The Denver Nuggets have been chasing starry veterans the last two years, determined to add experience and firepower to a promising young core.
They finally landed a big one Sunday, agreeing to terms with four-time All-Star Paul Millsap on a three-year deal worth $90 million, a person with knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the contract cannot be signed until Thursday.
The former Atlanta forward was one of the strongest free agents remaining on the board two days into the new business year, not counting Warriors superstar Kevin Durant, who is expected to re-sign with Golden State. The Nuggets engaged with Millsap early in the process, outlasting several other teams, including the Phoenix Suns and Atlanta Hawks, whose new GM Travis Schlenk acknowledged could get outbid for the 32-year-old’s services before free agency started.
Millsap gives the young Nuggets a proven veteran who should fit perfectly with coach Michael Malone and budding star Nikola Jokic. Millsap averaged a career-high 18.1 points last season to go with 7.7 rebounds and 3.1 assists. He is versatile offensively and is one of the NBA’s most underrated defenders.
Yahoo! Sports first reported the agreement.
Newly elevated president of basketball operations Tim Connelly and GM Arturas Karnisovas have chased big-name veterans like Dwyane Wade, Blake Griffin and Kevin Love in trade talks or free agency over the past couple of seasons, determined to vault a rebuilding team back into contention in the powerful Western Conference.
With Paul George going from Indiana to Oklahoma City, Jimmy Butler from Chicago to Minnesota and Chris Paul from the Clippers to Houston among other significant moves in the last two weeks, it became more important than ever for the Nuggets to break through themselves.
Millsap will slide in at power forward next to Jokic, the 6-foot-10 Serb who averaged 16.7 points, 9.8 rebounds and 4.9 assists last season. The Nuggets also have dynamic young wings Jamal Murray and Gary Harris.
The Nuggets (40-42) improved by seven games, but still missed the playoffs for a fourth straight season. They lost out to Portland for the eighth and final spot in the West. The string of futility has ramped up the urgency even more now that the Western Conference figures to be as stacked as it has ever been.
Millsap was a second-round draft pick of the Utah Jazz in 2006. He spent his first seven seasons with the Jazz, developing into a rugged, two-way player, then signed with the Hawks in 2013. He has career averages of 14.2 points and 7.5 rebounds and made $20 million last season.
After stripping coach Mike Budenholzer of his president’s title, saying goodbye to GM Wes Wilcox and bringing in Schlenk, the Hawks are in the middle of a retooling process. They traded Dwight Howard to Charlotte and wouldn’t get into a bidding war with the Nuggets to retain Millsap as they shift gears after seeing their win total drop from 60 in 2014-15 to 48 in 2015-16 and 43 last season.
In the last two years, Millsap, Jeff Teague, Kyle Korver, DeMarre Carroll and Al Horford have all left from that 60-win team, an exodus that has thrust the franchise into an uncertain position.
Millsap’s arrival in Denver makes the Northwest Division in the Western Conference particularly grueling. Millsap and Jokic will have to contend with George and Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City, Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic in Portland and Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Butler in Minnesota. And that doesn’t even take into consideration a possible Jazz trio of Gordon Hayward, Rudy Gobert and Ricky Rubio — if Hayward chooses to stay in Utah.