The decision was easy.
Paul Millsap was offered a big contract to play an integral role for the Nuggets, a team that long coveted the four-time All-Star power forward. He was not offered a contract to remain with the Hawks.
There you have it.
Millsap agreed to a three-year, $90 million contract as an unrestricted free agent by the Nuggets on Sunday. His tenure with the Hawks abruptly ended.
“It was pretty simple,” Millsap told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Monday. “Denver, they came and they’ve been wanting me for years. They made that known. The presentation that they gave me, it felt comfortable, it felt real. At the end of the day it was going to be the team that I felt most comfortable with and Atlanta. Atlanta decided to go another direction. They didn’t want to make an offer. So it was pretty simple. Denver was the team.”
The Hawks were in touch will Millsap during the free-agent period. The Nuggets came to Atlanta to make their pitch on Saturday. The acceptance came a day later.
Millsap signed with the Hawks as a free agent four years ago after the second-round pick spent his first seven seasons with the Jazz. He re-signed with the Hawks two years ago but opted out of his player option to hit the free-agent market this summer.
Millsap was not surprised by the Hawks decision. Nothing, he said, surprises him after 11 years in the NBA. However, he admitted to being disappointed by the end of relationship that helped him blossom into one of the top power forwards in the league. All four of Millsap’s All-Star Game appearances came with the Hawks.
“Definitely disappointing,” Millsap said. “I thought I meant a bit more than that to them. But it is what it is. I’m happy with the decision I’ve made. I’m happy with the team I’m with. I’m ready to get it going with them.”
Teammates, staff members and fans have reached out to Millsap following his decision. He said he appreciated the opportunity from the Hawks and the successful run that included a 60-win season and a trip to the Eastern Conference finals. Millsap said he was especially grateful to the fans.
“Definitely a great four-year run,” Millsap said. “They helped me. The city of Atlanta has been unbelievable to me. I know that they are probably a little disappointed but I appreciated all the love that they showed to me. Atlanta is still going to be my summer place. My family is still going to be there. They’ve been great.
“You hear a lot of talk before I got there, the fans this, the fans that. Actually being in it, they are dedicated and loyal fans. They’ve always had my back from day one. I’m very appreciative for that.”
The versatile Millsap averaged 17.4 points, 8.3 rebounds and 3.3 assists in his four seasons with the Hawks. He was a defensive presence as well. He was named to the NBA All-Defensive Second Team last year. The Hawks put Millsap on the block during the trade deadline in February. He was ultimately pulled off for the playoff run. The Nuggets were one of the teams that extremely interested in trading for Millsap. In the end, they got him without giving up players or draft picks. It was the difference in franchise direction that led to the front-office shakeup following the season.
Millsap said he is looking forward to helping a Nuggets team that was top five in offense last season.
“Defensively, I know I can help in that area,” Millsap said. “Add that with the (team) scoring capability, you have something really special.”
Millsap was eligible for a maximum contract and in the end accepted less money per season and fewer years to join the Nuggets. The total was less than the threshold established by the Hawks. He said he appreciates the reputation of coach Mike Malone for holding his players accountable and for the style of play. He said the Nuggets pitch was genuine.
It won’t be the first time a well-entrenched Millsap has moved on to a new team. But there is always a bit of sadness in the business of basketball.
“It was a good but sad time,” Millsap said of conversations with his now-former relationships. “They are happy for me and I wish them nothing but the best. … I give credit where credit is due. They gave me the opportunity. Coaches, teammates, fans, they were all part of that.”