A Mike Conley-Celtics trade Would Only Work If Isaiah Thomas Leaves

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The Celtics trade rumor mill is starting to heat up, and I’m having a hard time not getting wrapped up in every ounce of speculation that I hear.  The Celtics may be just a few weeks away from taking a leap from good to great, and asking me to tone down my enthusiasm for it would be an impossible task.

Mike Conley is one of the many guys to whom the Celtics have been linked, and it definitely makes sense.  Conley, a UFA this summer, is 28 and is still in his prime, and the Grizzlies are stuck in a spot where they’ll never get past the 2nd round in the West.  Conley would be a great acquisition to run the Celtics’ offense and to provide leadership for the young core.

Having said that, the Celtics view everyone on their roster primarily as an asset, and acquiring Conley would diminish the value of the asset known as Isaiah Thomas.  IT has been everything that the Celtics hoped for and more since they got him from the Suns a year ago, making the All Star team this season and being a huge difference maker in the Celtics offense.  But if the Celtics got Conley, a true point guard in every sense of the definition, Isaiah wouldn’t have the same value to the team.  Conley plays 31.5 minutes per game and would play more in the playoffs, and there’s no sense in keeping Isaiah to play 15 minutes a night — not when his value is as high as it is now.

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Trading Isaiah wouldn’t be a bad idea for the Celtics when you think from Danny Ainge’s perspective of evaluating everyone as assets.  He wants to play poker and accumulate the most chips, and he could improve the Celtics by those standards by selling high on IT.

It might make sense for the Grizzlies to take Isaiah Thomas, because he’d help keep them competitive this year and in the playoff hunt, and Isaiah would around through 2018 on one of the team friendliest contracts (non-rookie contracts) in the league.  Bill Simmons threw out the idea of Isaiah and 2 non-Brooklyn 1st round picks that the Celtics currently own for Conley.  I don’t hate that trade IF Ainge has good reason to believe that Conley will re-sign in the summer, but tons of teams will have the cap space to bid on Conley at his max rate, which would be $25.3 in the first season of a deal signed this Summer.  It might make sense for Conely to take a 1 year deal at $25.3M and then get to 10 years of service in the summer of 2017, making his max number $29.5 million by next year’s numbers… but the cap probably goes up again in 2017 by another 15-20 percent, so Conley might be able to make about $34 million a year on a max contract starting in 2017.

In fact, that’s what I hope happens with the Celtics and Mike Conley.  Signing him to a max deal right before his 29th birthday at the 2016 max rate would definitely be too much if the Celtics have to go 5 years, and it’d probably be too much for 4 years, also.  Danny Ainge loves flexibility, and such a deal would take away from it considerably.  But if he re-signed for 1 year, then it’s Mike Conley for 2 playoffs and 1+ regular seasons.  Sign me up.  The C’s could also use their re-signing rights to set up a sign-and-trade for Conley this summer, which Conley might insist upon if he wants every last penny.  He’s getting underpaid now, so there’s a good chance he wants to maximize his earnings.

If Danny Ainge were to make a trade like this one, I trust that he would have already put some serious thought into what happens with Conley this summer.  Therefore, I’d be fine trading Isaiah and 2 firsts for Conley, and maybe throw a 2nd round pick or 2 in there as well.  But if we’re all so anxious for the Celtics to make the team better immediately (as we should be), then we have to get used to seeing the departures of some of core members of this team that we’ve grown to love.  There’s no way that the Celtics get Mike Conley without letting Isaiah Thomas go.

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