Here we go again. According to various reports from ESPN.com, the Atlanta Hawks are fielding calls on All-Star forward Paul Millsap. Millsap, 31, will reportedly opt out of his deal this summer with the Hawks and hit the free agent market.
Millsap is an All-Star do-it-all forward that would be an upgrade for almost every roster in the league. The Hawks openly taking calls on his availability via trade is huge and could put any given team on another level with his ability to play inside out on offense and guard multiple positions on defense.
Last week, Millsap’s name came up in a trade deadline roundtable by the Bullets Forever staff. And like almost every other team in the league, he would provide an instant upgrade at the power forward position for Washington.
However, with that being said, even if Washington calls about Millsap, the price the Hawks are looking for will likely be too high for the Wizards to accommodate and he may not be worth it to the Wizards in the long-term.
Why Atlanta’s reason for a move may be Washington’s reason not to
The Hawks started off a scorching 9-2 this season behind a stout defense and an average offense with fast starts from Thabo Sefolosha and Mike Muscala. But they’ve cooled off and their defense has gotten much worse since that hot start. Over the last 15 games, the Hawks have given up 109.5 points per 100 possessions, the 21st ranked defense in the league over that span.
Their roster is what it is at this point and their best player is over the age of 30. They are not getting any better anytime soon and they lost Al Horford to free agency “for nothing” last year, which is reportedly one of the reasons behind fielding calls on Millsap.
But Millsap will be 32 by the end of this season and looking for another max deal this summer. He will likely not be eligible for the new designated player extension, but he would still be eligible for a 35 percent max deal because of his 12 year veteran status.
Millsap may not get that big of a deal, but he’ll probably get something close to it on the open market since he will be one of the top players available. It isn’t ideal for any team to have that much money tied to a 32-year-old with no real direction behind the franchise. That applies to both the Hawks and the Wizards, who have both progressively gotten worse since they clashed in the 2015 playoffs
The cost may be too much
If the Wizards were to get involved in trade talks for Millsap, they’d be competing against the Denver Nuggets, Toronto Raptors, Oklahoma City Thunder and a handful of other teams for his services. And against most teams, the Wizards just don’t have the assets to compete in the trade market and would likely have to offer up one or two of their key cogs to get him.
Bradley Beal or Otto Porter would likely have to be considered along with, at the very least, the Wizards’ 2017 first round pick and possibly a protected future pick as well. As good as Millsap is, the desired outcome for Washington should be to retain either of those two players. Trading a 23 year old for someone who turns 32 by the end of the season just isn’t good business.
Beal has played at an All-Star level when healthy this season and Porter has been one of the most efficient low-usage players in the league this season. Both can still improve and may have long careers ahead of them.
Even if the Wizards were able to outbid everyone else for Millsap without giving up Beal and Porter, they would run into some issues this summer. They’d have to find a way to dump some of their albatross of bench contracts somewhere to have enough space for four players making either max money or close to it with Wall, Beal, Millsap and Porter. It would take a massive deal with another team or two to even think about getting this done.
And even then, the team would have a majority of their cap space eaten up by a foursome that’s very solid, but probably wouldn’t be able to push beyond the Eastern Conference Finals.
In all likelihood, they’d be footing a pretty hefty luxury tax bill at that point just to get close to sniffing some sort of success. Which, in context, could be fine. After all, everyone is one injury away from an upset. But that isn’t something you can bet on. And the cost likely wouldn’t be worth it.
Millsap would be a great player to have on the roster and would fit right in with the Wizards’ aggressive defensive system. But there’s a cost that comes with having a player like Millsap that the Wizards might not be able to afford.
And even if they could afford everyone, there’s still the possibility that they’d be trading one of their younger pieces for what could be a half-season rental for Millsap. If you’ll recall, that’s the same strategy Ted Leonsis said cost former Capitals General Manager George McPhee his job in an interview this spring when he was asked to compare his performance with Ernie Grunfeld’s:
"The one thing that I will say from a leadership standpoint is we articulated a plan in the NHL with the Caps. The only times we deviated from the plan and it didn’t work that’s when I felt management was at risk," Leonsis said. "We said we wanted to be young, we wanted to have depth and we wanted balance and we wouldn’t trade young for old. On a few occasions when we traded young for old or rental players and it didn’t work that ended up being a setback for us. We really looked at that."
Trading for a smaller piece like Kyle Korver or Thabo Sefolosha, who the Hawks are also reportedly shopping, would be more reasonable targets here and would improve the Wizards on the fringes without sacrificing major young assets. Korver is a great shooter and a solid team defender who would feast from the three point line playing with Wall and while Sefolosha isn’t he same defender that he has been, he would provide the Wizards with some much needed wing depth.
There are ways to improve the team without once again putting all of their eggs in one basket like they would be with Paul Millsap. The Wizards just have to figure out how to do it.