Why a Millsap-Gasol trade works

It may take a blockbuster three-team deal, but Millsap makes a good fit in L.A.

By Tom Haberstroh | ESPN Insider


If Paul Millsap isn't trying to audition for a Hollywood role, he sure does look the part.

We've heard all sorts of names connected to the Lakers in possible trade talks for Pau Gasol, including Toronto Raptors 7-footer Andrea Bargnani, Atlanta Hawks forward Josh Smith, Denver Nuggets forward Danilo Gallinari, Minnesota Timberwolves forward Derrick Williams and Milwaukee Bucks forward Ersan Ilyasova.

But one name that should pop up more is Millsap, the Utah Jazz big man. There are a few reasons Millsap probably doesn't garner the attention of a player his caliber: 1) He plays in a small market; 2) he's stuck in a logjam of big men in Utah with varying degrees of upside and productivity; and 3) he doesn't have a flashy game (he dunks about once every three games).

However, Millsap makes a lot of sense as a trade target for the madly inconsistent Lakers. For one, he's healthy, which is no small thing considering the Lakers' bench looks increasingly like a hospital waiting room (and Bargnani just went down with an elbow injury). Secondly, Millsap's an efficient player who plays both ends of the floor. Here's a short list of players who have shot more than 50 percent from the floor while tallying at least 2,500 points, 1,000 rebounds and 200 steals over the past three seasons: LeBron James, Dwight Howard and, yep, Millsap.

Here's a look at the positive and negative aspects of Millsap's potential move to the Lakers -- as well as a blockbuster three-team deal that would likely work for all clubs involved.


Millsap's candidacy

What's more, Millsap's contract couldn't be more attractive in trade talks with the Lakers. Millsap makes only $8 million this season and his contract expires at season's end, which is hugely important for a Lakers franchise that has made it known they want to stay flexible for a loaded free-agent class in the summer of 2014 when Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and other stars can become free agents.

In Millsap, the Lakers could get a trial period on an All-Star-caliber player and decide if they want to keep him long term. The same can't be said for Gallinari, Bargnani or Ilyasova, all of whom are currently locked in multiyear deals that extend past 2014. If Millsap doesn't work out, the Lakers can cut bait and look elsewhere. (And good luck trying to trade Ilyasova and the $24 million remaining on his contract through 2016-17 if Mike D'Antoni can't fix his jumper.)

Defensively, Millsap can cure many of the Lakers' ills. As Antawn Jamison continues to play possum on that end of the floor, the Lakers desperately need a help defender who doesn't leave Howard out to dry every time down the court. Millsap isn't an all-world defender, but with mobility at 6-foot-8, he can hold his own as a small forward defender and has the girth to play in the paint. What separates Millsap from most power forwards is his nose for the ball; he ranked fourth in the NBA last season in steals per game, thanks in part to his freakishly long arms.

But the real reason Millsap provides an intriguing option for the Lakers is his blossoming 3-point game. If a big man wants to make bank in this league, there's no better way than to become a reliable 3-point shooter. And in a contract season, Millsap is trying to do just that. After essentially ignoring the 3-point shot for most of his career, the Louisiana Tech product is now taking about one 3-pointer per game and nailing them at a 47.8 percent clip. Not a bad start.

It's too early to tell whether Millsap's 3-point shot is legitimate, but he's always been a strong candidate to stretch beyond the arc simply because he's already armed with a good midrange jumper. The Lakers aren't going to be able to lure a Kevin Love-type stretch 4 with Gasol's trade value in free fall, so finding a 3-point shooter who's waiting to break out may be their best option. Millsap fits the mold.

The hitch

But here's the problem with a potential deal with the Lakers: The last thing the Jazz need is another center. Millsap could be expendable for the Jazz because they already have a blooming power forward in Derrick Favors waiting in the wings, but the Jazz are overweight at the 5 as is with Enes Kanter and Al Jefferson fighting for big-time minutes. At Gasol's price of $38 million over the next two seasons, the Jazz would likely scoff at any phone call from Mitch Kupchak about a trade scenario.

But what if Kupchak brings a third team into the mix? The Jazz are ripe for a blockbuster deal because they are absolutely stacked with talent in their frontcourt. They boast a near-All-Star player in Millsap, one of the best post scorers in Jefferson, one of the best young defenders in Favors and an utterly tantalizing prospect in Kanter. Ever since the Jazz picked Kanter in 2011, folks around the league have been wondering when they'll pull the trigger to get some backcourt help.

One possible trade partner to watch? The Charlotte Bobcats. After a fun start to the season, the Bobcats have a painfully lopsided roster with an intriguing, if overachieving, backcourt, and an absolutely anemic frontcourt. In this sense, the Bobcats are the anti-Jazz. Sounds like a match made in Trade Machine heaven.

The deal

Here's the framework of a deal (Note: Players are paired with the years left on their contracts and 2012-13 salary):

Lakers receive: Millsap (1, $8M) Mo Williams (1, $8.5M), DeSagana Diop (1, $7.4M), Raja Bell (1, $3.5M)

Jazz receive: Gasol (2, $19M), Kemba Walker (3, $2.5M), Ben Gordon (2, $12.4M), Earl Clark (1, $1.2M)

Bobcats receive: Jefferson (1, $15M), Kanter (3, $4.5M), Chris Duhon (2, $3.5M), Darius Johnson-Odom (1, $0.5M)

You can see why the Bobcats might be interested. Charlotte would land two paint scorers, one for now and one for later. Jefferson fits perfectly as a scorer next to defensive-inclined Bismack Biyombo, and the Bobcats would receive a fascinating big-man prospect in Kanter, a 20-year-old who's averaging 15 points and nine rebounds every 36 minutes on 53 percent shooting. Even better, they finally get to unload Diop's contract.
If the Bobcats end up having to dangle the sizzling but undersized Walker to find frontcourt help, they could do much worse than Ramon Sessions. Sessions may be struggling with his shot, but as a 26-year-old with an 18 player efficiency rating, he can be a healthy stopgap at the 1 while Kanter and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist develop. And hey, Duhon could at least put a few more Duke fans in the seats.

The Lakers would get what they need: a borderline All-Star power forward who can stretch the floor and a point guard (Mo Williams) to steer the offense until Steve Nash takes the wheel. The most appetizing part of this deal is the lack of long-term commitment. All four of the players in this deal have contracts that expire at the end of the season.

And the Jazz? They would finally land a young stud point guard to fill the void left long ago by Deron Williams. Not only that, they finally clear room for Favors to blossom into a franchise centerpiece. In the short term, it works as well. Though a Walker, Gordon, Marvin Williams, Favors and Gasol lineup isn't a lock for the playoffs, neither is the status quo.

Whether this deal would work out for Utah all depends on Gasol's health, though it's worth remembering that cap space is somewhat overrated in a small market like Utah. If Millsap, Jefferson and Williams leave this summer and take their talents to bigger markets, no one's itching to sign on the dotted line to play in Salt Lake. Instead, they could leverage their expiring deals to reel in All-Star talent for the foreseeable future. Gasol and Walker (potentially) give them that.

This is just one of a gazillion potential deals that could go down between now and the trade deadline. But if you're unfamiliar with Millsap's talents now, you won't be if he's soon starring in Los Angeles.