The Hawks couldn't keep the entire band together, but they did take care of their top priority.
All-Star forward Paul Millsap has agreed to re-sign with Atlanta on a three-year, $58.9 million contract, according to ESPN.com and RealGM.com. The deal, which starts in the 2015-16 season, includes a player option for 2017-18.
The agreement comes hours after the Hawks lost starting small forward DeMarre Carroll to the Raptors in a defection that broke up a starting lineup that led Atlanta to a franchise-record 60 wins and a trip to the Eastern Conference finals.
Millsap, 30, led the Hawks in both scoring and rebounding, averaging 16.7 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 3.1 assists. The 2006 second-round pick earned All-Star honors in 2014 and 2015, easily outplaying the two-year, $19-million contract he signed with the Hawks in 2013. Atlanta's ability to snag him away from Utah on a short-term and thrifty deal, coupled with its decision not to pay huge money to retain former power forward Josh Smith, was one of the primary catalysts of the Hawks' recent success. Millsap's versatile inside-outside game, which included the addition of a dependable three-point shot, was a key to Atlanta's spread approach, and his ability to impact games offensively and defensively worked well with fellow two-way standout Al Horford.
The days of Millsap being one of the NBA's biggest bargains are now over. This contract moves him into the realm of the properly compensated, as his new $19.6 million average annual salary is right in line with repeat All-Stars in their primes with demonstrated postseason success. For comparison's sake, Millsap ranked No. 11 overall on SI.com's "Top 25 Free Agents of 2015" list, placing fourth at his position.
The inclusion of a player option allows Millsap to enter free agency in July 2017, when the salary cap is set to balloon to $108 million from roughly $67 million in 2015-16. That flexibility will almost certainly allow a 32-year-old Millsap to achieve an even more massive payday two years from now.
Atlanta was notoriously prudent under its previous ownership regime, and the new ownership group led by Tony Ressler promised to spend the necessary money to field a competitor. While Carroll's departure creates a significant hole, the retention of Millsap should keep the Hawks among the East's top tier. Paying up to keep Millsap was made easier by a host of bargain contracts already on the books: Al Horford ($12 million), Jeff Teague ($8 million) and Kyle Korver ($5.7 million) are all in position to outperform their contracts in 2015-16 after all three over-delivered last season.
The decision to re-sign Millsap was also made easier by the harsh alternative of losing him: Atlanta has struggled historically to attract free agents, and the Hawks' list of comparable and attainable power forward replacements available on this year's market was, frankly, zero players long. Consider the top candidates: LaMarcus Aldridge is being chased by a number of teams, Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson have already agreed to re-sign in Cleveland, Draymond Green will likely reach a deal with Golden State, and Greg Monroe isn't a very clean fit into the Hawks' offense.
Hawks coach/president Mike Budenholzer simply couldn't survive losing both of his starting forwards. When forced to choose, he made the right call.