The San Antonio Spurs’ season was brought to an end by the Golden State Warriors this week, but the Warriors may have also brought down the curtains on one of the Spurs’ mainstays.
Since joining the Spurs in 2011, Patty Mills has been a constant in the Spurs’ line-up, performing admirably as a backup to Spurs’ veteran Tony Parker.
However, Mills – who signed a three-year deal in 2014 – is set to be an unrestricted free-agent this summer and will command a huge pay-rise. This presents a decision for the Australian as to whether to stick to the Spurs’ vaunted stability or whether to seek greener pastures elsewhere.
Mills is coming off one of his best seasons – he shot 41.3 percent from long distance and averaged 9.5 points per game – and he is widely regarded as one of the league’s premier backup point guards.
Mills’ situation is reminiscent of the decision that faced fellow Australian Matthew Dellavedova last summer; stay in the spot that you are familiar with or leave for the unknown with a much larger pay packet?
Dellavedova went from being a reliable backup in Cleveland to a starter in Milwaukee alongside the young Bucks core and wasn’t able to replicate his success.
Due to Spurs’ veteran Tony Parker’s season-ending injury, Mills was also thrust into the starting lineup for the rest of the Spurs’ Playoff games, and like Dellavedova, he also struggled.
Mills’ shooting dropped to just 36 percent from long range and a paltry 40 percent overall as he struggled to keep up with the likes of Stephen Curry and James Harden.
The good news for Mills is that the price of backup point guards has risen markedly since he signed his previous contract. Mills only earned a total of approximately $13 million during the duration of his current contract, but he might possibly earn that amount in just one year of his next deal.
Dellavedova signed a 4-year, $38 million deal with the Bucks while another former Spur, Cory Joseph, also signed a 4-year deal for just $29 million. Mills is rated higher than both of these guards and is a much more dynamic scoring threat than both.
If Dellavedova’s deal is the baseline, Mills can negotiate from that figure upwards towards the range of $50 million over the course of a four-year deal.
Due to owning Mills’ bird rights, the Spurs can exceed the cap to sign him to any figure he would like. However, owners are generally wary of the punitive luxury tax – as the Cavaliers were when they let Dellavedova walk – and the same situation may result in the Spurs riding with a cheaper option in Dejounte Murray, who will still be on his rookie contract.
Mills has also spent the majority of his career in the Western Conference and generally players tend to avoid cross-conference switches in the middle of their careers.
Another major advantage for the Spurs is the fact that they reside in the state of Texas which is one of seven states that doesn't have the state income tax. Think this isn't a factor? It has been a major selling point of the Miami Heat to prospective free agents for years, with Florida also being a tax-free state. When you're earning the salaries that NBA players do, those tax figures can climb up real fast. The state income tax also played a part in Dwight Howard's decision to join the Houston Rockets in 2013.
However, there are several Eastern Conference teams that could definitely use Mills’ services such as the New York Knicks or Washington Wizards. The Wizards would be an interesting situation for Mills where he could play a role similar to his current one on the Spurs, but the Wizards would have to do some salary cap gymnastics to make it work.
The Knicks have a hole at the point guard spot and could present a situation where Mills can start right away.
Mills' pedigree coming from the vaunted Spurs organization and big-game experience is going to make him a popular target for many teams that simply don't have the cap space to chase after more high-profile free-agents such as Chris Paul and Kyle Lowry.
Regardless of where Mills ends up, there is no doubt that he is in for a hefty and well-deserved pay day.