The Argument For Acquiring Paul Milsap

Published: January 7, 2017

For several days now, reports have been out there that Hawks forward Paul Milsap is being shopped around by Atlanta. A few days after that, some reports linked him to the New Orleans Pelicans. And, a few days after that, it was said New Orleans was reportedly not interested because they would have to pay BOTH assets to acquire him and a hefty salary to keep him. In the meantime, Pelicans fans, writers, and message board visitors have chimed in with their two cents on whether the Pelicans should pursue the soon-to-be 32 year-old power forward.

The opinions seem to be fairly mixed, with the side not wanting to trade for Milsap focused on his age and hefty price tag, along with reluctancy to give up a first round pick in a seemingly good draft. All of that is understandable, as players do begin to decline at this point of their career and draft picks offer hope of landing a similar (or possibly superior) player at a fraction of the cost. The best case scenarios on the anti-Milsap side are clearly better than any best case scenario you can conceive in a situation where the Pelicans acquire Paul Milsap, and then pay him a boatload of money this summer.

But best case scenarios with a franchise that is semi-dysfunctional (at best), is like imagining what kind of job you could get if you could only fly. It’s a pointless endeavor. This is the part of the equation that Pelicans fans leave out time and time again when projecting into the future. They reject a player like Milsap because they imagine what the organization could do with a first round pick if they use it right and cap flexibility if they squeeze every last bit of juice out of the fruit. The possibilities are endless, and they are always better than the flawed player they are weighed against.

Last offseason, Harrison Barnes was universally rejected by fans and writers, because his price tag outweighed his production. Instead, the desire to remain more flexible and acquire more pieces at a lower cost was more desirable. Praise of Danny Ferry (not Dell Demps), was given when he brought in Solomon Hill, Langston Galloway, and E’twaun Moore for slightly more than Barnes would have received in a max contract. Fast forward a few months, and the Mavs would laugh in your face if you offered those three for Barnes. Heck, the rest of the league would covet Barnes at his price tag, while only Langston Galloway would offer positive value at his current contract when looking at the three guys the Pelicans signed.

Some will say that Barnes is an aberration, and yes, with a clearer mind you would pay a young swing forward. But Milsap is old. He is going to be 32 soon, and doesn’t fit the Pelicans timeline. They should be looking for players to grow with Anthony Davis, not players who will be declining as Davis is ascending. If NBA fans are anything universally, they are ageists. Heck, the Jazz allowed Milsap to walk a couple of years ago because he was about to be 28 and they had a nice, shiny 20-year-old in Derrick Favors to build around. Fast forward four years later, and Milsap has been vastly superior every season, and the gap doesn’t really appear to be closing anytime soon. Milsap will likely still be superior four years from now. But, potential is always sexier than production.

A Paul Milsap acquisition will never help this team win a title. He will be overpaid in years 3 and 4, and possibly even sooner. The team will likely cap out at a 4 or 5 seed, with Davis, Milsap, and Holiday taking up nearly 80% of the salary cap and no 2017 pick or salary cap room available to nab another top end player. All of this is true, but you know what else I believe to be true – I believe that this is still a better outcome than the likely outcomes if they don’t trade for Milsap. This dysfunctional franchise is never winning a title anyway. The Pelicans brass likely won’t hit on the draft pick if they keep it, if we are projected based on the draft records of Demps and Ferry. This franchise likely won’t acquire any needle movers if they have all the cap flexibility in the world. It was hard enough getting quality players to come to New Orleans in the old CBA, and with this new one, it will be close to impossible.

So, as you reject Milsap and wistfully think of that 2017 draft pick and what it could be, realize that history says you are likely looking at another Austin Rivers or maybe they trade it for a different vet down the line like they did with Asik. All that cap money? Well, here come two more Solomon Hill types! That’s the thing about the future – someday, it becomes the present. Eventually that draft pick becomes an actual player, with actual flaws. That cap room becomes a player you acquired, not because he was great and wanted New Orleans, but likely because he was greatly flawed and few (if any) teams wanted him. So, he ended up in New Orleans and will someday be beaten out for the job you overpaid him for by some other guy nobody wanted (see: Terrence Jones beating out Asik and Cunningham beating out Hill).

So, go ahead and dream about all the things you can do with the money and the picks you save by not trading for Milsap. I am sure you can create amazing fantasies in your head about the 19 year-old point guard that will come in and save the day, or Gordon Hayward spurning other functional, winning organizations to choose the Pelicans, but I will stick with reality. I will take the needle moving player with the quality character and hometown connection, who will make this team better but not elite. I will take a team that wins more games than it loses the next four years and be satisfied being better than average, though never great. I will take a couple of playoff births, even if they end after just six or seven games.

I will take that, because it is likely better than any other path this franchise is going to take me down.


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