Toronto Raptors: Trading for Paul Millsap is a Risk, but Worth it

Apr 7, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Hawks forward Paul Millsap (4) shoots over Toronto Raptors center Lucas Nogueira (92) during the second half at Philips Arena. The Hawks defeated the Raptors 95-87. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 7, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Hawks forward Paul Millsap (4) shoots over Toronto Raptors center Lucas Nogueira (92) during the second half at Philips Arena. The Hawks defeated the Raptors 95-87. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports /

The Toronto Raptors of today are squarely in the Cavs’ shadow and without an injury to LeBron it’s just not realistic to see them surpassing Cleveland. Enter Paul Millsap.

The rumor mill is spinning and Paul Millsap and the Atlanta Hawks are the first to take a ride. Millsap has made it clear that he will opt out of his contract at the end of this season to become a free agent, as per Chris Haynes of ESPN.

And within a five minute span Marc Stein tweeted claiming that the Hawks are finally listening to offers for Millsap.

This is a disappointing season for the Hawks so far, they’re a .500 team after taking some ill-advised decisions in the offseason. They decided to keep Dennis Schroder over Jeff Teague and that hasn’t really panned out. The Hawks also decided not to trade Al Horford because they thought they could re-sign him during the offseason and that ended with ashes in their mouths.

In consolation the Hawks sought after Dwight Howard, someone who could shore up their defense and help with rebounding.

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When Horford left the Hawks for Beantown only a few months ago and they got nothing for it. Zip. Zilch. Nada. Now with Millsap saying he’s opting out it makes absolute sense for the Hawks to explore trading options, since they’ve already been fooled once.

But the question is what the Toronto Raptors could give up for him. If Atlanta is really looking into making this trade the framework would centre around Terrence Ross, who is having a career year, the Raptors first round draft pick, and possibly the Clippers first round pick (that the Raptors own) this year, and few young sweeteners (Jared Sullinger and Jakob Poeltl perhaps). It’ll have to be for youth because the Raptors don’t have anything to give that could make the Hawks better right now.

If the Hawks trade Millsap Sir Foster might as well play Taps at the end of every game, it’ll be the end of an era that gave us the kind of ball movement we haven’t seen since the 2013-14′ Spurs. The Hawks would be initiating the tank, but this way they get a head start with a fistful of young players they get to watch develop while also gaining two picks in addition to their own in a draft that’s supposed to be loaded with talent.

Someone (including Boston) would have given multiple picks and players for an expiring Horford just so they could give him a whiff of the team before convincing him to sign long-term. Making the trade for an expiring impact player is risky because they can leave at the end of the season, but it also gives the team the benefit of having the player’s bird rights to go over the cap and retain them.

That’s the catch with one-year rentals, you’re trying to make them not one-year rentals, especially with players of Millsap’s caliber. Any trade for an expiring is a sucker’s bet unless you’re sure they’ll resign and if you’re not sure the team must  prove that it’s an optimal place for the player. In the Raptors case, if Millsap joined he would be taking a clear step up from the Hawks, who are barely treading water, and with them being able to offer him the most years and money it’ll be hard to turn away from the North.

Toronto Raptors
Apr 7, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Hawks forward Paul Millsap (4) protects the ball from Toronto Raptors forward Terrence Ross (31) during the first half at Philips Arena. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports /

Those dollars and years could prove grievous, though. Millsap is 32, already in his 11th year in the NBA and he isn’t necessarily peaking in productivity. The new CBA is going to introduce a super-max worth about $209 million over five years, starting next year and both Kyle Lowry and Paul Millsap will be elligable to demand it. If Lowry demands the max, will the Raptors make the deal? Most likely, yes. But if Millsap demands it then the Raptors need to do some serious thinking. Shirking the future hasn’t been the forte of Masai Ujiri and co. since he’s joined the franchise, it’s always about continuity and development, waiting for the time to pounce.

And this is the time to pounce. This is the moment we’ve all been waiting for, right? The Raptors have been type-cast as the Cavaliers’ inferior in the Eastern Conference. Even though they won two games in the Eastern Conference Finals last year nobody thinks they’ll stand a chance against the Cavs this year. LeBron James is a monolith that foes must visit every playoffs before being expelled from the postseason and the Raptors are susceptible to the pilgrimage again this year.

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  • Signing Milsap gives the Raptors a puncher’s chance at the Cavs. Boasting a 103 defenisve rating, Millsap’s defence isn’t that of a stopper but a stop-gap. Any hole or mismatch that appears can be cured by Millsap’s malleability. He is a versatile big that can guard threes, fours and fives in a pinch and is a healthy remedy to the Kevin Love at the five lineup that has pulverized the Raptors in every meeting with the Cavaliers.

    He’s fast enough to cover wings on the perimeter and isn’t a classic rim protector (averaging 0.9 blocks per game this year), but is a definite presence inside the paint. If he isn’t blocking shots, he’s making the strip down low, Millsap averages 1.5 steals a game this season and it’s due to his active hands and intelligence. He’s quick enough to shark passing lanes and smart enough to identify lackadaisical play and he preys on it. Millsap is a smart all-around player at the power forward position, which makes him a souped up version of our beloved Patrick Patterson.

    Millsap fits perfectly within the Raptors offensive dynamic as well. He’s another offensive weapon in the quiver for the Raptors historically efficient offense. Millsap shoots the three, can runs on the break and is an unselfish passer, especially as a big man.

    The key to his offence is within the flow of the offence he makes the best of every opportunity he is presented. If the defender is bigger than Millsap, he can put the ball on the floor and make his own shot at the rim. If the defender is smaller, he can put the defender underneath the basket or finesse around him. Millsap benefits on pick and pops, as well as pick and rolls making him the perfect foil to Lowry and a great one for DeMar DeRozan, too.

    Millsap’s offense can originate from anywhere on the floor and will still lead to a good shot because he’s capable of doing nearly everything.

    I’ve ranted and raved about including Patrick Patterson in the starting lineup, but Millsap is simply a better version of the same player.

    Trading for Millsap seems like a scary prospect on the surface. The Raptors have to separate from young players, prospects and picks that Ujiri has amassed during his tenure with the franchise. But general managers collect those assets to make trades to put their team over the hump.

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    The Raptors of today are squarely in the Cavaliers shadow and without an injury to LeBron it’s just not realistic to see Toronto surpassing the NBA champions. But, with a trade for Millsap the Raptors gain the chance to step outside of that monolithic shadow just enough to see what’s on the other side of it.