Mike Conley focused on building legacy in staying with Grizzlies
Rarely — and almost famously — has Mike Conley been the center of attention.
He wasn’t in high school or college, where the Indianapolis native and Ohio State product, was Robin to Greg Oden’s Batman. He has often been overshadowed on the Memphis Grizzlies with former All-NBA picks Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. It’s also happened at his position in the Western Conference with the likes of point guards Chris Paul, Damian Lillard, Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry, Tony Parker and Steve Nash.
But the richest contract in NBA history makes changed all that, and during an on-court ceremony at FedExForum on Thursday celebrating his returning on a five-year, $153 million deal, Conley accepted the pressure that dollar figures puts him in.
"Two years from now my contract will not look like it does right now," Conley said. "Everybody else will be making so much more. I’ll take the heat for right now. I’m cool with it. Eventually, it will all die down."
The 28-year-old, who has played all nine of his seasons in Memphis — which took him with the fourth pick in 2007 — averaging 13.5 points and 5.6 points. He’s the franchise’s all-time leader in games played, minutes played, assists and steals.
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Building a legacy with the only NBA team he’s known was at the forefront of Conley’s mind as he weighed his free agency fate.
"That one word was what I would think about at night," Conley said. "I’m like ‘Man, I’d like to be in Memphis and say that we brought a championship here from winning 20 games to making the playoffs six straight years to continually getting getter each year and ultimately bringing that trophy home and having a parade on Beale Street.
"Those were the visions that I have, and I couldn’t think of doing it anywhere else."
He has ingratiated himself into Memphis, and with the spotlight on him, Conley took the time to address the recent troubles that have plagued society.
"I’m a quiet guy, I’m very reserved," he said. "At the same time, as much as I want to lead by example, I know when it’s time to speak up. Right now is that time … It’s not about money, we have to be on the forefront to set examples for the kids. We need to become mentors for the youth."
He said he will be donating $1 million to the Grizzlies Foundation to aid the community — a figure that team owner Robert Pera opted to match.
"I’m proudly donating $1 million to the Grizzlies Foundation in hopes that we can find a way to inspire and continue to help those in our community going forward, and I challenge you to do the same," Conley said. "It’s not about money, it’s about time."
Injuries have been an issue for Conley of late, playing in 56 games last season with an Achilles tendon injury and in the past three seasons he’s been limited to no more than 73 games.
"I want to be healthy. I want to be able to be here every night and give everything I’ve got, 100 percent all the time," Conley said. "I’m doing everything I can to be able to do that."
Retaining Conley was the top priority for Memphis this offseason, as was increasing its shooting after ranking 29th in the league in three-point shooting in 2015-16. They addressed that with the addition of small forward Chandler Parsons, and after drafting point guard Wade Baldwin IV and forward/center Deytona Davis, Conley believes it was a statement summer for the Grizzlies.
"We’ve had one of the best offseasons out of any organization in the league," Conley said. "We have put ourselves in position to be noticed, put ourselves (in position) to be taken serious."
As will, if he wasn’t already, the point guard with a mega deal, even if he’s never been selected to an All-Star Game.
"He’s our All-Star," Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace told reporters. "He’s an elite point guard in this league. It’s unanimous around the league that he’s one of the top-tier players at his position."
Follow Cory McCartney on Twitter @coryjmccartney and Facebook. His book, ‘Tales from the Atlanta Braves Dugout: A Collection of the Greatest Braves Stories Ever Told,’ is out now, and ‘The Heisman Trophy: The Story of an American Icon and Its Winners’ will be released Nov. 1, 2016.