NBA free agency begins July 1. Until then, you’re going to see free agent profiles from all over the league. Where will the most notable names land? Why will they land there? For all the profiles we’ve already covered, click here.
I’m not quite sure what happened in the summer of 2014. Nearly every worthwhile point guard was grossly underpaid. Kyle Lowry only got $12 million per year after making the All-Star team. That’s virtually the same contract New Orleans gave Tyreke Evans as a restricted free agent a year earlier. Isaiah Thomas will make more per year in his next contract than the $27 million he was given in total by the Phoenix Suns. But most egregious of all was the deal San Antonio convinced Patty Mills to sign. Coming off of two seasons as arguably the best backup point guard in basketball, he got three years and $11 million.
There was no reason for Mills to take that contract. If the market wasn’t there for him, he should have taken a short-term deal and hit free agency again earlier. Now he’s 28 and has never been a starter. The bloom is off of the rose. Was it a Spurs discount? Probably, because Darren Collison, Greivis Vásquez, pre-Warriors Shaun Livingston and Mario Chalmers all got more money per year.
Where else do 25-year-olds with starting potential take less than market value to stay on the bench? Maybe Mills was worried about his future on a normal team. But by that point, he already had a championship and had a chance to make life-changing money. This summer might be his last chance. And the Spurs have no interest in returning the favor he gave them in taking that ridiculous contract.
Is Patty Mills San Antonio’s point guard of the past? Nope. Tony Parker is already making huge money on a legacy deal. Is he their point guard of the present? Nope, Parker started for most of the year, and there’s no way they don’t at least explore the Chris Paul avenue. Is he their point guard of the future? Nope. That would be Dejounte Murray. Unless Mills wants to squander his second go at meaningful free agency as badly as he did his first, he’s headed elsewhere.
Trouble is, his options are far more limited than they would’ve been a year or two ago. Teams who need point guards just have better ways of finding one. Five are going to go in the top 10 of the draft. Paul, Lowry, George Hill and Jrue Holiday will all get higher priority from teams looking for veterans. Ricky Rubio is on the trade market. And this ignores the fact that most teams are pretty happy with their point guard. Mills may have had a chance to be someone’s undisputed starting point guard a year or two ago, but that ship seems to have sailed.
But what about a co-point guarding arrangement? What about a team with a younger model who could use some stability, someone to grab the wheel when their incumbent has had to much too drink.
“Had too much to drink” isn’t an inaccurate way to describe Dennis Schröder’s playing style. His decisions tend to be… odd. Atlanta lost games because of it. Mills could’ve prevented that, and Mike Budenholzer is a former Spurs assistant. If he’s still interested in making “Spurs East” a thing, Mills is going to be sitting there for the taking.
The question is how invested the Hawks are in winning basketball games right now. They didn’t tank when they traded former cornerstone Joe Johnson. The Hawks have been firmly entrenched in the second round of the playoffs for something like a decade now. How willing could a team be to sacrifice a few years for the greater good when they’ve been the butt of mediocrity jokes for years?
New GM Travis Schlenk comes from Golden State. We should therefore expect him to operate the Hawks similarly to the Warriors, and Golden State leaves no one out of the decision-making process. Considering Mike Budenholzer used to make roster decisions, I’d have to imagine he’ll at least have a voice here. He’ll want Mills. I doubt a rookie GM would be able to deny him that.
Mills will want to cash in after his last deal, and something like $10-12 million per year feels right. The Hawks will have cap space if they lose Paul Millsap, which I’m predicting. Plus Mills on that deal is probably tradable if things go south. They probably will, because teams shouldn’t be built around Dennis Schröder and ancient Dwight Howard. But hey, at least we’ll get some fun motion offense on bad League Pass nights.
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