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Paul Millsap, JJ Redick and the New-Age Veteran Free-Agency Market

Jake Fischer@JakeLFischerContributor IAugust 24, 2021

Denver Nuggets forward Paul Millsap (4) against the Phoenix Suns during Game 1 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series, Monday, June 7, 2021, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)
Matt York/Associated Press

The NBA's free-agency frenzy has slowed. Nineteen teams sit with 15 or more official, guaranteed contracts on their books, while several contenders, such as the Suns, Lakers, Nuggets and Warriors, seem like strong candidates to enter the regular season with open roster spots to preserve future flexibility. 

Golden State has been the team most often linked by league sources to Paul Millsap, arguably the most consequential free agent left. Yet while the 36-year-old former All-Star has drawn interest from the Warriors, Hawks, Nets, Pelicans, 76ers and Timberwolves, no team sources contacted by Bleacher Report indicated any contract agreement with Millsap has come close to the finish line. 

After a down year in Denver, where the veteran saw his lowest minutes per game since his sophomore campaign in 2007-08, Millsap is said to be seeking a crystalized role on a team with deep playoff aspirations. "I think he just wants to know he's the third big or the reserve, small-ball 5 for a good team," one assistant general manager told B/R.

That was where Millsap ultimately factored into the Nuggets' rotation, especially after Denver swung one of the bigger trade-deadline deals to land Aaron Gordon from Orlando. Millsap started just 36 games last season, his lowest since 2009-10, but launched a career-high 4.4 threes per 36 minutes. Michael Malone's coaching staff liked deploying Millsap against Jusuf Nurkic or Enes Kanter when Nikola Jokic went to the bench, for example, allowing the veteran to still have a quickness advantage while playing up a position during Denver's postseason bout with Portland. 

David Zalubowski/Associated Press
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The Nuggets valued Millsap's quiet leadership as well, and his slower foot speed at this latter stage of his career hasn't impeded him as a help defender, where Millsap still registered 1.1 blocks and 1.6 steals per 36 minutes a year ago. Denver could feasibly bring him back with just under $3.5 million in wiggle room below the tax, but it seems Millsap is looking for a richer payday. The Nuggets do retain his cap hold, so Tim Connolly's front office could explore sign-and-trades that would open more flexibility as far as potential new destinations.

Yet there's a limit to how much teams are willing to spend on an aging role player showing obvious signs of decline. It's not hard to imagine how a 15-year pro, who earned nearly $100 million over the last four years, would find difficulty sliding into a veteran minimum spot while still bringing positive net value on both sides of the floor.

Millsap could very well end up being this year's Nic Batum, a skilled mercenary who rounds out a playoff unit's starting lineup or top of their rotation in a reduced role. He has fans across the league, but Millsap's conversations with teams this summer have revolved around salary figures at or near the $5.9 million tax-payer mid-level exception, sources said. 

At present, there's an expectation among league executives that Millsap could ride out an extended offseason, resting his legs after Denver's run to the 2020 Western Conference Finals and the subsequent sprint that was the 2020-21 campaign. 

The teams most often rumored to have interest in Millsap also have other needs to address. Chris Chiozza is the only true point guard stashed on Golden State's roster behind Stephen Curry. Minnesota is said to be prioritizing re-signing restricted free-agent swingman Jarred Vanderbilt. The Sixers, Hawks, Pelicans and Nets don't have an open roster spot. 

"I think he's gonna be a minimum or a midseason guy," said one veteran front office voice. "What's the rush? The money wouldn't get much better, and he can just pick his team. What if New Orleans is really good come January? What happens when some guy gets hurt, and that team starts scrambling for a replacement? He can pick his spot."

Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

That seems to be the expectation with JJ Redick as well. The 37-year-old sharpshooter recently confirmed as much on his podcast, The Old Man and The Three, saying:

"​​My focus right now is just hanging with my family and enjoying the offseason. And we'll make a decision on next season—what team, what city, etc.—probably sometime in the next two or three months. But, you know, I would say, pretty much definitively, like, I won't be in a training camp to start the season. That's not gonna happen. So, you know, I'll join a team at some point this season and finish the year and try to go get a chip."

Several team executives believe two to three months, though, could be a conservative timeline. Redick, like Millsap, could linger on the league's periphery until the calendar flips to 2022, biding his time with an eye toward joining either New York or Brooklyn, the latter borough being where Redick resides.

Multiple front-office personnel contacted by B/R mentioned their medical team would need to clear an apparent heel injury that may have hampered Redick during his time in New Orleans. Teams flagged it back before the March 25 trade deadline, when New Orleans was discussing Redick packages, sources said. 

Redick's apparent desire to land with the Knicks and the Nets has long circulated in the NBA. Several executives have even speculated the veteran could retire if he does not come to terms with either franchise. Yet there likely will be other suitors interested in adding Redick's bench shooting come January as well. "I would bring him on," one Western Conference head coach told B/R. "He can go anywhere and provide value."

The three-point line, of course, has never loomed larger. Pick any coach, from the front of the bench down to the video room, and they will lament their team's lack of shooting, no matter their players' successes, and openly wonder where their team can add more marksmen.

Millsap and Redick may just be that solution, only a few months down the line. "I think both those guys will get one more year to chase a ring," said a Western Conference executive. 

        

Jake Fischer covers the NBA for Bleacher Report and is the author of Built to Lose: How the NBA's Tanking Era Changed the League Forever.

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