Blazers sign Millsap to offer sheet

Portland is making a push for Utah forward Paul Millsap.

The Portland Trail Blazers elected Friday not to wait on trade possibilities, deciding instead to offer Utah Jazz restricted free agent Paul Millsap a four-year contract worth an estimated $32 million-to-$36 million, according to sources with knowledge of the Blazers’ plans.

This is more compelling than your average, run-of-the-mill restricted free agent signing because a few days ago the Blazers were rumored to be involved in a three-way trade involving Chicago and Utah where the Bulls would have acquired Carlos Boozer, sending Kirk Hinrich to Portland and Tyrus Thomas to Utah.

But those trade talks stalled in part because the Bulls were not prepared to surrender Hinrich and Tyrus Thomas (who would have been Utah-bound) without getting back promising Portland guard Jerryd Bayless in return in addition to Boozer.

Since the Blazers didn’t want to give up Bayless, they’ve made the decision to extend an offer to Millsap, which puts the pressure on the Jazz to move Boozer. The contract is frontloaded, so if Utah were to have both players on the roster it would put the team deep into luxury tax territory.

Another interesting thing about this move by the Blazers is that Millsap plays the same position as LaMarcus Aldridge, so either they (1) plan on playing Aldridge at center, (2) plan on bringing Millsap off the bench or (3) aren’t optimistic that they can keep Aldridge, who is eligible for an extension this summer. The bad news for the Blazers is that the Jazz have seven days to decide whether or not they’ll match the offer, and during that time Portland’s cap space is tied up, so they can’t make an offer to another free agent. But other than Lamar Odom, Allen Iverson and Andre Miller, there isn’t much out there in the way of unrestricted free agents, so it doesn’t make sense to hold onto the cap space if they aren’t going to use it elsewhere.

If the Blazers can pry away Millsap for $8-$9 million per season, it will be a great move. That’s a good value for a young power forward has proven that he has a potential to be an All-Star-caliber player. But I’d expect that the Jazz will be able to trade Boozer and get a good young player (of Tyrus Thomas’s caliber) in return. There are a number of teams that are interested, including the Bulls, Pistons, Heat and Knicks.

I’d also expect this deal to bring David Lee’s contract expectations back to Earth. I think he and Millsap are about on the same level value-wise, with Millsap having a small edge due to his ability to score in the post.

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Restricted free agents aren’t getting any love

John Hollinger examines the current free agent market

Because as much as teams are spending in pursuit of unrestricted free agents, it stands in sharp contrast to those of the restricted free agents on the market. Gortat struck a deal for an offer sheet from Dallas, but desirable commodities like Lee, Paul Millsap, Marvin Williams, Josh Childress, Ramon Sessions and Nate Robinson have barely gotten a sniff.

Moreover, the market for those players to get anything above the midlevel exception is basically gone. Unless they can persuade one of the above teams to join in the bidding, somebody like Lee or Millsap could end up settling for the midlevel exception or playing on a one-year deal for a scandalously low qualifying offer — $1.03 million for Millsap, $2.68 million for Lee.

In turn, this has to be chilling news if you’re Rajon Rondo, Luis Scola, Rudy Gay, LaMarcus Aldridge, Andrea Bargnani, Ronnie Brewer or Foye, all of whom will be restricted free agents next summer if they don’t sign extensions by opening day. (Brandon Roy, who is all but certain to get a maximum extension, needn’t worry.) The restricted free agents in the class of ’09 couldn’t get a sniff of big money even in a very underwhelming free-agent market; what can they possibly expect a year from now when the likes of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Dirk Nowitzki and Amare Stoudemire could be available unrestricted?

On the other hand, the unrestricted free agents could once again make out like bandits — perhaps providing a carrot for the likes of Lee, Millsap and Williams to take the qualifier and play for a below-market-value price this season in hopes of recouping the difference next summer.

Detroit and Toronto have already burned their cap space on the likes of Ben Gordon, Charlie Villanueva and Hedo Turkoglu, but there are still a few teams — Oklahoma City, Sacramento, Memphis and Atlanta — who could make a significant offer to Paul Millsap or David Lee. The problem with trying to sign an RFA is that their current team has seven days to match the offer sheet, and during that time, the team trying to pry the RFA has that money tied up in that player. Most teams will wait the full seven days just to screw with the other team, and then eventually match the offer. This span should be reduced from seven days to two business days. Really — how long does it take to decide whether or not a contract is too big to match? If they shortened the span, these RFAs would be getting a lot more action.

NBA Free Agency Rumors: Turk, Charlie V, Millsap and more

Pistons, Blazers interested in Hedo Turkoglu.

The Oregonian reports Blazers general manager Kevin Pritchard and assistant general manager Tom Penn called agent Lon Babby last night to begin the courtship of Hedo Turkoglu.

With Carlos Boozer out of the picture, an NBA source tells the Chicago Sun-Times that Turkoglu is now the Pistons’ first choice in free agency.

While the Blazers’ interest has long been rumored, Detroit’s interest is a little surprising. They already have a very good small forward on the roster in Tayshaun Prince, so unless they’re planning to play Turkoglu at the four, someone is going to lose some minutes. Of the two teams, the Pistons have more cap space, so if they want him, they can get him. (And what about Ben Gordon?)

Charlie V ahead of Turkoglu on the Pistons’ wishlist?

Chicago’s Ben Gordon remains the backcourt player deeply coveted by the Pistons, but the prospect of a Gordon-and-Villanueva combo likely would be slightly cheaper than trying to sign Gordon and Turkoglu with Detroit’s nearly $19 million in projected salary-cap space.

The Pistons may also be interested in Paul Millsap, but anytime a team signs a restricted free agent to an offer sheet, that money is tied up for a week while his current team decides to match. That makes signing an RFA a dicey prospect.

I wonder if the Bucks are regretting letting Villanueva given the amount of interest he’s generating from their division rivals (Detroit and Cleveland).

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Boozer opts…in!

Tuesday Afternoon Update: Mehmet Okur is going to play the final year of his contract as well.

Earlier today, we discussed the possibility of Carlos Boozer playing out the final year of his contract, and that’s exactly what he decided to do.

Boozer’s decision was a reversal from his December comments to an reporter that he was planning to opt out and would get a raise regardless. The Jazz, however, long questioned if the market that Boozer believed existed was more fantasy than reality.

In the end, it sounds as if Boozer considered his prospects and decided to take the sure $12.7 million instead of rolling the dice on the open market. If he is able to play at a high level and without injury, he stands to significantly improve his value heading into the summer of 2010. There are so many teams cutting salary in preparation for that summer’s free agent frenzy, so if he can stay healthy, he definitely stands to gain. However, by playing out the last year of this deal, he is forgoing the security of the long-term contract that he otherwise would have signed this summer. If he were to suffer a career-ending injury next season, he’d be leaving perhaps $42 million on the table.

How does this affect the team’s payroll?

The Jazz also are treading in dangerous territory in regard to the luxury tax. Boozer’s return gives them approximately $64.5 million in salary commitments to 10 players for the upcoming season.

That’s before making decisions about re-signing Okur – should he opt out – and Millsap. The NBA’s luxury-tax threshold is expected to be around $70 million and the Jazz would have to carry at least a league-minimum 13 players on their roster.

“It could be [a problem],” Miller said, “but it’s like I said before: If we need to go into the luxury tax to protect our players and protect our team, keep it intact, we’d have to take a look at that.”

If Okur opts out, the Jazz projected payroll would be around $63 million, leaving some (but not a lot) of flexibility to sign Paul Millsap. If Okur plays out the final year of his deal, Utah will have to pay a steep luxury tax to re-sign Millsap. Essentially, if a franchise is over the luxury tax threshold, they have to pay a dollar-for-dollar tax. Simply stated, now that Boozer has opted in, if Okur opts in, it’s going to make it tougher for the Jazz to retain Millsap.

I’m sure there are a few teams out there licking their chops at the prospect of signing Millsap.

2009 NBA Free Agency Preview: The top restricted free agents

Yesterday, I ranked the top unrestricted free agents of 2009, but now it’s time to look at this summer’s crop of restricted free agents (RFA). Teams can sign an RFA to an offer sheet, then his team has seven days to match that offer to retain him. If the player doesn’t sign an offer sheet and can’t come to terms on a new contract with his current team, then he will play for a year for the qualifying offer and then become an unrestricted free agent the following summer.

For each player, I’ll provide his position, age, Player Efficiency Rating (PER) and an estimate of what kind of contract he’s likely to sign. They’re ranked in order of total value, which is based on overall talent, age, injury history and cost.

1. Paul Millsap, PF (24)
PER: 18.71
In his third year, this former second round pick had the best season of his career. He averaged 13.5 points and 8.6 rebounds, while shooting better than 53% from the field. While Carlos Boozer was out in December and January, the Jazz got a preview of what this kid can do when he gets starter’s minutes. He was a 17/11 guy during those two months, but the Jazz only went 11-13 in games in which Millsap played during that span. His camp expects a deal similar to the one David Lee is asking for, so something in the $10 million per season range. Is he worth it? Probably. And from the sound of it, the Jazz plan on offering him a deal that will keep him from testing the market. If he does explore his options, it may pay off as the Thunder and Pistons are rumored to have interest.
Value: $9.5 – $10.5 million per year

2. David Lee, PF (26)
PER: 19.07
GM Donnie Walsh said that the Knicks’ picking Jordan Hill in this year’s draft has nothing to do with Lee, but the two play the same position, so of course it’s going to have an effect on how the Knicks and Lee each view their relationship. The other issue is that two of the Knicks’ targets in 2010 are Chris Bosh and Amare Stoudemire might also play the same position as Lee, though Mike D’Antoni would likely play either at center, allowing Lee to play power forward. He gets most of his points off the glass, so he’d be a good fit with either of those guys. The Knicks are projected to have about $35 million in cap space heading into the summer of 2010 and whatever deal they sign Lee to will cut into that. If they want to keep Lee and sign two big-name free agents, then they’re going to have to rid themselves of either Jared Jeffries or Eddy Curry prior to 2010. I like Lee, but he’s not a guy that you can give the ball to on the block and expect him to score, and that limits his value somewhat as a big man. The Thunder, Kings, Grizzlies, Raptors and Pistons could all make a serious run at Lee, though anytime a team tries to poach a restricted free agent, it’s a delicate balance between offering him enough to convince the other team to let him go, while getting a reasonable deal at the same time.
Value: $9.0 – $10.0 million per year.

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