Resume: 16.6 points, 8.8 rebounds (career best), 2.3 assists, 1.8 steals (4th in league, career best), 32.8 minutes, 50% FG, and 79% FT (career best)… Team record in games played: 34-30 (2-0 without)… Playoffs: 12.0 points, 11.0 rebounds (career best), 2.5 blocks (career best), 37% FG, 50% FT, 0-4 record
It’s time for me to look into my oh-so-trusty crystal ball for the first time and make a prediction 10 months before it will actually happen. For the sake of this argument, let’s focus on the Utah Jazz perspective.
It’s July 1st, 2013. Free Agency is just getting underway. There is yet another star-studded free agent class highlighted by Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, Manu Ginobili, Josh Smith, Andrew Bynum and James Harden. Sorry to any Utah natives, but in reality, no superstar is going to want to play in Utah when bigger markets like Dallas and Atlanta are going to have just as much cap space. Next summer the Jazz will have eight unrestricted free agents, which is more than any other team in the league. Keep in mind that this means Utah should have plenty of cap room next summer, so what I’m about to tell you they are going to end up doing isn’t a money issue. Before and during the season Utah will do their best to sign center unrestricted free agent Al Jefferson to some type of a contract extension, and if they can’t come to an agreement then a hard push will be made to resign him once free agency begins. In all likelihood, Utah overpays a little for Jefferson to keep him from going elsewhere, which is a good thing for Utah considering Jefferson is still to come on the list. Plus, they can afford to do so since they are going to have plenty of cap space, remember? All things sound fine and dandy in Salt Lake City, right? Well, think again.
While Jefferson is signing on the dotted line and cashing in on a serious pay day, a 28 year old just-entering-his-prime Paul Millsap will also be testing the free agency waters. You can be certain that Millsap will be a hot commodity during the summer of 2013 (which is why he decided not to sign a contract extension with Utah), and foolishly, Utah might not be his biggest suitor. With Jefferson likely the top free agency priority and young big man Derrick Favors highly regarded, it’s unlikely that Utah will give Millsap the contract offer a player of his caliber deserves. Instead, they’ll likely look for added depth on the perimeter, which sounds good, but in turn Utah is losing someone that the Jazz fans love, and the last remaining piece of their Conference finalist team from 2007. And this is if Utah doesn’t trade Millsap before then. Totally possible by the way.
If you’re lucky enough to have a Paul Millsap on your team, you know that your bread is being buttered and you do just about everything to keep him unless that means drastically overpaying him. In the upcoming season Millsap will likely average somewhere between 15 and 18 points, 8 and 10 rebounds, but his biggest contributions will be made in areas where statistics don’t really tell the story. He’s a gritty, hard-working, undersized power forward who whose motor and heart is bigger than his actual size (he’s listed as the same height and weight as LeBron James). Conversely, he’s versatile enough to slide over and play the small forward position to accommodate a supersized line-up of Jefferson, Favors and himself. Millsap is a relentless rebounder (the only player in NCAA history to lead the country in rebounding 3 years in a row), a late game scoring option (Heat fans probably remember his 11 points in 28 seconds explosion back in 2010), and a legitimate big game player. In Utah’s last regular season game, a must-win in order to make the playoffs, Millsap delivered his best game of the season, putting up 26 points, 15 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals and a truck load of big plays down the stretch. Utah doesn’t win that game without Millsap. As good as Jefferson is, and as good as Favors will be someday, Utah doesn’t make the playoffs without Millsap. Ultimately when Millsap goes elsewhere Utah is going to regret it. At least that is what my crystal ball is telling me.