Memphis Grizzlies’ Mike Conley breathes easy after emotional day

via ESPN’s Royce Young

OKLAHOMA CITY — It wasn’t until there were about 15 minutes remaining until Thursday’s trade deadline that Memphis Grizzlies guard Mike Conley knew he wasn’t getting moved, and after processing that information, he took a nap.

“I never slept [last night],” he said. “Around seven or eight this morning after checking my phone a thousand times, I didn’t know. I did not know. I was prepared for either. What happens, happens. But I’m here.”

Conley received a call from Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace a few minutes before the deadline ended at 2 p.m. CT, informing him he wouldn’t be traded.

“At that point I tried to lock back in on Oklahoma City and tried to not let too much emotion carry me out through the day,” Conley said. “It was still really hard to function, so I’m just happy I got through it.”

Conley described it as an emotional, difficult day for both himself and the Grizzlies franchise as cornerstone Marc Gasol was traded to the Toronto Raptors in exchange for Jonas Valanciunas, Delon Wright, CJ Miles and a 2024 second-round pick.

“Man, it was a long day. A long day,” he said. “Normally I’m worried about the game, watching film, doing things like that. [Today] I’m sitting downstairs in the lobby until 1:30, 2:00, waiting for the trade deadline to pass, trying to figure out if I’m gonna be here or not. And to see Marc end up going, and [JaMychal Green] and Garrett [Temple], and just your whole team all of a sudden change. It’s hard to lose guys that you consider brothers, and I consider every one of those guys — Marc, J-Mike, Garrett — they’ve all played parts in all of our careers, especially mine.”

Conley, 31, was involved in trade discussions in the past week, with his name connected to a number of teams.

“After they put my name out there, if y’all do it, y’all do it,” he said. “But this is all I know. Memphis is all I know. I didn’t necessarily ask for any of this to begin with, but I also understood our situation. I’d be one of the players that could hold some value in the trade market. Me being a pro, I just took that and understood it.

“Everything was happening within 10 or 15 minutes of each other, and at that point it started getting real for me thinking, ‘Everyone else is going, it might be my turn next,'” he said. “But for it not to happen, I told my dad I gotta go to my room and take a nap and get ready for the game and try to sleep, because I hadn’t slept in two or three days. I’m just happy to have gotten through this one, because I don’t even know how I played it to be honest with you.”

Conley struggled in a 117-95 loss to the Thunder, scoring 15 points on just 4-of-15 shooting, after starting 1-of-9 from the floor.

“You try to prepare yourself as best you can, knowing it’s possible Marc will not be with us come the trade deadline,” Conley said. “You think you’ve kind of figured it out, think you’re ready for it, but when it happens it’s completely different, the locker room is a completely different feel. You get out there to play and you’re bringing the guys into a huddle and there’s no Marc. It’s like, I’m the oldest guy here now. I’ve gotta be the voice for every huddle and everything we do. It’s a different thing and I think it’ll take some time to adjust, for all of us.”

Gasol and Conley have been the heart and soul of the Grizzlies for nearly a decade, elevating the franchise to a Western Conference playoff mainstay for multiple seasons and leading them to a conference finals appearance in 2013. Trading Gasol marks the end of an era in Memphis, and the beginning of a rebuild that Conley might or might not eventually be part of.

“He is an icon that you don’t replace, and there is no replacing Marc Gasol here in Memphis,” coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. “What he’s meant to this team, our city, our fanbase, all those things. Obviously Mike Conley is still here, but Mike’s gonna need some help. So someone new is going to have to step up and maybe get out of their comfort zone and replace that role. But there is no replacing what Marc has done here and meant to this team.”

Conley said he talked to Gasol a number of times throughout the day, and texted after the trade went down with the Raptors, but hadn’t connected via phone yet and was hoping to after he left the arena Thursday.

“Love big fella,” Conley said. “I know he’s gonna do well in Toronto. I’m happy for him. He’s gonna have a chance to do some big things there.”

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