A few days ago when I looked at the extension candidacy of Al Jefferson, I surmised that if the Jazz want to re-up one of their pair of veteran big men eligible for an extension, Paul Millsap might be the better choice. In August, Brian T. Smith of The Salt Lake Tribune wrote that the Jazz offered Millsap about $25MM over three years, all they're capable of paying him in an extension under the rules of the CBA, but Millsap has let the offer sit. He'll be an unrestricted free agent next summer, and Smith estimated that he could be in line for a contract worth at least $9MM a year, more than he could get in an extension. Yet it would be hard for Millsap to get the most out of free agency if he spends the year coming off the bench, and Smith wrote yesterday that he'll engage in an "old-school, winner-take-all position battle" in camp against Derrick Favors for the starting power forward job. Losing that competition might be enough to prompt Jefferson to reconsider the Jazz's offer.
Millsap's cap hit will be $8.6MM this season, though he'll actually only clear about $7.2MM, since the other $1.4MM came as part of a signing bonus in 2009. Either way, that's about half of Jefferson's $15MM salary this year. For a much cheaper price, Millsap comes off a season in which he delivered production that was remarkably similar to Jefferson's. Millsap shot 49.5% while Jefferson shot 49.2%. Millsap grabbed 8.8 rebounds per game, and Jefferson notched 9.6 RPG. Millsap's 21.8 PER is just a tick down from Jefferson's 22.8. Millsap scored fewer points per game (16.6 to Jefferson's 19.2), but saw fewer shot opportunities, attempting 13.5 field goals per game while Jefferson took 17.2. They're separated in age by little more than a month, but still, Millsap seems likely to continue to make less than Jefferson does when they sign their next contracts. That's in part because of what they've both made in the past and in part because the 6'10" Jefferson is two inches taller and capable of manning the center position, where there's a league-wide dearth of talent.
The Jazz only have about $25MM tied up for 2013/14, including team options, so they don't necessarily have to choose between Millsap and Jefferson. Still, cap space would become tighter if the team elects to re-sign its younger bigs, Favors and Enes Kanter, when they finish their rookie contracts in 2014 and 2015, respectively. It doesn't make much sense to pay four guys major money when only two of them can start without playing out of position, so one, if not two, of them will have to move on eventually. Millsap was reportedly part of trade talks involving Ryan Anderson this summer, and while the Jazz were apparently reluctant to make a deal, it certainly seems there's no guarantee Millsap will finish the season in Utah if he doesn't sign an extension.
Between trade rumors and the specter of a contract-year benching, there's plenty of motivation for Millsap to take the Jazz's offer, especially if he's truly interested in remaining in Utah. The priority for the 27-year-old Millsap, who made close to the minimum salary his first three seasons in the league and has spent his last three as a relative bargain, might be to seek the most guaranteed money he can get as he approaches unrestricted free agency for the first time. For that reason, I still think he's unlikely to accept the offer from the Jazz, though I wouldn't be completely shocked if he did. Unlike players coming off of rookie-scale contracts, Millsap is eligible to sign an extension right up until June 30th of next year, so if he loses the starting job to Favors in training camp or at a later point this season, that $25MM offer might start to look more attractive to him, providing it's still on the table.