After four seasons with the Atlanta Hawks, the Paul Millsap era is over.
The veteran power forward is headed to the Denver Nuggets for the foreseeable future and, while there is plenty of analysis to come from a Hawks perspective, it is also appropriate to reflect on what Millsap brought to Atlanta. For starters, he was underpaid for every second of his time in a Hawks uniform.
Millsap arrived prior to the 2013-2014 season on a two-year, $19 million contract. That deal was a heist (from a team perspective) from the moment it was signed and Millsap provided two years of All-Star worthy production. From there, he hit the market again as a coveted free agent, as the Hawks (wisely) chose to prioritize him over DeMarre Carroll after both players soundly outperformed their previous contracts to a paralyzing degree.
After a flirtation with the Orlando Magic, Millsap agreed to a three-year deal with a player option on the third season and, once again, he blew away his salary cap number (around $20 million annually) by transforming into a top-20 player in the NBA. The player option was wisely negotiated by Millsap and his team, paving the way for a free agent run at the age of 32 but, when it comes to production versus cost, the entire tenure was a bargain for the Hawks.
Millsap made the All-Star team in all four seasons, averaging 17.4 points, 8.3 rebounds, 1.7 steals and 1.2 blocks per game. From a more “advanced” statistical perspective, Millsap’s presence helped to make Atlanta’s defense highly formidable and he scored efficiently (55.2 percent true shooting) and operated with a 19.8 PER across the four seasons.
From an off-court perspective, Millsap was a pillar of the locker room and, by all accounts, a tremendous influence on the community at large. While he was not the vocal leader (at least publicly) that some NBA stars have shown to be, Millsap was respected by all behind the scenes and led by example with high-end professionalism and tremendous consistency.
It makes all the sense in the world for the Atlanta Hawks to draw a line in the sand when it comes to attempting to lure Millsap back for more seasons on the roster. Given his lofty price tag, it is entirely possible (or even likely) that the end of Millsap’s next contract won’t be pretty and that is the nature of paying heavily for a 32-year-old player on the market. Because the Hawks are looking in a long-term direction, that type of contract could be crippling and, in retrospect, Atlanta probably should have pulled the trigger on a deal for Millsap in February in order to more responsibly plan for the future of the roster.
None of that is Paul Millsap’s fault, though, and that is critical to remember. He was underpaid for four seasons and, at least reportedly, took less money than he probably could have received for the entirety of that tenure. At 32, this is the last opportunity for Millsap to secure life-changing money for his family for years to come and the Hawks seemingly (and reasonably) elected to not match or exceed the price tag that his new team was willing to offer.
The Hawks are moving in another direction and there is nothing wrong with that. The Paul Millsap era, though, was tremendous and included the best season since the franchise moved from St. Louis to Atlanta. He should be remembered as one of the best players to put on an Atlanta Hawks uniform and it is more than appropriate to wish him the best at the next stop.