Go ahead and pencil in Paul Millsap as a legitimate flight risk in free agency.
He always held this status to some extent. He’s 32 years old, and the Atlanta Hawks aren’t in position to contend for anything special over the next few years. He could easily find greener pastures in free agency.
And yet, he made it clear at the end of the season that he wants to stay in Atlanta. And the Hawks made it clear they want to keep him. His returned seemed likely, if inevitable.
Now, though, new Hawks general manager Travis Schlenk doesn’t sound so sure, per the Atlanta Journal-Constitution‘s Chris Vivlamore:
New general manager Travis Schlenk told to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that retaining Millsap remains a priority. However, he acknowledged that Millsap may receive better offers elsewhere as an unrestricted free agent next month.
“We are going to make Paul our best offer,” Schlenk said this week. “Will he have better offers? I don’t know. Do we want to keep Paul? Sure. 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.”
“Better offers” implies there will be teams offering Millsap more money or years. Yes, the opportunity to contend for a Conference Finals or NBA Finals appearance might be looped in, but the only way teams give him “better offers” is if the Hawks aren’t willing to match his payday. And that would mean they’re aren’t going to make Millsap their best offer.
Atlanta can offer Millsap slightly larger annual raises in addition to a fifth year. Though inking a 32-year-old to a five-season max deal would be a disaster, any three- or four-year pacts that Millsap receives should be quickly matched. Indeed, there is a level of uncertainty even on that front, because of Millsap’s age. But the Hawks would be foolish to let him walk for nothing one year after they forfeited Al Horford for zilch.
Yes, there’s a new regime in place. Schlenk might aspire to get younger and more flexible leading into the future. But Millsap has to be back, even if the Hawks plan to trade him later on. And if he does leave, it better not be because Atlanta wasn’t willing to foot the bill for his return.