On Sunday, Marc Stein of ESPN kicked off the New Year with the perfect tweet to get NBA fans excited about the prospects of 2017:
Story posting soon with @WindhorstESPN: ESPN sources say the Hawks have begun listening to trade offers for free agent-to-be Paul Millsap
— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) January 1, 2017
That makes a lot of sense considering the following:
Atlanta Hawks power forward Paul Millsap to opt out at end of season to become an unrestricted free agent, league sources told ESPN.
— Chris Haynes (@ChrisBHaynes) January 1, 2017
About this time a year ago, the Atlanta Hawks entertained offers for Al Horford, a career Hawk who was also facing free agency in just a few months’ time. While it wasn’t certain that he’d leave, there certainly was strong sentiment that Horford wouldn’t be returning to Atlanta, but that didn’t stop the Hawks from keeping him. Ultimately, they let him walk away for nothing more than cap space, using that financial flexibility to re-sign Kent Bazemore and bring in Dwight Howard.
They could do the same with Millsap. There are some who believe the Hawks may ultimately hold onto their star and see where the future takes them. Considering his 32-point outburst just hours after the Stein tweet, there is absolutely zero ambiguity about what he brings to a team. Yes, he’s knocking on the door of 32 years old, which for many players equates to the back end of the prime of their career. But he’s a perfect four in today’s NBA, and his combination of quiet toughness and shooting range make him the sort of weapon that could push a number of teams into a higher competitive tier.
In other words, who wouldn’t want Paul Millsap on their team?
The more appropriate question is which teams have the capability to make an enticing offer to Atlanta? Negotiations could be challenging along those lines since several teams may be reticent to offer what Millsap, in a vacuum, is actually worth, but the whole reason Atlanta is considering trading him in the first place is because he’ll be a free agent at the season’s end. If the Hawks can truly appreciate the reality of losing him for zilch in terms of assets, they may be a little more realistic in fielding offers.
Whatever the case, here are a handful of teams that could make a run at Millsap, as well as some of the assets they may be willing to give up in order to get him on their roster:
Over the course of the last couple years, the Toronto Raptors have established themselves as one of the elite teams in the Eastern Conference. With DeMar DeRozan taking yet another step forward this year, it’s time to start wondering just how close they are to competing seriously with the Cleveland Cavaliers in the playoffs this spring. The reality is that they’re still a player away, and power forward is where they have the biggest gap. Rookie Pascal Siakam has been respectable, and Patrick Patterson and Jared Sullinger are serviceable, but Millsap dominates on both ends like neither of those guys can. Plus, imagine the pick-and-roll sets the Raptors could run with Millsap doing the picking and rolling. It would be nasty.
Plus, assuming the team extends Kyle Lowry this offseason, the team will be over the cap, which means signing any other significant free agents won’t be possible. Trading for Millsap now gives Toronto his Bird rights, which would mean they could exceed the cap to keep him as part of this team’s core long enough to make the most of his prime, as well as DeRozan’s and Lowry’s. It would be expensive, but it’s the best way for this team to compete seriously for a championship.
Either Patterson or Sullinger probably would head back to Atlanta in the deal, as would either Terrence Ross, Norman Powell or possibly even both. Other guys could also move to make the money work out, and Toronto also could send Atlanta the Clippers’ top-14 protected first-rounder this summer. That’s not cheap, especially if it costs Powell and a pick, but Millsap would be worth it.
Portland Trail Blazers
There might not be a team that needs Millsap more than the Blazers do. They really have struggled to find an identity this season and just haven’t made the strides we thought they would coming off of last year’s successes. Millsap, with all his veteran toughness and know-how, would completely change the game for them on both ends of the floor.
Portland, meanwhile, has no shortage of assets, though it’s tough nailing down which combination of them would be enough to bring Millsap to the Trail Blazers. Starting with Mason Plumlee makes a fair amount of sense considering he too is an expiring deal and helps keep Atlanta respectable in the frontcourt once Millsap is gone. The real talent, though, would come in the form of guys like Allen Crabbe, Mo Harkless and Noah Vonleh. All told, Portland could give up some combination of two or three of those players plus a pick or two to bring in Millsap and it really wouldn’t be all that bad a haul for Atlanta.
Granted, in taking back Crabbe they’d be committing quite a bit of money to him over the course of the next few years, but the team is thin at shooting guard and it’s not like those are going to get any less expensive once 2017 free agency hits. He, along with Plumlee, Vonleh and a first-rounder, could get it done.
Ever since Denver figured out how to work their offense around Nikola Jokic, they’ve been one of the more entertaining teams in the league to watch. Adding Millsap would give them the franchise centerpiece they’ve been craving and they have more than enough assets in place to get something done with Atlanta. We know it’s possible because these two teams already have gone deep on negotiations for Millsap in the past. Picking things back up probably wouldn’t be all that challenging.
It obviously starts with Kenneth Faried, as it apparently did back in July when teams last had substantial negotiations for Millsap. His salary would take care of most of the cap side of things, meaning adding a pick or two to the mix would make a deal incredibly easy. What the Hawks really need, though, is shooting guard depth. Denver would likely consider including Will Barton in a deal with Atlanta. The Nuggets also have veteran forwards such as Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler.
Either way, we know Denver still wants Millsap. It’s just a matter of determining what they’re willing to give up for him.
Even though Millsap is almost 32 years old, he’s a perennially underrated player who would completely turn the tides for any team that acquired him. None of these potential offers are going to send star quality back to Atlanta, but if sentiment around the league is that he’s going to bolt this summer no matter what, the Hawks really should consider bringing back some sort of assets package to avoid losing yet another great power forward for absolutely nothing.
The Horford thing has to sting, which is why the Atlanta front office is almost certain to push for maximum value in return. But considering the situation, max return may just have to be a couple of young players and a middling first-round draft pick. Even that is a million times better than what they got the last time they lost this game of chicken.
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