With Millsap gone, the Hawks are tanking. It’s a crowded tank

The team he’s leaving has thrown in the towel. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Paul Millsap will sign with the Nuggets, which means the Hawks are in tank mode. Being the Hawks, they might have botched even that.

Of the eight NBA East teams that qualified for postseason play, three have seen their best player exit to a Western outpost: Millsap to Denver, Paul George from Indiana to Oklahoma City, Jimmy Butler from Chicago to Minnesota. As we speak, the East’s top four seeds in the 2017 playoffs – Boston, Cleveland, Toronto and Washington – figure to make it in 2018 without straining.

Milwaukee, which was the No. 6 seed, and Philadelphia, with its wealth of young talent, should be there, too. Charlotte landed Dwight Howard, which as we know might be subtraction by addition. Every other team will be fighting for the bottom. Miami finished 41-41 last season and missed the playoffs; if an Eastern team goes 35-47 next year, it might well be the No. 8 seed. (Or No. 7.)

The Hawks waited too long to acknowledge the obvious, and now the competition to stink – and thereby land the most ping-pong balls in the lottery – will be fierce. Their new owner got fooled into believing that the 60-win team he inherited would always be a 60-win team. Their new owner was convinced by the voices in his current from office that those 60 wins were their creation, as opposed to the exiled Danny Ferry’s.

Officially, the managerial pairing of Mike Budenholzer and Wes Wilcox lasted 31 months. That was plenty long enough to run Tony Ressler’s shiny new car into a ditch. The Hawks took too long to start rebuilding, and their first major move in that director was so halting that you weren’t sure if they meant to make it. Al Horford left last July to sign with Boston, even as the Hawks were desperate to convince him to stay, even as they’d already signed Howard, who’s six months older, for $70.5 million over three seasons.

In June, they’d traded Jeff Teague to the Pacers for a draft pick that became Taurean Prince. That smelled like a rebuilding move, even if the Hawks did have Dennis Schroder at the ready. But wait: In July, they re-upped Kent Bazemore, their fifth-best starter, for $70 million over four seasons. That bore the whiff (and not a pleasant one) of a team bent on some measure of continuity, when all you had to do was note that this aging team had just slipped from 60 wins to 48.

We move to further action. This January, the Hawks traded Kyle Korver to the Cavaliers for Mike Dunleavy Jr. (already gone), Mo Williams (never arrived) and a top-10 protected Round 1 pick in 2019 or 2020. Given that the Cavs aren’t apt to crack the lottery unless/until LeBron James leaves again, that Round 1 pick will likely became two Round 2 slots. Still, shedding Korver was a move in the right direction, meaning downward, and we expected another – trading Millsap ahead of the deadline – to ensue.

It didn’t. The Hawks finished 43-39, which gave them the No. 5 seed in the tepid East, and duly lost to the Wizards in six. They’ve now lost Millsap for nothing a year after losing Horford for nothing. Budenholzer is no longer president of basketball operations and Wilcox no longer the general manager, and thank goodness for that. But their 31-month reign of error has left a hole Travis Schlenk will need years to fill.

Ressler’s avowal on the day he took ownership – “What was working was Bud, Wilcox and (CEO Steve Koonin); I want to keep that working” – is among the most short-sighted in the annals of a franchise rarely known for its vision. His proclamation that he would have vetoed any Millsap trade and would make “every effort imaginable” to keep him makes us wonder if this white knight from L.A. is just another empty suit. (Albeit one adept at construction projects.)

The weirdest twist in this winding road: Millsap didn’t leave for anything approaching max money. The Hawks could have offered $201 million over five years. He’s taking $90 million over three to sign with a team that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2013 and hasn’t won a series since 2009. Millsap told the AJC that the Hawks didn’t make an offer. It’s unclear if they’ve met with any free agents. As much as Schlenk might dislike the word “rebuild,” he deserves credit for seeing that one is absolutely warranted.

Trouble is, the Hawks are rebuilding at a time when half the East is doing likewise, and rebuilds can be a zero-sum game. Ask the Braves, who dumped nearly everyone and lost 95 and 93 games and wound up picking only third in last year’s draft and fifth this June. (Granted, MLB has no lottery.) A more prescient crew than Ressler/Budenholzer/Wilcox would have pressed the reset at least a year ago. Poor Schlenk has been left to play catch-up tanking.

Reader Comments 0

23 comments
Hell Horsey
Hell Horsey

I wouldn't watch this sorry team play, even if that haircut at the arena came with a BJ.

Hell Horsey
Hell Horsey

The front office needs to be fired, especially Koonin and his lime green jerseys and haircut-during-basketball-games hair-brained ideas.  What a clown show!

Iva M. Maston
Iva M. Maston

  my friend's ex wife gets 86 an hour on the internet. she has been fired from work for eleven months but the previous month her pay-check was 13719 working on the internet for a few hours per week, check out this

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>https://goo.gl/QAkWxW

TRose34
TRose34

Shameful management team. Happy for Dwight and Paul, both in better situations

Courtney2
Courtney2

25 - 28 teams tanking each year?  Why do people follow this mess?

peanutgallery
peanutgallery

The Hawks made stupid decisions the minute Ferry left.


Ferry got forced out for reading comments about Luol Deng that he didn't even write. 


The Lakers should have taken the advice. Deng's contract is considered one of the worst in the NBA.


The Hawks: politically correct and totally inept.

America is Great
America is Great

Ferry was an idiot for reading them. Hasn't had a GM job since. Hawks weren't going anywhere with the 60 win team anyway. Made the most of a bad situation but Hawks weren't going anywhere with him

Hold Ferry accountable like you do all black guys that do dumb things

Richard Hayden
Richard Hayden

I'll take your Hawks season tickets off your hands...just send me the tickets and $500.

POV1948
POV1948

Oh Danny Boy.  Ferry was the only Hawks front office (or ownership) guy in years who had a clue about assembling a team.    

4thWarden
4thWarden

Glad to see MB calling the Hawks out on way too many questionable moves. 

DawgNole
DawgNole

"Trouble is, the Hawks are rebuilding at a time when half the East is doing likewise, and rebuilds can be a zero-sum game."

________________

Hawks have been rebuilding since arriving in ATL in 1968--and yes, the results have been a "sum" of "zero" championships. 

ZERO appearances in The Finals, for that matter.

atlanta spirit
atlanta spirit

The screw ups of late rival the Billy Knight era.  The owner should be booed loudly when he shows up for an occasional game.  Seriously, even a casual fan could have done a better job of managing the franchise.  The Atlanta Spirit was a joke designed to make money for Ted Turner's friends.  The owner now seems like an imbecile. 

Gman84
Gman84

When does the NBA implode? 


How can you have half the teams intentionally trying to lose while charging fans ridiculous prices to watch a big pile of 'no thank-you'?? 

moboman
moboman

Like the Globetrotters and the Also Rans. What a league.

RonMexico
RonMexico

@Gman84 The NBA seems to have come to the conclusion that they're better off with 3-4 superteams loaded with all-stars, while the rest of the league pays lip service to "being competitive" or just making the playoffs as some sort of victory. In reality, everyone's fighting for 3rd place, so why bother? 

The Hawks are right to blow up the roster and tank, but there are about 25 other teams that should be doing the exact same thing because they have no chance whatsoever of winning a championship in the next several years.

After nearly 40 years as an avid NBA fan, I'm losing interest quickly. 

nyctraffic
nyctraffic

Gloves-off analysis, MB. The owner seems in over his head. But this situation is even more of an NBA problem than a Hawks problem.

GTPockets
GTPockets

There is a reason over half the league is tanking.  With the new "super team" phenomenon and one and done's in college there is not enough talent to go around.  The only way to win is either get extremely lucky in the draft lottery a few years in a row or have one of the few super stars declare your team a site of a newly minted "super team".  Even if the Hawks still had the same cast of characters from that 60 win team it would not come close to good enough to beat the super teams which have formed.

pride
pride

Now it is clear why coach Bud has been totally silent since Schlenk came on board.  The loss of Horford and Millsap for nothing will fall on him. However we have been outright lied to by the new owner and new GM and as a long time fan I find that to be a deal breaker.  They can spin all they want but their lack of integrity to the fan base is inexcusable.  How can you support or work for people of such low class.

DawgNole
DawgNole

@pride

There's a reason they call the city "Losersville," y'know.

tyger
tyger

Just go, buy, some Mega Millions...


If you like losing so much...