Thursday, January 15, 2009

Asking Price for Conley Must Come Down

Rumors of a potential trade between the Memphis Grizzlies and the Milwaukee Bucks that would see the teams swap second-year point guards, have gained momentum in recent days. If it were to go down in its current form, Mike Conley Jr. would be sent to Milwaukee in exchange for Ramon Sessions and rookie forward Joe Alexander, the #8 pick in the 2008 draft and everyone’s favorite headbanger. The trade’s current structure largely results from the fact that salaries must match in order for an NBA trade to work, but it must be said that, purely from a basketball perspective, the price tag attached to Mike Conley seems a bit inflated.

In terms of on-court production, Sessions, the 56th pick in the 2007 draft, is the superior NBA point guard. He stepped in late last season and played phenomenally over the season’s last 17 games, hitting for 20+ points twice and reaching double figures in assists six times, including a spectacular 24-assist performance against the Bulls on April 14. This season, Sessions has shown that those seventeen games were no fluke, playing in 38 games and scoring at a higher clip and shooting the same 44% from the field. His assist numbers have dropped a bit, but one 24-assist game out of seventeen does skew the numbers a bit. Over his 55-game career, Ramon Sessions is averaging 9.7 points, 5.4 assists and 2.9 rebounds in 24.7 minutes per game.

Mike Conley Jr. on the other hand, the 4th overall selection in the same 2007 draft, is not nearly the same caliber of professional point guard right now, and doesn’t seem to be moving toward becoming a top-tier NBA player, repeatedly losing his starting spot to Kyle Lowry. In his 91 career games in the NBA, Conley has averaged 8.6 points on 41% from the field, 3.7 assists and 2.7 rebounds in 25.5 minutes per game, with just two 20+ point games and two 10+ assist games- all of them coming last season. And he doesn’t seem to be heading in the right direction. 38 games into this season, Conley is averaging 7.4 points and 3 assists and shooting 42% from the field.

Although Conley sports a much higher salary ($3.6 million v. $722K for Sessions), there is onerfactor that could scare off possible suitors for Ramon Sessions- he’s in line to get paid. Like Gilbert Arenas in 2003, Sessions stands to benefit from falling into the second round of the draft and not receiving a guaranteed 3-year contract (with a team option for a fourth) the likes of which Conley received. While Conley’s contract pays him $3.6 million this season, $3.9 million next season and has a $4.9 million team option for 2010-11, Sessions will receive a contract this summer that’s likely to pay him at least $5 million per season, but this really shouldn’t be a huge concern for the Grizz. Since Sessions isn’t likely to command a huge contract, paying him more than Conley shouldn’t hurt too much, since it will be commensurate with the difference in their play.

While trying to turn a questionable lottery choice into not only an upgrade at the point guard position, as well as trying to poach one of Milwaukee’s lottery picks, is a shrewd move by the Grizzlies, it’s an absurd strategy. Any extra consideration offered by the Bucks should be for the sole purpose of matching salaries. For instance, a package consisting of Ramon Sessions and Tyronne Lue (an expiring contract) is more than fair to Memphis, who should love the prospect of wiping Conley’s contract off the books, auditioning a free-agent-to-be for the remainder of the season for less than $400,000, and receiving $2,250,000 of cap relief from Lue’s expiring deal.

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