If the Atlanta Hawks re-sign Paul Millsap, they’ll have kept a certified All-Star who’s not quite a superstar. Assuming he gets a five-year contract — only the Hawks can offer him five years; all other teams top out at four — at max money, he’ll get something in the neighborhood of $205 million. That’s a lot of money for a guy who’s not quite a superstar and who, at deal’s end, will be 37.
If they don’t re-sign Millsap, they’ll have a team that centers, figuratively and literally around Dwight Howard. Nobody wants that. (Note that the Hawks couldn’t find a way to keep him on the floor in the fourth quarter of two playoff losses.) They’d have money to spend on another free agent — Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry figure to declare for free agency, but nobody expects them to go anywhere — but the biggest name apt to change teams is Blake Griffin, who just got hurt yet again.
If you’re the Hawks, there’s your dilemma: Keeping Millsap wouldn’t come with any assurance they’re apt to get better, and they just went 43-39; not keeping him would almost certainly make them worse in the short term and maybe the long. The third option would be to let Millsap and Tim Hardaway Jr., who’s a restricted free agent, and essentially start again, but it’s hard to start again if you don’t have a lottery pick, which these Hawks don’t. (Although, without Millsap and Hardaway, they’d probably have one next year, and the year after that.)
This is roughly the same ground the Hawks occupied when Al Horford became a free agent last summer. Keeping him wouldn’t have made them Eastern Conference champs; not keeping him saw them slip from 48 wins to 43. The difference is, the Hawks without Horford still had Millsap as a focal point; the Hawks without both would have, er, Howard.
Adding to the festivities: Starting anew would require some sort of master plan. The Hawks are currently between master planners.
So, then: Audience participation time. What should the Hawks do? And I thank you, as ever, in advance.
Oh, and here’s my conclusion, such as it is: Why the Hawks would be better off without Paul Millsap.