley will command significantly less than the $34 million he made last season but should still be in line for a contract that'll be around $20 million per year. While the Jazz don't have cap space, they are allowed to exceed the cap to sign their own free agents, but doing so will come with a hefty tax bill.

New owner Ryan Smith has made it clear that he's willing to pay the luxury tax, but bringing back Conley could mean he's on the hook for an additional $40 million — all for a team that was just eliminated in the second round. That could make him pause.

"He made a huge financial commitment this offseason, and there's always the next season in multi-year planning," Jazz lead executive Dennis Lindsey said.

The good news is there's not many teams in need of a veteran point guard and less so that have the cap space to sign one (the Miami Heat and New York Knicks make up the list), so at least the Jazz shouldn't have to worry about overpaying to keep him.

"He's got to go vet his market," Lindsey said. "We've got to go draft, and as soon as it's legal have free agent conversations. … We'll have just a real honest conversation and see if you can make a marriage work, but couldn't be more proud of him.

"I can speak for Ryan Smith on that one, he really appreciated Mike giving it a shot (to play in Game 6)."

Does Conley want to stay?

Conley said his No. 1 goal, unsurprisingly, is to win a title. And a disappointing finish to the year, notwithstanding, he'd be hard pressed to find a team that he could sign with that would be in a better position to do that than the Jazz.

Maybe he helps the Heat reclaim their 2020 bubble form? Or maybe he could push the Knicks to the next level? Or maybe the Dallas Mavericks sign him to partner with Luka Doncic to create an All-Star tandem guard line that helps push them to the top of the West?

But running it back with the team who finished with the best record isn't a bad option to chase championship aspirations.

"I've had a great time here and great experiences, coaches and coach Quin and the players, and Don and Rudy and everybody," Conley said. "We'll just see what happens. Obviously I can't see into the future and what exactly will happen. It's my first time being a real free agent. So it'll be interesting, but I did love it here and we'll see what happens."

Cost aside, do the Jazz want him back?

Conley's season ended on a sour note with him having to sit out for the majority of the second-round loss to the Clippers, but he was an All-Star. There's obviously going to be some concern about Conley's health going forward, but considering the cap situation, for anyone not signing the checks, it's likely a pretty easy decision: bring the point guard back.

"From our perspective, who he is, what he stands for, the speed, skill, experience, intelligence, character, poise that he adds to the group, those are all we just pinch ourselves," Lindsey said. "It's an honor to have him part of the program."

Said Ingles: I'll do everything in my power — whether I have to FaceTime him or fly to his mansion in Ohio and have lunch with him or something — whatever it is, I'll try. I think everyone saw the impact that he had within our group on and off the court."

Said coach Quin Snyder: "Not only is he a great player, but he's one of the best human beings that I've ever had an opportunity to be with on a daily basis."

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