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As we head to the draft and free agency, SNY is doing a series on the different factors surrounding potential free agents for the Knicks.
Here’s a look at New York’s pros and cons of signing guard Mike Conley ...
The case for signing Conley
Coming off a fourth-seed finish to the regular season and subsequent disappointing first-round exit, the Knicks are in clear upgrade mode this offseason. The point guard position was one of New York’s weakest, naturally making Conley, one of the top free agents at said position, a potential fit. He’s also an established veteran, plus defensive player and has tons of postseason experience.
Though he’s turning 34 next season, Conley is coming off his first All-Star appearance and a strong all-around season. He averaged 16.2 points, 3.5 rebounds and 6.0 assists a game for the regular-season’s-best Utah Jazz, shooting 44 percent from the field, 41.2 percent from deep and 85.2 percent from the line. For comparison, Conley’s shooting efficiency, as captured by his .589 true-shooting percentage, is similar to Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s or Jrue Holiday’s.
Spreading the floor isn’t the only thing the Knicks need out of their one. They need a floor general, and Conley has been one for the majority of his career. He may do it less, but is still willing and able to attack on the pick-and-roll, utilizing either his floater or change of pace to get to the rim.
His near-career best assist rate helps quantify how he emerged as a key playmaker on a team originally built to stray from the individual.
Defensively, Conley may not be what he used to be, but is the Knicks best option at the point this summer not named Kyle Lowry. He may be the only better option available, strictly in terms of near-term production. His 16 points,, six assists and 40 percent three-point shooting were only matched by Julius Randle and Kyrie Irving this season. And nobody is duplicating his IQ or eight years of postseason experience.
The case against signing Conley
Conley is going to be strongly sought after by his Jazz team, which means it will likely take a sweet offer to bribe him away.
Even if he was looking to go elsewhere, signing Conley to a cost effective or flexible deal won’t be easy. He just earned $34.5 million last season, and won’t be looking for a sharp discount coming off his first All-Star year.
Assuming the Knicks need to throw something in the ballpark of three years, $90 million at Conley, that makes him 37 when his contract expires, and clogs up a ton of cap space in the meantime. This with presumably no other star to sign, and for low-tier All-Star performance that’s set to decline, progressively.
There are many other options that are more risk averse and easier on the Knicks payroll. If that means the draft, a trade, or just a backup behind Luca Vildoza or Derrick Rose, New York is better off going that route than clumsily throwing around giant contracts at aged players like it’s the 2000s.
What’s the right move?
If Conley is willing to entertain a short-term deal of only two guaranteed years, he may be worth paying out if other options aren’t available. There aren’t a great deal of free agents this year that will move the needle for the Knicks, but Conley is one of them.
Bringing a savvy all-around point guard like Conley on board gives Randle and RJ Barrett a serious relief valve, and as close to a second Thibs on the court you could get. On a contract where New York can easily move on to better, why not take the best option there is until better arrives?
If he insists on a longer deal, Leon Rose should look elsewhere. Improvement may be key to his offseason, but staying flexible for the real big fish is key to the long-term championship prospects of the franchise.