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From recruited to recruiter. How Mike Conley helped the Jazz land Rudy Gay

As soon as the Utah guard agreed to his three-year deal with the Jazz, he became the team’s lead recruiter

Memphis Grizzlies guard Mike Conley, left, and forward Rudy Gay, right, vie for the ball during NBA basketball training camp in 2012 in Memphis, Tennessee.
Memphis Grizzlies guard Mike Conley, left, and forward Rudy Gay, right, vie for the ball during NBA basketball training camp on Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2012, in Memphis, Tenn. It’s been nine years since the two players were part of the same team but now they are together again with the Utah Jazz.
Mark Humphrey, Associated Press

As free agency neared, Mike Conley knew that he was going to have to make a big decision. He and his representatives paid attention to what the rumors were, what the market was going to indicate as far as value and need, and in the end, Conley’s big decision became an easy one. He wanted to stay with the Utah Jazz.

“There’s a comfort zone here,” Conley said Monday. “It’s somewhere I felt really comfortable and I feel like I can continue to grow, continue to help this team.”

Though Conley’s mind was made up before free agency opened on Aug. 2, that didn’t keep his Jazz teammates from trying to sway him.

Conley said that ever since the 2020-21 season ended he had been receiving texts and calls from his Jazz teammates, trying to gauge where his mind was, trying to convince him to stay in Utah. He was being heavily recruited.

Joe Ingles hit me up from Tokyo and he was almost threatening me,” Conley said with a laugh. “I was a little worried for my life.”

Royce O’Neale, Jordan Clarkson and Donovan Mitchell were all a part of the Jazz’s recruiting efforts. It was actually Mitchell who sent Conley a clip from the movie “The Wolf of Wall Street,” which Conley then decided to doctor (with the help of his social media team) and use as his announcement that he was staying in Utah.

“They definitely were in my corner and pulling me back to Utah,” Conley said of his teammates.

Conley formally agreed to stay with the Jazz on the first day of free agency, Aug. 2, but that wasn’t the end of Conley’s offseason. The Jazz’s front office had been eyeing Rudy Gay for a while and convincing Gay to join the Jazz was going to require some help.

Conley went from being the most recruited player on the Jazz to the team’s lead recruiter. As soon as Conley agreed to his three-year deal, Jazz general manager Justin Zanik needed Conley to make a phone call to his former Grizzlies teammate.

“Justin and everybody’s calling me, telling me to call Rudy and see where he’s at,” Conley said. “Like, see where his mind is at.”

Memphis Grizzlies head coach Lionel Hollins, left, talks with Mike Conley (11) and Rudy Gay, right, during a timeout during game against the San Antonio Spurs, Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013, in San Antonio. After nine years on different teams, the two players and friends have been reunited in Utah.
Eric Gay, Associated Press

It wasn’t as if they wanted Conley to just make one phone call or send one text. Conley and Gay were teammates in Memphis for five years and have remained close friends since Gay was traded away from Memphis in 2012.

The way Conley describes it, recruiting Gay became a full-time job, and one that Conley enjoyed.

“I’ve done it little bit (before) but not at this capacity,” Conley said. “I was like putting babies down for bed and having to drop them and go take a call because I’m trying to make sure we lock up a guy like Rudy. ... I was really locked in on that and it was fun. It was cool to be included on that and that whole process.”

All the work paid off and Gay agreed to a deal with the Jazz. Gay said he never thought that he and Conley would end up on the same team again. Nine years after Gay left Memphis, he and Conley traveled to Las Vegas together as teammates for their offseason press conferences and to get a little work in with some of the younger players on the team.

“He’s always been a constant,” Gay said of Conley and their friendship. “He’s a great guy and I’m happy I’m back with him.”