Posted Nov 2 2010 6:37PM
Mike Conley isn't apologizing for the $40-plus million extension offered before Monday's deadline by the Memphis Grizzlies. There's no need, considering the alternative would have been to say no.
Conley's job isn't to worry about the others in the same 2007 draft class that went without the years being added to their rookie contacts. He doesn't have to justify his talents or worth against fellow extension recipients Kevin Durant, Joakim Noah, Al Horford and Jared Dudley.
The 23-year-old point guard also shouldn't be concerned about what this means in the bigger picture. Yes, those nebulous collective bargaining talks hanging out just a step off the side of the court throughout the season. Let the owners and union argue over the significance of deals such as Conley's.
If anything, the Players Association ought to be thanking him. Cries of poverty from the league's owners sound awfully wolfish when sizing up the five-year pledge from one of the league's supposed struggling teams. If a small-market, low-income franchise such as Memphis can afford $120 million in extensions for Rudy Gay and Conley, is there really a problem?
But that's another issue. And while many are calling the Conley deal crazy, those inside the Grizzlies locker room are calling it commitment. Marc Gasol said that management is dedicated to keeping the team's young talent intact, even though he curiously didn't receive an extension by the deadline.
"We never doubted that," the fourth year center said. "They always told us that was going to happen. The intention was to keep the core together. We're going to have that."
The front office has decisions to make in the coming years with respect to Gasol and O.J. Mayo -- two more pieces to the Memphis puzzle -- but a precedent appears to have been set with Gay and Conley. Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley is committed to and believes in this group.
That's all Conley wanted to know. His focus now, as the on-court maestro, is keeping the team headed in the right direction. The Grizzlies went into Tuesday night's visit to the Los Angeles Lakers having won two of their first three without Zach Randolph in the lineup.
Randolph, last season's leading scorer and rebounder, is nursing a bruised tailbone. That the Grizzlies are off to a solid start without one of their best players (Gasol also missed the opener) speaks to the depth and quality of the roster. Darrell Arthur has been thrust into Randolph's role, and has been solid.
"It's not easy at all," Conley said of Randolph's absence, "but we are a talented team. We have a lot of talented players on this team. Given the opportunity, guys have to step up and assume a little different role. That's what we have to do if we want to have a winning season. We have to be able to play through adversity.
"Every games counts," Conley said. "That's what we learned last year, more than anything, starting off 1-8 really hurt us. We know how important a good start can be for a good finish. We can't let one or two losses hold us back or whatever it may be. We have to keep on pushing and keep on grinding it out to try to get as many wins as we can early."
Though it's an extremely small sample size, the production from Conley early is encouraging. The 6-foot-1 lefty is averaging 15 points and about eight assists. He's also putting his quickness and instincts to good use, leading the league in steals at nearly four per contest.
Conley helped clinch an impressive win at Dallas last week -- the first for Memphis in five years -- by swiping an inbounds pass on the Mavericks' last possession. Conley wasn't the only one making key plays. Gay, Mayo, Gasol and even rookie Xavier Henry were among those coming up big down the stretch.
"Everybody, not only myself, has to step up and hold it down as much as we can," Conley said. "We're going to have to play out of our roles a little bit. I feel I have to be more aggressive and more assertive trying to get guys involved, because I know we don't have that low-post threat like we used to right now."
The knock on the Grizzlies for the last few years was the lack of a threat at point guard. Whether or not Conley develops into a top flight playmaker in a league stocked with top flight playmakers remains to be seen.
Whether or not he deserved an extension ahead of such draft peers as Jeff Green, Aaron Brooks, and former Ohio State teammate and No. 1 pick Greg Oden is immaterial now. Conley has his deal. The commitment has been made.
Now it's about living up to the Grizzlies' promise. They flirted with a .500 record and the playoffs last season. That's not going to cut it this time around.
"We don't see our team as a young team anymore," Conley said. "We feel more seasoned. We've learned a lot more the last couple of years playing together. We've had to go through our ups and downs, and I think we've learned firsthand how to deal with them and this season is about putting it all together."
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