Can Millsap justify his colossal price tag?
How much did the Nuggets overpay for power forward Paul Millsap? While far be it from me to rain inconvenient truth on Millsap’s parade to the Pepsi Center, he will earn $365,854 for every game played in his new home.
It’s a hefty price Denver will be hardpressed to justify at the box office or in the Western Conference standings.
While the grit-over-flash style of Millsap casts him a working-class hero, can he really move the needle for the team with the NBA’s worst attendance? Millsap could walk down the 16th Street Mall and not get recognized by 95 in 100 of his new neighbors.
Nevertheless, the Nuggets’ new $60 million (guaranteed) man will get paid more next season than Kevin Durant. Any way you spin that little factoid, Millsap does little of consequence to close the gap between Denver and Gold-
en State in a league tilted in favor of the superteams. Millsap, however, will allow the Nuggets to compete for the No. 6 seed in the West against Portland, the Los Angeles Clippers and New Orleans, with one doomed to be left out of the playoff bracket.
In a league ruled by stars, Millsap stands firmly in the third tier of power and influence. Tier 1 is reserved for franchise players identified by one name: LeBron, Steph, Russ. Tier 2 features the movers and shakers regularly reserved a spot on past and future all-league teams: Chris Paul, Draymond Green and Karl-Anthony Towns. Tier 3? While Millsap earned four trips to the All-Star Game while toiling in the jayvee conference with Atlanta, he has not been named one of league’s 15 best players during any of his 11 pro seasons, a feat Carmelo Anthony accomplished four times with the Nuggets.
If I have learned anything from watching Stan Kroenke build a sports empire, it’s he expects to maximize return on every investment. So in the interest of Josh Kroenke’s peace of mind, here are my humble suggestions on how the Nuggets can get the most bang for the buck from Millsap: the highest-paid athlete in town, tell me how many playoff series the Nuggets will win between now and 2020 if he’s their best player. My answer is zero. If he is Denver’s lead dog at age 32 and beyond, then the young talent on the roster has been tragically overestimated by Tim Connelly and the front office.
Millsap’s job here is to do the grunt work on the glass and get down and dirty on defense while being the voice of authority in the locker room, all to give Jokic and Jamal Murray the space to grow into the real stars of this team. Acquiring Millsap cost the Nuggets more than money. It cost the team its leading scorer, Danilo Gallinari, offloaded to the Clippers to relieve a salary cap squeeze. Is Millsap an upgrade over Gallo? No doubt. But Connelly has nothing more to show for Gallinari than a second-round draft choice obtained in a sign-andtrade deal. That’s a joke.
Gallo and his 18.2-point scoring average were deemed too essential in the futile pursuit of a first-round sweep against the Warriors to trade in February, when everybody knew he was due to become an unrestricted free agent. Gallinari, however, was suddenly deemed expendable in July, as a hindrance to the development of Juancho Hernangomez? At best, there’s serious flaws in the logic that placed the small short-term gain of a playoff berth over the long-term good of the franchise. At worst, it was an example of bad asset management by an organization that loves to talk trade but has difficulty actually pulling the trigger.
Connelly likes to boast Denver is blessed with great talent with movable contracts that allow the team to be aggressive in trade negotiations. Well, the Nuggets ran the value of Gallinari into the ground. Faried and Chandler are both on the books for an annual salary under $13 million. Chandler has groused about wanting out of Denver, and Faried is now stuck on the bench behind Millsap. Let’s hope Millsap emboldens Connelly to move Faried and Chandler before their trade value is also squandered.
Can Millsap be a pied piper? The Timberwolves got Jimmy Butler. The Thunder got Paul George. That’s why I’ve got a polite golf clap for acquiring Millsap, who’s very good, but doesn’t guarantee the Nuggets will win 50 games next season.
Can Millsap give Denver legitimacy as a destination for future free agents? Maybe. Know who could help Millsap spread the word? Perhaps the Nuggets should re-examine hiring Chauncey Billups as a consultant, the way more than one NBA team has benefited from the gravitas of Jerry West. Who better to sell Denver than Mr. Big Shot?