Best Potential Free-Agent Landing Spots for Patty Mills During 2014 Offseason
Back in March, San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich was asked by reporters why backup point guard Patty Mills—fresh off another solid performance—hadn’t played at this level during previous seasons.
The resulting answer, via the San Antonio Express-News’ Dan McCarney, was classic Pop:
“He was a little fat a**,” Popovich deadpanned. “He had too much junk in the trunk.”
Playful potshot out of the way, the Spurs skipper elaborated a bit on the basketball front:
His decision making wasn’t great, and he wasn’t in great shape. He changed his entire body. He came back svelte and cut and understood you have to make better decisions, point-guard type decisions. He did all those things better and he earned it.
Mills was spectacular during San Antonio’s convincing five-game win over the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals, tallying 31 combined points in Games 4 and 5 and solidifying his place among the league’s elite backup point guards.
In so doing, the Australian national further emerged as a hot free-agent commodity heading into the summer. And while the Spurs will indeed be in play for his services, Mills is bound to have a bevy of suitors.
We’ve complied the 10 best potential landing spots for Mills—teams with the cap room or the positional need to make him an offer that not even a repeat run with the defending champs can trump.
New York Knicks
Of the teams actively looking to supplant or outright replace their current starting point guard, the New York Knicks might be the most desperate. Raymond Felton is coming off the worst year in his pedestrian career, and rumor has it Phil Jackson is looking to ship him out as soon as possible, per ESPN New York’s Ian Begley.
But the Knicks have also expressed interest specifically in Mills, according to a report by Marc Berman of the New York Post:
According to a source, Mills would be intrigued by the idea of playing in New York and increasing his role from Tony Parker’s backup to a more marquee role.
‘New York is definitely a city Mills would want to play in,' the source said. 'He has that personality.'
Mills, 25, has always been on the Knicks’ radar for this summer, but he might have zoomed to the top after his playoff performance. The speedy 6-foot point guard with a sweet 3-point shot delivered the knockout blow to the Heat in Sunday’s Game 5 clincher.
For a team as cash-strapped and in flux as these Knicks—who Berman notes might be willing to offer the $3 million mini mid-level exception—Mills is no long-term solution. But as a stopgap spark plug who could be placed back in a reserve role once permanent solution is found, New York could do a whole lot worse.
Los Angeles Lakers
No team finds itself facing more uncertainty this summer than the Los Angeles Lakers, who could be returning as few as three players from last year’s roster.
With a rotation in disarray and boatloads of cap space to spare, the Lakers could offer Mills both bigger minutes and a bigger paycheck than anyone else. And with the health of Steve Nash remaining one of the team’s most pressing concerns, San Antonio’s firebrand backup could quickly find himself running the show for the NBA’s most famed franchise.
At the same time, it seems likely the Lakers will exercise Kendall Marshall’s $915,000 player option, meaning—should Nash return at full health—L.A.’s backcourt could quickly become a logjam. For Mills, that just might be a risk he’s willing to take.
But with Kirk Hinrich’s impending free agency further casting Chicago’s backcourt depth into doubt, the Bulls would seem an ideal landing spot for Mills. Not only can the diminutive point guard provide scoring punch off the bench—something Chicago seems to perpetually need—he’s also more than capable of running the team should Rose have a setback or need a night off.
Last year, Nate Robinson helped lead the Bulls to a first-round upset of the Brooklyn Nets. In Mills, Chicago would be getting a player with a similar flair for the dramatic, but with a bit more in the way of championship moxie.
Speaking of Nate Robinson, the word back in March was that the Denver Nuggets’ fiery backup would exercise his $2.1 million player option and return next season, according to the Denver Post’s Christopher Dempsey.
But with Robinson recovering from a major knee injury, his effectiveness—reliant as it is on explosiveness and crafty changes of pace—is sure to be a question mark.
If the Nuggets were somehow able to land Mills, they could look to trade Robinson, perhaps for some much-needed defensive depth.
Per Marc Berman of the New York Post, Mills ranked first in the NBA in distance traveled per minute, as indicated by the SportVu rating, which is why it’s easy to see him playing in the Mile High City—running all over the floor and leaving guys coughing up lungs behind him.
Assuming the Orlando Magic exercise Jameer Nelson’s $8 million team option, their depth at the point will be as follows: Nelson and Victor Oladipo. That's it.
Also: Victor Oladipo isn’t really a point guard. Really, he isn’t.
With a championship already under his belt, Mills could go the work-in-progress route with his next signing—and the Magic are nothing if not that. Even with Nelson around, Mills would stand to reap big-time bench minutes.
Better still, Orlando’s offense—installed by second-year coach and Gregg Popovich product Jacque Vaughn—will be right up Patty’s alley.
Golden State Warriors
When Jarrett Jack spurned the Golden State Warriors in lieu of a better tender from the Cleveland Cavaliers last summer, the Warriors lost by far their most important bench player. Their second unit hasn’t been the same since.
With Steve Blake’s contract up and Golden State’s backcourt rotation limited to Stephen Curry and possibly Jordan Crawford (depending on how his restricted free agency plays out), Mills would make for a perfect fit—a Jack analog who can help hold down the productive fort when the Splash Brothers are riding the pine.
Mills may have a more nostalgic motivation for coming to Golden State as well, having attended St. Mary's College in Oakland—where the Warriors play.
Newly anointed head coach Steve Kerr can use all the veteran know-how he can get, and Mills—who also serves as the starting point guard for the Australian men’s national team—has that in spades.
As one of the Eastern Conference’s surprise playoff teams, the Toronto Raptors served significant notice that theirs is a star on the rise.
There’s just one small problem: The team’s best player, Kyle Lowry, is about to test unrestricted free agency. And while there’s a chance the veteran point guard could return to the Raptors, they have to be planning for the worst.
Outside of Greivis Vasquez—solid in his own right, no doubt—Toronto’s backcourt depth is razor-thin. Unless you count Las Vegas Summer League legend Dwight Buycks, that is.
Should Lowry depart, Mills could be immediately plugged in as a heavy-usage reserve for Vasquez. The Raptors would doubtless be giving up a lot of positional prowess by losing Lowry, but as a pure stopgap, you could do a lot worse than one of the best backup point guards in the league.
Portland Trail Blazers
So yeah, they could probably use Patty Mills.
It remains unclear whether Mo Williams will exercise his $2.7 million player option, although it’s possible he could fetch more on the open market. Should Williams walk, Mills would be an ideal replacement—someone who can provide every bit of Mo’s shooting, with a bit more in the way of dutiful decision-making.
You could even pair Mills alongside Damian Lillard for occasional spurts in a backcourt tandem that could wreak instant, water-bug havoc on opposing defenses.
Oh yeah, we went there.
If anyone understands the Power of Patty, it’s the Miami Heat, who stood helplessly by while San Antonio’s 25-year-old floor general eviscerated them off the bench.
It’s very possible that Mario Chalmers—who had a comparably dreadful Finals—may have played his last game in Miami. If LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh decide to re-up with the Heat, Pat Riley will have to work some roster magic on the margins.
Miami might not be able to give him the big pay he’s hoping for, but Mills would have to consider South Beach—especially if it’s on a shorter contract and he’s guaranteed big-time minutes alongside Norris Cole.
San Antonio Spurs
It really does make the most sense.
Judging by Pop’s praise-laden quotes, it’s clear that Mills endeared himself to the Spurs. Hard work and steady production tend to do that.
Owner Peter Holt has traditionally been loath to just throw money around, even if it means keeping his core of players intact. There will almost certainly be talks between Mills and the San Antonio brass, with the deciding factor for the former coming down to how much his team is willing to double down on the reserve’s renaissance year.
It’s certainly conceivable that Mills could return to the Spurs even with better offers on the table. Such is the instinct when home is the NBA’s classiest franchise.
Mills could most certainly be a reliable backup—perhaps even a starter—for a number of different teams. There’s just one small problem: None of them are this team.