The Atlanta Hawks dropped eight places to No. 23 in ESPN.com’s Future Power Rankings. The rankings are a measure of the expected success for the team over the next three seasons. They rate teams in categories including players, management, money, market and the draft.
The loss of Al Horford and Jeff Teague combined with the uncertain future of Paul Millsap was the biggest factor in Atlanta’s slide.
Atlanta also traded starting point guard Jeff Teague in a deal that netted a first-round pick used on Baylor forward Taurean Prince, meaning Dennis Schroder now has the keys to Mike Budenholzer's offense. Meanwhile, the Hawks are counting on Dwight Howard to anchor a revamped defense.
Even if Atlanta can beat another low forecast using ESPN's real plus-minus, there's bigger trouble ahead: Star forward Paul Millsap can be an unrestricted free agent next summer and will eligible for a deal starting at an estimated $33.4 million at age 32. Will the Hawks hold the line on a fifth year as they did with Horford? If so, Atlanta might look dramatically different -- and worse -- this time next year.
The Hawks entered the summer with some major decisions the biggest of which centered on the free agency of Al Horford and Kent Bazemore. The team surprised everyone and quickly jumped to the front of the line adding Dwight Howard. The Hawks were reportedly reluctant to offer Horford a full max leading to his decision to depart for Boston. The team dealt Teague at the draft and were able to re-up Bazemore to a $70 million deal.
Atlanta has been at the crossroads several times before and has been reluctant to go the rebuilding route choosing instead to retool. While Howard may very well bounce back he isn’t getting any younger and is under contract for two more seasons after 2016 for $23 million annually. Factor in Bazemore and a potential new deal for point guard Dennis Schröder and things start to get crowded.
And that is before we have even mentioned the decision they have to make on Millsap. Normally I’d scoff at the thought of paying any player who is 32 a starting salary in excess of $33 million. If ever a player was worth that, it might actually be Millsap who has done just about everything possible for Hawks during his tenure. Whether it is a smart financial decision or not, it will be hard to part ways with Millsap and be a better team.