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VOL. 131 | NO. 81 | Friday, April 22, 2016
Don Wade

Don Wade

Press Box: Like Marc Gasol, Mike Conley Will Choose 901

By Don Wade

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Mike Conley is gone. We know this because one unsubstantiated national report beget another.

And then came the indisputable proof: a blogger created a slideshow listing the five most likely landing spots for the Grizzlies’ free agent point guard.

If amid the ongoing agony that is this injury-marred season and the very special torture administered in the NBA Playoffs by The Walking Dead – the San Antonio Spurs – you want still more pain, far be it from me to stop you.

Go ahead and Google Mike Conley and free agency and see what comes back. But just as Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace insisted the team would re-sign All-Star center Marc Gasol last season, he has publicly said the team will re-sign the team’s essential point guard.

Is this 100 percent guaranteed? No, but only because nothing is 100 percent guaranteed in the world of big money pro sports free agent signings.

It is, however, as close to a sure thing as we’re going to get. My own fundamental position on this has not changed in the last two years:

If the Grizzlies were able to sign Gasol, they would keep Conley. If they couldn’t sign Gasol, they would lose Conley, too.

Conley and Gasol are simpatico both in the heat of pick-and-roll competition and the quiet of a cross-country charter flight. Remember, too, that only two Grizzlies players were at the famous dinner with controlling owner Robert Pera in L.A. a few years ago: Gasol and Conley.

When Gasol came back to Memphis – and Conley expressed confidence this was how it would go – he did so without taking a free-agent tour of his other options. He talked to the Grizzlies, heard what he needed to hear, and chose to stay.

As Gasol said during the speculation over his free agency, he’s different from brother Pau, who went from one big market in Los Angeles to another in Chicago.

“The city is not so important like it was in Pau’s case,” Marc said last year. “My brother had other needs … New York is nice, but it was very cold during the All-Star Game … there’s good things everywhere. I have a simple life: at home, the arena, the supermarket. Memphis is quiet. In Fort Yukon, Alaska, I would also be happy.”

Now I’m not going to try and speak for Mike Conley and suggest he would agree with his good friend about Fort Yukon, Alaska. But the rest of it? Yes, he’s wired much like Marc Gasol.

More to the point: Gasol’s return was our sign that Gasol and Conley had come to a meeting of the minds and could see themselves playing out their careers together in Memphis.

By all accounts, Gasol’s rehab from knee surgery is progressing well. He recently posted a picture on social media of him walking on a treadmill.

Conley, of course, has been sidelined with that stubborn sore Achilles. But he has been a visible presence, still fist-bumping folks at the scorer’s table before games at FedExForum, and traveling with the team and enduring these lopsided losses, helpless to do anything to stop them, right along with everyone else.

Those are not the actions of a guy looking for a way out.

All that said, business is business from both sides. If the Grizzlies stop short of offering a max deal or something close and try to low-ball Conley, things could change. A bad report about the status of Conley’s Achilles also might alter the equation.

Big-picture, reasonable people can debate the wisdom of signing a slight, oft-injured 28-year-old point guard who already has nine NBA seasons under him.

But look at what the Grizzlies have been without Conley. Awful. And tell me two other main players on any NBA team with more class and character than Conley and Gasol.

They belong together and they belong in Memphis.

Even if it doesn’t make for much of a slideshow.

Don Wade’s column appears weekly in The Daily News and The Memphis News. Listen to Wade on “Middays with Greg & Eli” every Tuesday at noon on Sports 56 AM and 87.7 FM.

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