One minute after the NBA allowed teams to begin negotiating with free agents last week, Ferry called Millsap to schedule a meeting and make his pitch.
“We’ve been following Paul for a year, hoping for the opportunity to have him on our team,” Ferry said. “His competitiveness, night in and night out, is unique. He’s not like most players.”
Millsap, who spent his first seven seasons with Utah, signed a two-year, $19 million contract Wednesday in hopes of helping Atlanta build “something special” alongside Al Horford, Kyle Korver and Lou Williams.
The deal had been in place since last Saturday, but the NBA required teams to wait until Wednesday before the contracts would be official.
Millsap, a 6-foot-8, 253-pound power forward, was a sixth man early in his career with the Jazz, but has been a starter the last three seasons.
Millsap won’t just be a starter in Atlanta. He will also be a focal point in a new system that first-year coach and former longtime San Antonio assistant Mike Budenholzer will install in training camp.
“Everything just felt right,” Millsap said. “It felt right for me. It felt right for my family. That was the major selling point for me.”
The Hawks acquired Millsap, who averaged 14.6 points, 7.1 rebounds and 2.6 assists in 78 games last season, after Ferry was turned down by star center Dwight Howard, who left the Los Angeles Lakers to sign with Houston.
Ferry said he isn’t sure if the Hawks will attempt to sign a high profile starting center after Howard, an Atlanta native and the NBA’s top free agent, met with the Hawks in Los Angeles and declined their offer.
“I think the process that Dwight and (agent) Dan (Fegan) had was professional and well communicated,” Ferry said. “I think they felt good about the way the Hawks handled the situation. I know we did.”
Andrew Bynum, the oft-injured center who missed all of last season with Philadelphia and was hurt throughout seven years with the Lakers, visited the Hawks earlier this week, but Ferry declined to indicate the level of Atlanta’s interest.
Bynum reportedly was offered a deal with the Cleveland Cavaliers before meeting with the Hawks.
Ferry likewise wouldn’t give details regarding talks with Atlanta point guard Jeff Teague, a restricted free agent who could command as much as $6 million in a one-year contract if another team offers a contract. Because Teague — a four-year veteran who has improved substantially as a starter the last two years — is a restricted free agent, the Hawks can keep him for one more season by matching another team’s offer.
Ferry said he considers it “an open situation,” but stopped short of saying whether Atlanta will do whatever is necessary to keep Teague.
Regardless of the next big move he will make, Ferry acknowledged that the Hawks will miss the presence of Josh Smith, the mercurial power forward whom Millsap will replace in the starting lineup.
Smith, an Atlanta native who spent his first nine seasons with the Hawks, often drew as many boos as cheers in his last season before signing a four-year, $56 million deal with the Detroit Pistons. Ferry met with Smith last week but refused to say if he went so far as to offer a long-term contract.
As much as Smith fell from favor with fans who booed every time he missed a 3-pointer, he still was an integral part of a franchise that made the playoffs over the last six years.
“I really enjoyed working with Josh,” Ferry said. “I had a good relationship with him. He brought a lot to this organization over the last nine years,” before immediately adding that, “Paul Millsap brings the qualities going forward that are exciting.
“The intangible things that (Millsap) has on the court, in the locker room and in the community are things that I’m hopeful with further establish ourselves in the NBA as a whole in how we play and also in the community,” Ferry said.
Millsap joins a roster that Ferry is still putting together. Horford, Korver, Williams, John Jenkins, DeMarre Carroll and Jared Cunningham are the only other players under contract for next season. DeShawn Stevenson, Shelvin Mack and Mike Scott are on the roster, but don’t have guaranteed deals.
Rookie point guard Dennis Schroeder, last month’s No. 17 overall draft pick, tweeted on Wednesday that he has reached terms on a contract, but the team has not confirmed that a deal is in place. The Hawks still must sign rookie center Lucas Nogueira, the 16th overall pick.
With the NBA summer league beginning Friday in Las Vegas, new assistant coach Quin Synder will oversee a Hawks roster that will consist of Jenkins, Scott, Mack, Schroeder, Mike Muscala, a second-round draft pick, and undrafted rookie Kyle Weems.
Ferry looks forward to watching how Millsap and Horford worth together in camp and during first few weeks of the season. The GM described both big men as “excellent passers who can play multiple positions,” with Horford able to move between center and power forward and Millsap able to do same between power forward and small forward.
“The chemistry between the two on the court, I believe, will be good right away because their feel for the game and their ability to pass the ball,” Ferry said. “I think they’ll feed off each other very well.”