Washington Wizards: The Wizards should seriously consider trading John Wall for Mike Conley

Washington Wizards, John Wall (Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)
Washington Wizards, John Wall (Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images) /

What if the Washington Wizards swapped their high-priced point guard for the Memphis Grizzlies’?

The Memphis Grizzlies have reportedly opened up their two franchise players of Mike Conley and Marc Gasol for trade discussions, which raises the question whether the Washington Wizards should pursue exchanging one of their cornerstones in return. Does a John Wall-for-Conley deal make sense?

On a high level, both the teams and players involved would be getting a fresh start from their respective starting point guards over the better part of the last decade. Conley has been one of the faces of the Grit and Grind Grizzlies; Wall helped usher in a new era of professional basketball in the nation’s capital.

In some respect, both players could use a change of scenery at this stage in their careers. Wall’s relationship with the franchise has been hot and cold in recent seasons while Conley’s Grizzlies appear ready for a rebuild as he hits the backside of his peak. Both teams could benefit from what the other player would bring to the table.

Let’s begin where all trade negotiations must start and that’s from a contract standpoint. Both players are saddled with long-term max deals; in Wall’s case, his max extension doesn’t even kick in until next season.

Wall’s in the final year of his deal at $19.1 million, but is extension runs for four more seasons at an average of about $42.3 per season. After this season, Conley still has two more seasons left at about $33.5 million per season. Finding trade partners for either is a challenge unto itself for either front office, but these two make a deal more plausible.

If both teams pursued a deal now, it would look something like this:

Markieff Morris would help even out the difference between Conley’s and Wall’s current contracts. He’s also a free agent after this season, so the Grizzlies would get him off the books in a matter of months.

This brings us to whether the fit is right for both teams. Both teams are at a crossroads, and both appear to want to go different directions.

The Wizards, as owner Ted Leonsis recently put it, are uninterested in rebuilding anytime soon. And it makes sense given their salary-cap situation that they would keep fighting to be competitive for at least the next few seasons. That said, the current iteration of the team has started to grow a bit stale, leaving fans to wonder if the team has maxed out with Wall and Bradley Beal jostling to be the team’s leading player.

That’s why Conley makes sense: He would be brought in as a clear second fiddle, a signal that the Wizards front office has handed the reins to Beal. Beal would no longer have to compete for touches with the ball-dominant Wall, but have a partner who can be just as effective a playmaker and willing to take a backseat.

Additionally, the commitment to Conley would be much shorter than Wall. As highlighted earlier, Conley’s contract ends after the 2020-2021 season; Wall is locked in until after the 2022-2023 season, and at a higher price.

Once Wall’s extension kicks in, he’s going to become even more untradeable. Plus, if the Wizards are looking to trade him at that point, it likely means they’re still falling short of expectations with him and Beal as the core, making it an even deeper hole to get out of.

With two-plus years of Conley, they can roll the dice for a couple years without completely throwing out their playoff chances and can assess from there. With Wall, they’re committing to a direction that takes them into the early stages of 2024 presidential primaries with limited flexibility.

For Memphis, Wall gives them a new face of the team for the next several seasons. Sure, he’s an injury risk, but so is Conley, who missed most of last season as well. With Wall, Memphis can build around someone new and pair him with promising rookie Jaren Jackson Jr. without starting from absolute scratch.

And before anyone points out that Conley hasn’t never made an All-Star team, just stop: It’s obvious to all NBA fans that he’s the best current player not to make it, but that’s a product of the depth of the Western Conference. Are we confident Wall would make the All-Star team in a conference with Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, and Damian Lillard?

Were the Grizzlies in the Eastern Conference (as they arguably should be from a geographic standpoint, but realignment is a conversation for another time), Conley would have surely received an invite at some point in his career.

Statistically, Wall and Conley are also comparable. In recent seasons, both have hovered around 20 points per game and similar usage rates with Wall averaging more assists, but Conley has shot better, a higher assist-to-turnover ratio, and stronger defensive numbers. Stylistically, their differences may be what attracts the other team to the respective new player.

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While far from a no-brainer, the Wizards should take a serious look at this opportunity. Saying goodbye to Wall will be a tough decision whenever if happens, but getting someone back as experienced, consistent, and talented as Conley will be hard to do while also setting the team up for the most flexibility in the future.