The team option on Paul Millsap’s contract could result in him becoming a free agent this summer. If such ends up the case, should the Utah Jazz pursue him?
The NBA Conference Semifinals have featured a number of former Utah Jazz players putting on a show. Rodney Hood was the savior for the Portland Trail Blazers in their quadruple overtime Game 3 win over the Denver Nuggets. George Hill has been prolific for the Milwaukee Bucks off the bench and is a leading reason why his team has a 3-1 lead over the Boston Celtics.
Meanwhile, Enes Kanter has provided an enormous lift for the Portland Trail Blazers stepping up in the absence of the injured Jusuf Nurkic. And Gordon Hayward, well, let’s just say he had a solid first round as he and his Celtics squad are now facing elimination in round two.
But of all the former Utah players in the postseason, perhaps the one that has been the most solid has been none other than former Jazz fan favorite Paul Millsap. Millsap broke out in Utah by being a gutsy hustle guy that always played his heart out. The only frustrating aspects of his time with the Jazz weren’t his fault, but rather they were tied to the fact that he didn’t always get all the playing time that he deserved.
When he left to the Atlanta Hawks and eventually went on to become an All-Star, Jazz fans missed him and his contributions dearly, but I think I speak for all of the Utah faithful when I say that they wished him well and were happy for his success. Meanwhile, that success continues for Millsap as a member of the Denver Nuggets as his squad finds themselves as the number two seed in the West, now leading the Portland Trail Blazers 3-2 in what’s been an exhilarating series.
Millsap has been awesome in the postseason as he’s averaging 14.8 points and 6.8 rebounds, all the while shooting 51.2 percent from the field and 33.3 percent from deep, both of which are his best postseason marks since he started shooting over one 3-pointer per game. Against Portland, he’s been even more spectacular, shooting over 50 percent in four of the five games, including twice over 60. The savvy vet has stepped up and filled his role perfectly for an overall young Nuggets squad.
But this summer, his future is somewhat uncertain as he has a team option on the final year of his contract and as a result could very well be facing free agency. It might seem unlikely, especially if Denver makes it to the Western Conference Finals or beyond, that the Nuggets would let Millsap go, but a lot could happen this offseason.
For example, perhaps other free agents like what they’ve seen in the Nuggets thus far in the postseason and want to join to help take them to another level and they therefore need to remove Millsap’s salary from the books to make way for new talent. Perhaps they just opt to make a personnel shift in hopes of bettering their odds in the deep West. Or, as is entirely feasible, maybe the Nuggets simply will feel uncomfortable paying a 34-year-old veteran a whopping $30 million, the highest mark on the team.
Whatever the case ends up being, while Millsap has certainly been a positive and it feels most likely that the Nugs will run it back with him, there are a number of possibilities that could lead to Denver deciding to utilize the money tied up in him elsewhere. If they did so by opting to not pick up his team option, he would become an unrestricted free agent – one that could be of great interest to a high-caliber team looking to add some steady veteran experience.
Such a description could very well fit the Utah Jazz, especially as they potentially aim to bulk up their frontcourt and add more stretch options to the power forward position. Though Millsap’s age certainly bears consideration, his numbers don’t lie as he’s had an excellent campaign with the Nuggets. During the 2018-19 regular season, he shot 48.4 percent from the field and 36.5 percent from deep, both of which are the best figures of his career since he started logging over two 3-point attempts per game.
Millsap is as reliable as they come in terms of rebounding, hustle and defense as he’s established himself as the guy that’s never afraid to do the dirty work, that can defend several varying positions and that can score and contribute in a number of ways. As such, there’s certainly an argument that he’s a player that the Jazz should take a look at in the offseason in the free agent market should he become available.
Utah is no stranger to reunions as we saw just this season with the return of Kyle Korver. Paul Millsap is arguably even more beloved in Salt Lake City and fans would no doubt be thrilled to see him back in the Jazz threads. Considering how much of his career he spent in Utah and how popular he is in the state, it wouldn’t surprise me if he was open to giving it a second run-back just as Korver was able to do.
However, as fun as it would be for the fans to see, it most likely doesn’t make the most sense and won’t be the most probable of outcomes. First off, as I already mentioned, unless the Nuggets are able to woo a big-time free agent, they’re probably better served keeping Millsap for one more year to play out his contract. Their mere decision to pick up his team option would render this entire discussion pointless.
Beyond that, even if Millsap did become available, it’s hard to know exactly how he would fit with the Jazz. Yes, he’s a much better stretch option than Derrick Favors, but at his age, it may not be entirely sensible to have him be the starter unless the Jazz get rid of D-Favs as well which they’d likely have to do to afford Millsap anyway. If Millsap were added, he’d be a little redundant with Jae Crowder (though certainly a better version) as an undersized big with decent touch from deep.
But this also begs the question of price. If the Nuggets let Paul go, it’s almost a certainty that he won’t be making $30 million anywhere, but he still might be more pricey than the Jazz would want to go after. Would bringing in Millsap as a big free agent move really push Utah to a new level? Especially assuming Crowder is still on the roster and also considering that Dennis Lindsey has made it clear that retaining Favors is important to him?
I, for one, would love to see what Millsap could do alongside rim protector extraordinaire Rudy Gobert. And having played with Quin Snyder before in Atlanta, I have a feeling that Millsap would be comfortable with the Jazz offense and be able to fit quite nicely. Also, merely speaking as a fan, it’d be great to see Paul back in a Jazz uniform, perhaps even to end his career where it began.
However, as efficient as he was this past season and as great as he’s been in the playoffs, even on the odd chance he does become available, I don’t see a match in Utah making all that much sense unless Utah parts ways with one or both of Favors and Crowder leaving a gaping hole in the frontcourt, or if Millsap agrees to a huge discount and a lessened role as Quin sees fit to best benefit the team. Those might be nice ideas in theory, but they aren’t exactly probable.
In other words, there’s a lot to like about pursuing Millsap as a fan favorite, a hustle guy who has already proven how well he fits the Jazz mold and a stretch-four extraordinaire who brings positives on both ends of the floor. However, due to repetition at the position on Utah’s current roster, Millsap’s age and the question of how much money he’ll command in free agency if the Nuggets part with him, he’s likely not the most logical option.
Nevertheless free agency is an interesting time of year in which every avenue should be explored. If Millsap ends up not being set to return to the Nuggets next season, Dennis Lindsey and the Utah Jazz should absolutely at least put Paul Millsap on their list of players to consider.
Because if Utah wants to improve and take a next step forward, they must make sure to evaluate every option and leave no stone unturned. Under the right circumstances, Millsap could be an exceptional guy to pursue.
Those would have to be some very precise and unique right circumstances. But in aiming to improve this summer, every option, plausible or not, has to be on the table. Paul Millsap’s possibility of becoming a free agent is certainly included in that mix.