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Paul Millsap Signs With the Nuggets, Signaling a Rebuild for the Hawks

Hipster basketball in Atlanta is dead; long live hipster basketball in Denver

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

The Deal

After window-shopping a few teams and narrowing it down to Minnesota and Denver, Paul Millsap chose the view in the Rockies, agreeing to a three-year, $90 million deal with Denver, with the third year reportedly being a Nuggets-friendly team option.

What’s This Mean for Denver?

The Nuggets can now boast a frontcourt with Millsap and Nikola Jokic, making Denver the latest team in the West to go from a losing record to an alluring competitor. The Nuggs have quite a few other big men on the roster (for now): Kenneth Faried, Darrell Arthur, Juan Hernangomez, and Trey Lyles (plus restricted free agents Mason Plumlee and Tyler Lydon).

After the franchise’s draft night trades reportedly "fell apart," getting a player of Millsap’s stature at that contract length is a major win. Denver is in a stacked Western Conference, and they are doing what they can to remain competitive. Signing the 32-year-old Millsap to three years with the option to release him after two is remarkable work from the front office.

Millsap hit the best scoring numbers of his career with the Hawks in 2017 after 11 years in the league. He averaged 18.1 points and 7.7 rebounds per game, taking on a bigger offensive load in the absence of Al Horford and Kyle Korver. He took more 3s than ever, attempting 3.5 deep shots a game — though at an unimpressive clip of 31.1 percent; we can’t all be Marc Gasol.

Hey, Atlanta … You OK?

Hawks owner Tony Ressler never wanted a rebuild when he bought the team in 2015, but every starter from that 60-win season is now gone. When former Golden State assistant general manager Travis Schlenk took the GM role this summer, he made clear the front office might stray from his owner’s preferred direction.

"[Millsap] might get better offers than we can make him," Schlenk said last week, not even two months after Ressler said the team would make "every effort imaginable" to keep him, including, most assumed, a maximum contract offer. Had Atlanta given Millsap a five-year deal, they would be locked into paying him big money until he turned 37. And in the forward’s four seasons with the Hawks, he led them to just one (very inspiring, yes) conference finals. That’s the ceiling for this team with Milsap as its best player.

Ironically, now that the best of the East has been Venmo’d to the West, next season would have been Atlanta’s best chance at returning to the conference finals summit. Maybe. But even with Millsap, making it out alive against the Celtics, possibly the Gordon Hayward Heat, LeBron James, Young Giannis, and even the Raptors … seemed implausible. His departure, the last vestige of the Spurs-East Hawks as we knew them, stings. But Atlanta’s future is more open with it.