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.
The stars have never aligned for Paul Millsap.
He was stuck on the bench for most of Deron Williams’ super-stardom. When he hit unrestricted free agency the first time, he lost out on big money to inferior players who put up gaudier stats. Josh Smith got $56 million to be the player Millsap actually turned into. He lasted less than two years in Detroit. Al Jefferson got $41 million because he scored points. Millsap posted more Win Shares in the three seasons they shared in Utah… but got only $19 million.
Then he reached free agency a second time in 2015. His deal expired one year before the cap spike, preventing him from getting the larger salaries it promised. It also limited his suitors to his original team—the Atlanta Hawks—and dregs like Orlando. Had he timed that first Atlanta contract differently, he could’ve had his pick of second-tier contenders. Houston would’ve begged him to take their money last summer. Oklahoma City might’ve pitched him over Al Horford when there was a chance Kevin Durant might stay.
And now he’s finally a free agent again, definitively good enough to hand-pick his team and get recruited for the first time in his career. And once again, the best teams have spent their money. He’s good enough to get a full max, but as he’s two years older than he was in 2015 he might not have the leverage. Things keep breaking wrong for Paul Millsap. He is therefore going to have to pick from a group of flawed options.
Atlanta may or may not want Millsap back. We don’t yet know enough about new GM Travis Schlenk’s vision for the team to say one way or the other. But even if they do, and even if they were to offer a full five-year max (which they refused to do for Al Horford last summer, by the way, and Horford was two years younger), Millsap would have to accept returning to a team that tried to trade him multiple times. He’d be rejoining a team with no chance of contending in the near future, resigning himself to a career far more forgettable than his skill warrants. He’d be the oldest player on a team that will have to tank sooner or later, removing the free in his agency by making him a likely trade piece in the near future.
But what are his alternatives? What good teams could present him a suitable offer? Houston is something like $23 million away from a max offer for him at this point. Could they get out of Ryan Anderson’s deal and put themselves in the conversation? And even if they do, Millsap would have to give up a potential fifth year on his contract. How much money is he willing to leave on the table to play for a team like Houston?
Might Danny Ainge try to reassemble the old Hawks front-court in Boston? Probably not, considering those teams never even won an Eastern Conference Finals game and the Horford-Millsap pairing is getting older. Miami will want targets with more upside. Portland would have to sell their backcourt to Paraguay to create the cap space. San Antonio has bigger concerns than power forward right now.
The best slots are either filled or will be by different players. Millsap has no viable contender to go to. He virtually has to accept a deal from a lesser team strictly because those are the ones out there right now.
Denver is a lesser team. They didn’t make the playoffs this season. Their young players are several years away from contention, if they ever get there. Denver isn’t exactly a glamour market. The team has no meaningful NBA history. Or ABA history, for that matter. If the Nuggets had moved to Seattle after, say, the 2014-15 season, I doubt the city would have even noticed.
But there are things to like about Denver’s future. Nikola Jokić is a star. Jamal Murray had an incredibly promising rookie year. They have max cap space, and the few fans they do have would completely embrace a max free agent who actually signed with them. They aren’t the contenders he deserves, but Paul Millsap could be a very important bridge player for a young team on the rise and make quite a bit of money doing it. That’s worth something, at least.
I have to believe that someday, Paul Millsap will affect an NBA championship. He’s too good not to. Maybe it will be in the latter stages of a Denver tenure when their young players have reached their peaks. Maybe he’ll sign on with a contender after this max deal to close his career. I don’t know when or where it will happen, but it’s coming. For now though, you could do worse than making max money to play for the Nuggets.
More Free Agent Profiles: