Paul Millsap got a wake-up call just after midnight on July 1. The Hawks were on the line.
General manager Danny Ferry said the Hawks had coveted Millsap for some time.
“We’ve been eyeballing Paul all year, hoping for the opportunity to have him on our team,” Ferry said. “ … His level of competitiveness, night in and night out, is unique. It’s not like most players. Practices, games, everything will be at a higher energy level because he is around now.
“He was a priority for us from the start. He got the call at 12:01 (a.m. ET, at the start of NBA free agency).
Millsap officially signed his two-year, $19 million contract with the Hawks and was introduced Wednesday. The unrestricted free agent forward agreed to the deal last week.
Millsap, 6-foot-8, 253 pounds, can play both the power and small forward positions. His signing gives new coach Mike Budenholzer flexibility in playing alongside Al Horford, who can move between center and power forward. The chance to play with Horford was one thing that attracted Millsap to the Hawks as they reshape a roster that had seven unrestricted free agents.
“When I looked at (the roster) it was a blank slate, pretty much starting over or trying to get new guys in,” Millsap said. “I knew they had a solid base with Al Horford, a guy who I wanted to play with. He’s a guy I feel I can gel with pretty fast and make something special happen.”
For Horford, the feeling is mutual.
“I’m excited and look forward to playing with Paul,” wrote in an e-mail to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “He’s a great player and a hard worker.”
Ferry said he expects the two big men to develop on-court chemistry quickly, aided by their ability to pass the ball.
The 28-year-old Millsap was one of five players in the NBA last season to average at least 14 points, 7 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.0 blocks and one 1.0 steals. The others were Kevin Durant, Marc Gasol, Josh Smith and Horford. Smith, who spent the first nine years of his career with his hometown Hawks, was officially introduced by the Pistons Wednesday after signing a four-year, $56 million contract.
Millsap played collegiately at Louisiana Tech, where he led the nation in rebounding for three consecutive seasons, the only player in NCAA history to do so. He was a second-round pick (No. 47 overall) of the Jazz in the 2006 NBA draft. He signed an offer sheet from the Trail Blazers in 2009 as a restricted free agent and the Jazz matched. He became an unrestricted free agent this season and agreed with the Hawks hours after the Jazz renounced his rights.
Last season, Millsap averaged 14.6 points, 7.1 rebounds and 2.6 assists in 30.4 minutes playing in 78 games.
The Hawks have also agreed to contracts with Kyle Korver and DeMarre Carroll. They met with free agent center Andrew Bynum on Tuesday, but he signed with the Cavaliers.
Ferry would not offer specifics but said the Hawks are continuing to build their roster through all available means.
“We are still exploring all the options that are available to us, whether that’s trade or free agency,” Ferry said. “I feel like the process has been a good process so far. (We brought) in Kyle and Paul, two players that we really like a lot and who embody the things that the Hawks want to be about.
“I think getting good players and building the identity of our team and then filling out our roster as well are really a focus. There is more work to be done. There are more calls to be made. There are more contracts to be signed. Or more trades to happen.”
The Hawks will be approximately $9 million under the salary cap once Korver and Carroll officially sign. The NBA announced an exact salary cap of $58.679 million Tuesday night. The minimum team salary, 90 percent of the salary cap, is $52.811 million next season.