At first glance, it is not the most ideal situation for any NBA team sans upstarts Minnesota Timberwolves and Philadelphia Sixers to replace an athletic 28 year old in the prime of his career with a 32 year old who has overachieved since entering the league. However, there is a high possibility playoff semifinal contender Los Angeles Clippers might bite at this chance and sign Atlanta Hawks Forward Paul Millsap should he go on to become a free agent this summer.
To become a free agent, Millsap would have to officially decline the remaining 20 plus million dollars left on his contract meaning any team that wishes to sign the four time All-Star must clear a lot of salary space to get into the conversation. For a while, the Clippers looked set to ride with Blake Griffin the way Boston Celtics rode with Paul Pierce.
However, the athletic big man has been consistently plagued by injuries and worse at crucial times at the business end of the season. Coupled with the financial strain the team will be facing in a couple of weeks with JJ Reddick and Chris Paul set for major contracts, there is the high possibility of Griffin walking away from the only team he has known in his time in the league.
Like Reddick and Paul, Griffin is heading towards free agency as he looks to forgo the final year on his contract and fetch pretty much the final round of major money in free agency before the salary cap boom trends downwards towards normalcy.
Unlike many teams in the league, money isn’t a big deal for the Clippers; the team has billionaire owner in Steve Ballmer whose competitive drive will push him to drop hard cash on the table to get a team capable of ousting the Houston Rockets, San Antonio Spurs, Golden State Warriors and what is likely to be a future stumbling block, the Utah Jazz.
Unfortunately for Griffin, even if Ballmer splashes the cash he is the most prime candidate to be on the outside not because of his numbers but because of his dwindling physical powers. Statistically, Griffin (averaged 21.8.1 rebounds and 4.9 assists in 61 games) is alright but his body isn’t and that is a major concern for the Clippers. In two straight postseasons including the ongoing campaign, Los Angeles has failed to advance beyond the first round due to ailments that prevented the 2009 number one overall pick to miss games.
Multiple surgeries have taken their toll on Griffin as the 2011 Slam Dunk Champion’s aerial assault has diminished sharply. Derived of power to sustain the bruising nature of his game, Griffin is nearly done for as his transition to a three point shooting big hasn’t particularly worked out well including the last regular season where he attempted 113 shots from the arc but converted 38. On the other hand, Millsap is just like fine wine getter better with age.
The 47th pick in 2006 has nabbed all four of his All Star call ups after turning 28 and his scoring numbers (averaged 18.1 points this season after averaging 17.1 last season) have followed a similar path. Griffin on the other hand, has not been an All Star after turning 25. While his three point stroke is slightly worse than Griffin, he makes up for it with a career conversion of 4151 on 8090 attempts on jump shots.
This small statistic is crucial to the play of the Clippers since Center DeAndre Jordan can’t shoot the ball to save Nigeria from a power crisis and as a result need a Forward capable of creating his own shot and burying half of them away from the basket. The superior level of competition in the West shouldn’t dissuade Millsap from returning to the conference since the Atlanta Hawks will have a hard time upstaging Washington Wizards, Boston Celtics, Toronto Raptors and to an extent Milwaukee Bucks to have a shot at defending champions Cleveland Cavaliers.
With good Guards Tim Hardaway Jnr. and Dennis Schroder in the backcourt, Atlanta is not getting past Wizards John Wall and Bradley Beal and definitely not Boston with Isaiah Thomas running the show in the fourth quarter. A $90 million three year fully guaranteed deal is good enough to turn Millsap’s head to the city of angels. That aside, playing with Chris Paul gives Millsap the best Point Guard he has ever played with including a younger Deron Williams back in Utah.
By Yaw Adjei-Mintah
@YawMintYM on Twitter