Star forward Paul Millsap signs 3-year deal with Nuggets

BY Zach Dillard • July 3, 2017

The final starting piece from the best team in Atlanta Hawks franchise history is headed west.

Paul Millsap signed a three-year, $90 million contract with the Denver Nuggets late Sunday night, following a familiar path out of Atlanta that past teammates DeMarre Carroll and Al Horford used to sign lucrative free-agent deals with Toronto and Boston. The third year of the deal is a team option.

(The news was first reported by The Vertical and will not be made official until the NBA lifts its moratorium on July 6.)

According to Millsap himself, the Hawks never even made an offer.

“It was pretty simple,” Millsap told Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Denver, they came and they’ve been wanting me for years. They made that known. The presentation that they gave me, it felt comfortable, it felt real. At the end of the day it was going to be the team that I felt most comfortable with and Atlanta. Atlanta decided to go another direction. They didn’t want to make an offer. So it was pretty simple. Denver was the team.”

Atlanta held the financial ace up its sleeve in the Millsap sweepstakes. Owning the star forward’s Bird Rights as he’s bypassed the 10-year service mark in the league, the Hawks could have offered the five-year max contract worth approximately $200 million. No other franchise could offer more than four years and $149 million.

The writing was on the wall that new general manager and president of basketball operations Travis Schlenk did not want to outbid his own front office; Schlenk and principal owner Tony Ressler called Millsap their "top priority" at the former's introductory news conference, but there were also comments on flexibility and how another team could put a better offer on the table this month. Apparently the Nuggets did just that, although deal is a far cry from the expected price tag for one of the league's most productive players, particularly considering Denver's flexibility with the third-year team option.

The departure of Millsap, the lone holdover from Atlanta's 60-win starting lineup in 2015, now leaves the Hawks' new front office in a prospective rebuilding mode with a depleted, young roster.

The news also underscores the Hawks' decision to hold onto Millsap and Horford past their final trade deadlines only to watch its star frontcourt walk for nothing in free agency. The result: A 6-10 playoff record over the past two seasons with convincing series losses at the hands of the Cavaliers and Wizards, respectively, and fewer future assets. If a rebuild is on the horizon — placing Atlanta's playoff streak in obvious jeopardy — such assets, whether it be young pieces or draft picks, would have been useful for Schlenk & Co.

The Hawks were able to cash in on soon-to-be free agents Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver, securing the 2016 draft pick that became Taurean Prince, one of Atlanta's most promising future building blocks, and a top-10 protected first-round pick from the Cavaliers.

Millsap molded himself into one of the league's top players under Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer. The 32-year-old made four consecutive All-Star appearances while averaging 17.4 points, 8.3 rebounds and 3.7 assists during his tenure in Atlanta. The former second-round pick of the Utah Jazz also averaged more than a block and a steal per contest, cementing his reputation as a stat-stuffing post player capable of filling up box scores.

The Suns, Timberwolves and Kings also reportedly showed interest in Millsap as free agency opened on July 1.

Millsap becomes the second major move made by Schlenk, following the trade of Dwight Howard to Charlotte in exchange for Marco Belinelli, Miles Plumlee and moving back 10 spots in last month's draft. (The franchise has also let go of ancillary pieces by waiving Mike Dunleavy and trading Ryan Kelly.)

The Hawks now find themselves with an underwhelming roster, albeit one that is well below the salary cap floor of $89.184 million with only eight players under contract at the moment. (Atlanta could soon face another key decision with restricted free agent guard Tim Hardaway Jr.) Kent Bazemore and Dennis Schroder, both of whom were extended last offseason, are currently the highest-paid players on the Hawks roster.