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MikeCheck on Grizzlies: Conley heads for season-ending surgery to address ‘root cause’ of lingering Achilles’ heel issue

by Michael Wallace | Grind City Media

MEMPHIS – This time exactly a month ago, Mike Conley dashed across the basketball court inside an upscale fitness center in downtown San Francisco, stopped abruptly at the free-throw line, spun around and shifted his body to sprint in the completely opposite direction.

The will was there.

That much was evident by the sweat-drenched shirt and the response to attack every tedious drill that the Grizzlies’ sports science team, training staff and assistant coaches pushed Conley through.

But ultimately, Conley couldn’t push past a fundamental issue that needed to be addressed with his troublesome left foot. After three seasons of enduring varying treatments for discomfort, Conley is scheduled for surgery this week to shave a bone protrusion in his left heel.

The procedure will shut down the Grizzlies’ catalyst for the rest of the season, but includes a recovery schedule expected to return Conley to basketball activities over the summer and in advance of the start of training camp for the 2018-19 season. Conley, 30, said Tuesday that the surgery should correct problems he’s had with both his Achilles and his heel in recent years.

I was like, ‘Nah, I don’t want to do that. I think I can exhaust every option before going to that extent. And we literally did every single thing you can think of in the last three years to alleviate the pain and play through it.
-- Mike Conley

“Doctors were telling me three years ago that, eventually, one day down the line maybe this will be something to look at, having this heel shaved down a little bit,” Conley said in his first interview with reporters since the team announced his season-ending surgery on Saturday. “I was like, ‘Nah, I don’t want to do that. I think I can exhaust every option before going to that extent. And we literally did every single thing you can think of in the last three years to alleviate the pain and play through it.”

Mike Conley

Conley was limited to just 12 games this season, and previously said he had been dealing with soreness since an Oct. 21 home win against Golden State in Memphis’ second game of the season. He played in 10 more games and saw his last action in a Nov. 13 road loss to Milwaukee. Conley and the team’s medical staff began a series of treatment options with initial hopes to get him back on the court. But the soreness persistent even as Conley advanced to three-on-three scrimmage work in early January.

Two season ago, Conley missed the final two months with Achilles soreness. He managed the issue last season and entered the playoffs playing the best basketball of his career when he averaged 24.7 points and shot 44.7 percent on threes in a six-game series loss to the Spurs in the first round.

You look at all Mike has done for his teammates and this organization, the blood and sweat he’s put into this organization, and I think now it’s our turn to support Mike, understand the sacrifice he’s making.
-- J.B. Bickerstaff

“Obviously, I think everybody is disappointed, but I think everyone understands what type of guy Mike is and what type of effort he put into trying to come back,” Grizzlies interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. “You look at all Mike has done for his teammates and this organization, the blood and sweat he’s put into this organization, and I think now it’s our turn to support Mike, understand the sacrifice he’s making.”

Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace had been hopeful that Conley’s potential return from the extensive treatment sessions would help salvage the season. But in a letter to MVP Season-Ticket holders over the weekend, Wallace acknowledged that the season “has not gone as well as we had planned and hoped,” but that the organization would “remain aggressive in evaluating opportunities to improve the team” through player development, the draft, free agency and trades.

The Grizzlies (18-31) have gone 6-6 in January heading into Wednesday’s game against the Pacers and look to close out their first winning month since going 5-2 in October. The game in Indiana is the start of a four-game trip for the Grizzlies, who play 10 of their next 15 away from FedExForum.

Extending their streak of seven consecutive playoff appearances – third-longest in the NBA – is in serious jeopardy. But the focus for the Grizzlies is to get Conley and other key veterans healthy, continue to develop young players such as rookies Dillon Brooks and Ivan Rabb and build assets for next season.

Conley said he’d like to see the Grizzlies continue to build solid habits on the floor the rest of the season, and he referenced Monday’s 120-109 home win over the Suns as an example. Memphis had seven players score in double figures and finished with 29 assists.

“More of what we saw last night,” Conley said. “Guys playing the right way, playing a brand of basketball that, whether or not we’re one of the better teams in the west right now or not, continue to play like we’re going to create that culture, create that environment. Hopefully, we can continue to play hard, play together and play Grizzlies basketball going forward.”

Teammates support Conley’s move to address the injury now and maximize his recovery time to make a healthy and clear run for next season, when he will be in the third year of a five-year, $153 million deal.

Even before he shut it down, I was looking at him like, ‘Man, you don’t look like yourself.’ And he was like, ‘Yeah, you’re right.’ He loves the game so much that he wants to play and help the team win, be out there to help us. But he’s making the right decision. Hopefully, he comes back better than ever.
-- Tyreke Evans

“Mike’s a good guy,” Grizzlies guard Tyreke Evans said. “Even before he shut it down, I was looking at him like, ‘Man, you don’t look like yourself.’ And he was like, ‘Yeah, you’re right.’ He loves the game so much that he wants to play and help the team win, be out there to help us. But he’s making the right decision. Hopefully, he comes back better than ever.”

Mike Conley and Tyreke Evans

Conley outlined the process he’s facing in the coming days and months.

“I’ll have surgery, and I’ll be non-weight bearing for a little bit,” Conley said Tuesday. “Then in a boot for some weeks after that, then back on my feet, hopefully by May (or) June, working out, back to preparing myself, getting my strength back, back to basketball shape and things that go with offseason training.”

Having the surgery now was also a matter of timing.

“That was a point of emphasis, to try to get it done as soon as we could, so I could have a normal summer of working out and being able to come back in shape for training camp,” Conley added. “And not have to wait until the end of the year and have to deal with rehab stuff going into training camp, sitting out games and all that stuff.”

Still, coming to grips with the decision to undergo surgery was difficult.

“It’s something I hoped I didn’t have to get to, to get to this point,” Conley insisted. “It’s taken me some time to kind of cope with it and even grasp what’s actually happened. It is what it is, and I think that it’s the best decision for me and the organization.”

After three seasons of coping, Conley is ready to attack the “root cause” of his heel issue.

“I did a decent job last year, but this year it seemed to be a little bit too much for me,” Conley surmised. “So I didn’t want to have to continue with the cycle. Hopefully this is the answer.”