It took some doing, but Paul Millsap finally said what everyone knows to be a certainty. The Hawks’ power forward will opt out of the final year of his contract and become an unrestricted free agent July 1.
Well, he almost said it.
“I think we all know the answer to do that,” Millsap said when asked directly about his intention. He later added, “Eventually I probably will opt out, yes. But I want to be here. I think talks have been pretty good, so we’ll see what happens.”
Millsap indicated that there have been preliminary talks with the Hawks about re-signing, something he called “nothing unusual.”
Millsap spoke Saturday afternoon, hours after the Hawks were eliminated from the playoffs by the Wizards in the Eastern Conference quarterfinal matchup Friday night. The Hawks gathered for a team meeting and individual conferences with coach Mike Budenholzer before departing for the summer.
Hawks principal owner Tony Ressler told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution last week that team will make “every effort imaginable” to keep their best player. Budenholzer echoed that sentiment.
“You always want to hope for the best,” Budenholzer said. “Without a doubt what is best for us is to keep Paul. We’ve got to do everything we can to make that happen. I think that is our intention. Free agency is not an easy thing for the player or for the organization. There are a lot of things that go into it. We are incredibly optimistic and incredibly committed to Paul.”
Millsap was the Hawks’ leading scorer, at 18.1 points per game, during the regular season. He also led the team in minutes (34.0) and ranked second in rebounds (7.7), assists (3.7), steals (1.30) and blocks (0.9). He made his fourth consecutive All-Star team in February, all since joining the Hawks after a lengthy career with the Jazz.
Millsap, 32, certainly will entertain offers from several teams once he is a free agent, much the same way he did two years ago when he was unrestricted, but remained with the Hawks. A deal likely will be a maximum contract. The Hawks can give him a projected five-year deal worth up to $205 million. Another team can give him a four-year deal worth $158.4 million. Both would be substantial raises from the $21.5 million Millsap was scheduled to make next season.
On Saturday, Millsap reiterated his desire to stay in Atlanta. He has made no secret of his love of the city, the team and the playing style.
“I don’t know,” Millsap said when asked what would prevent him from re-signing with the Hawks. “It’s something me and my agent and my family have to sit down and talk about. The decisions I make with my career is not just about me. It doesn’t affect just me. I’ll talk to my family and see what happens.
“But knowing these guys, knowing the organization, I know they want to head in the right direction. They want to get the best available. They want the franchise to win. I believe that without even having a meeting with them. I know the direction they want to go.”
Millsap also will have Kent Bazemore in his ear about remaining as the nucleus of the team. The two will spend some time together on the golf course — as they were prepared to do Saturday — and will talk.
“I’m definitely recruiting Millsap to come back,” Bazemore said. “With the way the cap is this summer it’s probably smart for him to (opt out) and sign something long-term somewhere. That’s the business.
“Paul is a great teammate. I know he loves Atlanta. We are great golfing buddies. I’m sure we’ll spend a lot of time together, and I’ll be throwing little anecdotes at him to stay home. I’ll have my recruiting hat on this summer.”
Millsap said he intends to continue to work on his game this summer. Despite the strides he has made over the course of his 11-year career, he seeks to reach another level.
Millsap said both knees, each of which cost him time before and during the season, feel as good as they have all year. He averaged 24.3 points, 7.7 rebounds and 2.3 assists in six playoff games.
“I could care less what anybody else says, my age or years or whatever,” Millsap said. “I always feel like I can get better. I feel like I made major strides in getting better this year from last year. I’m looking to take another big step forward next year.”
Millsap then left Philips Arena. It may have been for the last time. Or maybe not.