I examined Al Jefferson's free agent stock this weekend, and since his future seems tied to Paul Millsap, it makes sense to follow with a look at the other Jazz big man who could be on the move. The Jazz will likely re-sign one, but not the other, according to Sam Amico of Fox Sports Ohio, and the majority of Hoops Rumors readers who answered last night's poll believe Utah should keep Jefferson over Millsap. Utah has dropped few, if any, hints about which they're more likely to keep, but it seems safe to assume there's at least a 50-50 chance Millsap is playing elsewhere next season.
Millsap could just as easily have been playing on another team already if it weren't for the desire of the Miller family, owners of the Jazz, to stay competitive this season rather than break up the team's core via trade. The Jazz and Pacers reportedly discussed a deal that would send Millsap and Alec Burks to Indiana in exchange for Danny Granger and Lance Stephenson, though I'm not sure how seriously the Pacers would have pursued that swap, since Millsap and David West play the same position. It might have been a hedge against losing West in free agency, since the Pacers will only have Early Bird rights on West this summer, instead of the full Bird rights they would have had on Millsap if they traded for him. If West bolts in the offseason, Indiana could still turn to Millsap, and perhaps the Pacers would view Millsap as an upgrade.
West has said he wants to return to the Pacers, but if he has a change of heart, he and Millsap will likely compete for top billing among free agent power forwards. Much as there are similarities between Millsap and Jefferson, West and Millsap are also hard to differentiate. Millsap grabs a half-rebound more per game than West, and though Millsap is only averaging 15.0 points per contest to West's 17.3, that's offset by West's more frequent shot attempts. Their PERs are separated by two-tenths of a point. Where Millsap has the edge is in age, since, at 28, he's four and a half years younger than the 32-year-old West.
That means fewer teams could have reserverations about signing Millsap to a four-year deal, the most years he could get if he leaves Utah. The key is finding a team with enough cap room to accomodate what will likely be an eight-figure annual salary. The Clippers had interest in Millsap at the deadline, but their cap space appears targeted for Chris Paul, and I don't think they want to pair Millsap with Blake Griffin, another power forward, long-term. That's also why the Wolves, who also engaged in Millsap trade talks with the Jazz earlier this season, don't make sense as long as Kevin Love is around.
The Blazers were reportedly eyeing Millsap at the deadline, too, and they seem a somewhat more plausible destination. Portland, under previous management, signed Millsap to an offer sheet back in 2009. LaMarcus Aldridge occupies the power forward position for the Blazers, but at 6'11", he could shift to center if the team lets free agent J.J. Hickson go. Portland will have only about $43.2MM in commitments this summer, which should leave plenty of room to go after Millsap.
The Nets seemed eager to deal for Millsap at different points this year, but they're poised to be well into the tax this offseason, with no room to add any marquee free agents. The Jazz would like to work a sign-and-trade involving either Millsap or Jefferson, but the Nets won't be able to engage in a sign-and-trade for Millsap or anyone else, since the new CBA bars taxpayers from acquiring players via sign-and-trade beginning this summer.
The Rockets, Spurs, Hawks and Bucks are likely to be the only teams among those headed to the playoffs this year with the cap room to add a maximum salary player in the offseason. Unlike Jefferson, I don't believe there's any way Millsap will be able to command a max contract, but I think he could wind up with a starting salary of anywhere from $12MM to $15MM, depending on his priorities. He could probably sign for the higher amount with a non-contender, while a playoff team might convince him to bring his price down to the low end of that range. If the Jazz don't bring him back, I expect Millsap, who's used to winning in Utah, to sign with a team that can continue to give him a chance to compete.