Now, Paul Millsap has left the building.
For the second straight year, the Hawks lost a four-time all-star and got nothing in return. Millsap agreed to a three-year $90 million contract with the Nuggets as an unrestricted free agent late Sunday to end the four-year tenure of the power forward with the Hawks. The deal includes a team option for the final year.
News of the agreement was first reported by The Vertical and confirmed by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Millsap cannot sign the contract until after the NBA moratorium period ends on Thursday.
The Hawks took offers for Millsap at the NBA trade deadline in February but pulled him off the market for a playoff run but were eliminated in the first round by the Wizards. Al Horford left last season after the center signed with the Celtics as an unrestricted free agent, another player the Hawks let go without compensation.
Millsap was the last remaining starter from the Hawks’ 60-win Eastern Conference final team from 2014-15. Just two years after the franchise-record run, Jeff Teague, Kyle Korver, DeMarre Carroll, Horford and now Millsap are gone. The Hawks received only at first-round pick for Teague (which turned into Taurean Prince) and a 2019 protected first-round pick from the Cavaliers for Korver. Carroll signed with the Raptors as an unrestricted free agent in 2015.
Millsap, 32, was eligible for a maximum contract as an unrestricted free agent worth five years, $201 million from the Hawks and four years, $149 million. The $30 million annually salary is about $5 million less than the starting maximum salary. Millsap met with the Nuggets on Saturday and came to a decision to leave Atlanta a day later. He will become the Nuggets highest-paid player.
There were serious indications that relationship between Millsap and the Hawks was headed for separation when the organization hired Travis Schlenk as general manager last month following a front office shakeup. Schlenk immediately said his top priority was to avoid what he considered bad contracts that limited the team’s flexibility. He later told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that it was possible Millsap would receive a better offer from another team, a clear indication the Hawks would not offer a maximum deal. As recently as last week, Schlenk referred to Millsap as a priority.
“Do we want to keep Paul? Sure,” Schlenk said. “I said last week, if you are building a team with all the things I’ve said, Paul checks all those boxes. He’s a hard-worker. He’s a good guy. He’s high-character. Skilled. He does all that stuff. We’d like to have him. The reality is, he might get better offers than we can make him.”
The Hawks did not offer a contract on the first day of free agency as Millsap considered his options with interest from the Nuggets, Suns, Timberwolves and Kings. It is not known whether the Hawks ever made an offer.
Millsap was the Hawks best player for much of his tenure with the Hawks, especially last season. He led the Hawks in scoring at 18.1 points per game and was second in rebounds (7.7), assists (3.7), steals (1.6) and blocks (0.9). In his 11 seasons, Millsap has averaged 14.2 points, 7.5 rebounds and 2.3 assists.
The Hawks acquired Millsap in 2013 as a free agent when he was released by the Jazz. He signed a two-year, $19 million deal after the second-round pick played his first seven seasons in Utah. Millsap re-signed with the Hawks on a three-year, $59 million deal in 2015 as an unrestricted free agent. That contract included a player option for the 2017-18 season. Millsap informed the team that he would not exercise the final year and again became an unrestricted free agent.
After making the Eastern Conference All-Star team as a reserve each of his four seasons with the Hawks, Millsap has moved on.
The Hawks have a huge hole to fill with the absence of Millsap. Schlenk said he would sign a power forward in free agency – Millsap or another player. Millsap is no longer an option.
Millsap expressed his desire to stay in Atlanta at his exit interview following the Hawks’ playoff-elimination loss to Wizards in May. However, he noted the future was unclear.
“I don’t know,” Millsap said when asked what would prevent him from re-signing with the Hawks. “It’s something me and my agent and my family have to sit down and talk about. The decisions I make with my career is not just about me. It doesn’t affect just me. I’ll talk to my family and see what happens.”
The Hawks have just eight players under contract for next season. Kent Bazemore will be the highest-paid player at $16.9 million next season. Dennis Schroder, Malcolm Delaney, Prince, DeAndre Bembry, Miles Plumlee, Marco Belinelli and rookie John Collins are signed. The Hawks also have second-round draft picks Tyler Dorsey and Alpha Kaba unsigned. Tim Hardaway Jr. is a restricted free agent. Plumlee and Belinelli were acquired from the Hornets in a deal for Dwight Howard last month, Schlenk’s first move as general manager.
The Hawks have yet to sign a free agent during the first two days. Schlenk said the team will take a wait-and-see approach to the market before making offers. The to-do list just got longer.