A report came out on the first day of 2017 that Atlanta Hawks forward Paul Millsap would opt out of his contract at the end of the season, a decision that prompted the team to begin listening to trade offers for their starting power forward.
Millsap, a 31-year-old forward who has made the All-Star game in each of the last three seasons, is an underrated star in the league. He is an outstanding defender, a versatile threat on offense, and a high character player who has helped the Hawks make the playoffs each season he has played for them.
According to Zach Lowe of ESPN, the Nuggets were among the teams interested in acquiring Millsap during the offseason, with a trade packaged centered around Kenneth Faried and draft picks. While there are several teams that could be calling Atlanta to gauge the cost of acquiring the veteran - Toronto, Boston, Oklahoma City come to mind - none of those teams are in as prime of a position as the Nuggets.
The Nuggets have the prime position in negotiations with the Hawks due to their collection of assets - veterans, young players, draft picks - as well as their current standing in the Western Conference, a difference noted by Matt Moore of CBS Sports. The Raptors, Celtics, and Thunder are already good teams, and while Millsap is talented, adding him to their teams won’t produce as much of an improvement as would adding Millsap to the Nuggets roster.
Nuggets need to godfather that https://t.co/b4e9RiwJYj— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) January 2, 2017
What would a “godfather” offer be for Millsap? Here is what, in my opinion, would be a godfather offer that the Hawks would be hard-pressed to ignore.
This trade package would give the Hawks two veterans, and allow them to play a four-out offense around Dwight Howard with Dennis Schroder, Kent Bazemore, Thabo Sefolosha and Danilo Gallinari. They could play Kenneth Faried off the bench, using him to improve their defensive rebounding when necessary. Malik Beasley is a young talent at shooting guard who is native to the Atlanta area and gives the Hawks a rookie sharpshooter to pair with Taurean Waller-Prince and DeAndre Bembry. The rights to the “best” pick of the Nuggets two picks gives them another pick in the 10-20 range they can use on draft day to acquire a young player or move in a trade.
I’ll leave it to other Stiffs writers to talk about the basketball reasons why acquiring Kyle Korver and Paul Millsap would be beneficial to the team - for this article, I want to highlight the financial benefits a trade for Millsap would have.
If the Nuggets were to execute the trade I shared above, the following table shows the team salary situation they would be in. The salary figures are courtesy of Basketball Insiders, and the salary cap figures for the team are from an ESPN report. The figures in green are predictions I’ve made with an eye to the CBA.
|2017 Grizzlies 1st||Rookie contract||Rookie contract||Rookie contract||Rookie contract||Qualifying offer|
|2018 Nuggets 1st||Rookie contract||Rookie contract||Rookie contract||Rookie contract|
|2019 Nuggets 1st||Rookie contract||Rookie contract||Rookie contract|
|2020 Nuggets 1st||Rookie contract||Rookie contract|
|2021 Nuggets 1st||Rookie contract|
The Nuggets should be trading for Millsap with the intention of offering him a contract at the end of the season to remain with the team. He’s likely to receive a max contract, and as a veteran of over 10 years, can be offered up to 35 percent of the salary cap. My best guess is that Millsap could receive a five year, $207 million contract offer - and that’s an offer the Nuggets could have on their books comfortably.
Moving Faried and Gallinari and paying Millsap the max is roughly a $8 million difference next season - the Nuggets would still be $18 million under the salary cap, and almost $40 million away from the luxury tax. That’s enough cap space to sign another max player - someone like Otto Porter or Jrue Holiday - without having to pay the luxury tax, if the team was so inclined.
In the second year on Millsap’s max contract, I projected the Nuggets to have 10 guaranteed contracts, with Wilson Chandler and Darrell Arthur both picking up their player options. The Nuggets could bring over Nikola Radicevic and Petr Cornelie to replace Jameer Nelson and Jusuf Nurkic (who I don’t see being offered or accepting an extension in Denver) and have a 12-man roster for under $80 million.
This is also the year that Nikola Jokic won’t be one of the lowest-paid players on the team. He’ll be eligible for a new contract extension, and I expect him to receive a max contract as well. Due to the CBA, that will be a much lower max value than what Millsap would be earning, with Jokic qualifying for 25 percent of the salary cap. Gary Harris will also receive a new contract as well, although I don’t have him earning a max contract (I projected him at 15 percent of the salary cap).
For the 2019-20 season, Arthur and Chandler’s contracts are off the books, while Emmanuel Mudiay would be eligible for a contract extension (which I projected at 10 percent of the salary cap). With three players added to the roster by then via the draft, and including Radicevic and Cornelie, the Nuggets would have 11 players under contract while still remaining around $80 million for team salary - still far under the salary cap.
It’s the turn of the decade now - the 2020-21 season begins with Millsap beginning the season at age 35 while making nearly $44 million. If it’s a consolation, I expect LeBron James to be making nearly $60 million.
Jamal Murray starts the season with a new contract, becoming the Nuggets third player to receive a maximum contract. Juancho Hernangomez would be playing with a new contract as well, and for the first time since Millsap signed with the Nuggets, they’d have a tight salary cap. The hope should be that a core of Mudiay-Harris-Murray-Hernangomez-Millsap-Jokic is legitimate contender in the Western Conference.
The presence of four rookies should help the Nuggets have depth on the roster without having to go over the salary cap. Even if those young players aren’t able to contribute, the Nuggets ownership would hopefully be willing to pay extra for a chance to contend for a championship by paying for veterans to provide additional support.
The last year of Millsap’s contract won’t come around until after the next US presidential election, and at age 36, his contract has finally become a burden on the books for the team. The Nuggets could be looking at extending the contract for the rookie they take in the 2017 draft, and would need to make trades to free up space for additional free agents. Who knows, by then, maybe the medical field will have advanced to the point where Millsap is still able to produce like he was at the beginning of his contract - if not, this would be the year the Nuggets “feel the pain” of signing Millsap to a max contract.
I want to close by saying that a lot of these numbers are projections, and should be considered as such. However, I do think that there is a strong case in favor of adding a player like Paul Millsap to the Nuggets roster. There is cap space for the Nuggets to add a max contract, and the organization has had a difficult time in the past of attracting marquee free agents to sign in Denver. Paying a veteran like Millsap signals to other NBA players that the Nuggets are interested in becoming legitimate contenders, and are willing to pay for the personnel to do so.
If the Nuggets are comfortable parting with the assets necessary to acquire Millsap, the sooner the better, before the Nuggets find themselves in too deep of a hole to contend for a playoff spot.