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Paul Millsap could make some sense for the Sixers — but only if Ben Simmons is traded | David Murphy

A report linking the Sixers with the four-time All-Star is mostly a reminder that Daryl Morey has a much bigger move to make.

The Sixers' Ben Simmons grabbing a loose ball in front of the Nuggets' Paul Millsap (left) in December 2019.
The Sixers' Ben Simmons grabbing a loose ball in front of the Nuggets' Paul Millsap (left) in December 2019.Read moreSTEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer

Just as you begin to acclimate yourself to the idea of Ben Simmons starting the season with the Sixers, a spicy rumor comes along to shake you from your late-summer stasis. This, in the form of a report from Bleacher Report that listed the Sixers as one of a multitude of potential suitors for free-agent power forward Paul Millsap.

Maybe there’s a way to talk yourself into the idea of a Millsap partnership making sense with Simmons still on the roster, but it certainly makes a lot more sense when viewed as an accommodation for a potential future trade.

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At his peak, Millsap was one of the game’s better two-way big men, a wide-bodied bruiser at the four who could punish you physically and knock down a shot. Millsap played for the Utah Jazz and Atlanta Hawks between 2011-12 and 2016-17, averaging 16.8 points and 8.1 rebounds per game with an effective field goal percentage of 49.9%.

Millsap made the postseason five times in that six-year span and the Hawks were perennially near the top of the Eastern Conference standings. He also was named to four All-Star teams and the 2015-16 all-defensive team.

Now 36 years old and coming off a four-year stint in Denver during which his minutes steadily decreased, Millsap seems likely to be in line for a deal near the veteran minimum or slightly north, with mid-level exception funds coming into play. He averaged 20.8 minutes for the Nuggets this season but saw his playing time dip in the postseason. In Denver’s last two losses to the Phoenix Suns in the Western Conference semifinals, Millsap logged a total of seven minutes.

The Sixers currently have 14 guaranteed contracts on their payroll, which gives them one empty roster spot to fill before the start of the season. Assuming the Sixers use part of their mid-level exception to sign Georges Niang, they wouldn’t be able to offer Millsap much more than the veteran minimum. So he’d likely be signing for the ability to play for a potential title team.

Of course, the operative word there is “play.” With Simmons on the roster, it isn’t exactly clear how the Sixers could promise Millsap a well-defined role without taking away from whatever minutes they outlined for Niang and backup center Andre Drummond. You can definitely talk yourself into a small-ball lineup that has Millsap at the five, but does a partnership based on that sporadic usage make sense for either side?

Millsap’s most viable contributions could come in the event of a Simmons trade. Remember, there’s a reason why people talk so much about Simmons’ versatility — he’s a hard guy to replace with just one player. Swap him out for a “normal” point guard and you diminish your ability to rebound and guard bigger players. Those are two attributes Millsap could help provide off the bench in various combinations (Tobias Harris at the three, etc).

As far as floor-spacing goes, Niang is the far more sensible option as the back-up four, given his career 40.4% three-point shooting percentage and willingness to let it fly. But Millsap would bring some value on the defensive end of the court, particularly when paired with Drummond. While he can knock down a shot if open — he’s a 37.2% shooter on 2.5 attempts per game over the last four seasons — he’s hardly a classic stretch four.

There’s little reason at the moment to spend too much time thinking Millsap through. Plenty of teams would be willing to give him a roster spot, and it seems likely one of those teams would be able to promise him more opportunity than the Sixers can. The surfacing of his name might best be interpreted as a reminder that Daryl Morey has a much bigger move to make, and plenty of contingencies to plan for.