Boston Celtics Second Tier Free Agent Targets: Paul Millsap


Though the city has developed a white-collar “economic base bolstered by medical hubs, biotech companies and universities,” Boston residents have retained a tooth-gritting, blue-collar edge that doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon.

That’s why hockey — a game of bing, bang, and boom — has always reigned king in the Big Bean. Even when Bill Russell was winning NBA championships like they were trophies for your daughter’s 3rd-grade soccer league (everyone’s a winner!), the Boston Celtics struggled to fill seats at the Garden while the middling Bruins sold out every game.

But the 2014-15 version of the Boston Celtics resonated with the city like no other 40-42 team has before. With hard-nosed grinders like Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, and Marcus Smart, Celtics fans had players they could relate to: guys who worked relentlessly at the little things and squeezed out every ounce of potential in their bodies.

Apr 26, 2015; Boston, MA, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love (0) holds his shoulder after colliding with Boston Celtics center Kelly Olynyk (41) during the first half in game four of the first round of the NBA Playoffs. at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Much has been made of the Celtics’ pursuit of big names like Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge, and DeMarcus Cousins. This is all fine and dandy, and I’m fully on board with it, but the probability of landing one of these franchise-turning players is always slight, and Ainge & Company could very well strike out again this summer.

But even if that happens, it doesn’t mean this offseason has to resemble a windshield covered in bird crap; the Celtics could look to pull a page out of Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban’s book by building a formidable roster ex-ante, biding their time to nab that marquee player in a subsequent summer. There are plenty of quality “second-tier” players hitting the market this July who fit the Celtics’ working-class culture, and bringing them to Boston could help entice one of those alpha dog dudes every Celtics fan has been dreaming about.

This backup plan is obviously less than ideal. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be a backup plan! Everyone and his mother is going to have max-level cap space next summer (when the NBA’s new television deal takes effect), so landing a star in 2016 will be that much harder. But alas, this just might be the reality, so why not tackle it by diving right into possible “middle class” signings this offseason? In no particular order, here goes nothin’!

Paul Millsap

Mar 11, 2015; Denver, CO, USA; Atlanta Hawks forward Paul Millsap (4) during the game against the Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

I know, I know, middle class is a stretch for Millsap. But for practical purposes we’re gonna stick him in that last tax bracket before he’s considered “rollin’-in-the-deep” material.

The 6’8″ power forward, who has been named an All-Star in each of the past two seasons, is arguably the best player on an Eastern Conference Finals team (I’m sure a certain Mr. Alfred Joel Horford would have something to say about that), but, for whatever reason, he doesn’t really feel like a bona fide star.

He’s pretty darn good in just about every facet of the game but not necessarily great at any one particular thing. Pretty much he’s like “Susan” from the cubicle next to you at work: reliable, hardworking, always gives solid presentations at staff meetings, but never really sweeps you up off your feet. 

May 15, 2015; Washington, DC, USA; Atlanta Hawks forward Paul Millsap (4) shoots over Washington Wizards forward Paul Pierce (34) during the first half in game six of the second round of the NBA Playoffs at Verizon Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Millsap is a solid finisher at the rim (64%), has a solid post-up game, lets fly the mid-range jumper at a solid clip (42%)… damn, I mean that’s just about the perfect word to describe the dude. Though his wind-up is slower than your grandma’s driving habits in a school zone, he drains the three-ball at a respectable 36%, just high enough to command a hard close-out and open up the lane for dribble penetration.

Once he gets into the teeth of the defense — whether as the roll man on the pick-and-roll or off a blow-by on a drive to the basket — Millsap is adept at locating shooters dotting the perimeter. 

He’s got quick feet for his size and is 12th in defensive real plus-minus among power forwards at a — here we go again — solid 2.24 points-per-100 possessions taken off the board for the opposition.

However, the Hawks were the 4th-worst rebounding team in the league during the regular season, and Millsap’s presence didn’t help much, as he only snagged 13.6% of the available rebounds while he was on the floor, a mark that places him right in the middle of the pack for forwards and centers his height and taller who saw meaningful action this season, per

It also can’t be overlooked that Millsap has benefitted from playing in an anemic Eastern Conference these past two seasons in Atlanta, which has probably inflated some of his numbers a bit. Tack onto that his team’s surprising success this year, and what you get is a (slightly) overstated league-wide value in the media. That said, he’s still a highly valuable player with virtually no holes in his game, so these are minor knocks on an otherwise wonderful player.

The ultimate NBA chameleon, Paul Millsap and his game blend well in any system, but Brad Stevens’ space-and-pace style would provide a perfect home for his all-around team play. It will be hard to pry him away from Atlanta, especially if the Hawks reach the Finals — or, hell, even win the whole darn thing — but landing Millsap is a worthwhile pursuit if Kevin Love, Marc Gasol, DeAndre Jordan and LaMarcus Aldridge decide to sign elsewhere/stay put.

Boston has a trio of young bigs in Tyler Zeller, Jared Sullinger, and Kelly Olynyk, and though the jury is still out on all three, none appear to be needle-movers for the Celtics looking into the future; they project to be no more than solid role players and will likely all be involved in trade talks this summer.

Every Celtic might as well be living out of a suitcase, ready to head out of town at any moment, because no one is safe as long as Danny Ainge is in charge. No one.

Jan 21, 2014; Miami, FL, USA; Boston Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge before a game against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

Successfully courting Millsap would likely force Ainge to abandon any attempt to re-sign Jonas Jerebko, as a new Millsap contract would surely eat up a sizable portion of cap space and severely reduce the amount of available minutes for “4” men.

But that’s ok because Millsap is a definite step up from Jerebko, even though the Swede provided consistent play (and elevated the team’s overall “pull potential” at the nightclubs) for the Celtics after they brought him and fellow European Gigi Datome aboard via the Tayshaun Prince trade.

Millsap has been inconsistent this postseason for the Hawks, shooting only 42% from the field and battling the flu in a Game 3 loss to the Wizards, a night on which he only played 23 minutes.

He’ll have to bring his A-game against a hungry Cavs team coming off three straight victories to close out the Bulls and work hard to keep Tristan Thompson — one of the league’s most ravenous offensive rebound munchers — off the glass.

After his season ends, whether it be in this round or the next, Millsap will have to think long and hard about where he wants to spend the rest of his dwindling prime years. Brad Stevens is, by all accounts, a great coach to play for, but Atlanta’s Mike Budenholzer was 2015’s Coach of the Year, so the Celtics really don’t have any sort of advantage there.

Millsap will be 31 next year, and, as such, likely won’t attract a max offer from anybody in free agency this summer, though it is possible. Ainge would probably have to overpay to lure him away from a good set-up in Atlanta, but once the cap jumps, that contract wouldn’t look so bad. And, hey, come to think of it, neither would Paul Millsap in green!

Stay tuned later this week for the rest of our potential “Plan B” free agents. And remember to let us know what you think in the “Comments” section below!

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