The 2016 off-season was a busy one for the Atlanta Hawks, with Al Horford and Jeff Teague fleeing the scene, Kent Bazemore re-signing in a high-profile manner and Dwight Howard returning home. That does not, however, mean that the 2017 off-season will be a quiet one for Mike Budenholzer and company, as the Hawks face a number of meaningful free agent decisions at the conclusion of the upcoming season.
Kevin Pelton of ESPN Insider ($) weighed in this week with a list of the top 30 free agents that could be available in 2017 and, unsurprisingly, Paul Millsap made the cut. In fact, Millsap ranked higher than many would believe, landing at number four overall and ahead of such names as Kyle Lowry, Blake Griffin and Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Millsap wisely got a player option on the third year of the contract he re-signed with the Hawks last summer. As a result, he's in position to cash in on the cap increase next summer. Millsap is coming off the best season of his career at age 31, and his skills figure to hold strong into his mid-30s.
As Pelton references above, Millsap does not have to become a free agent (a theme for many players on this list) but, barring injury, it would be a shock to see Millsap accept his player option for 2017-2018. The All-Star power forward has the ability to hit the free agent market at 32 years old and, in short, that timing is fantastic in terms of Millsap’s ability to maximize his earning potential.
It should be noted that the order of this list (i.e. Millsap landing this high) is determined by a 2-year WARP projection, and Millsap’s incredible 2015-2016 campaign undoubtedly weighed heavily into the equation. Beyond that tidbit, there is also the intriguing subplot of the Hawks dragging their best player through trade rumors in July, and even if Millsap would not publicly admit to any hurt feelings, a potentially ominous cloud remains.
Later on the list, Dennis Schröder appears and that should not come as a surprise. Still, the 22-year-old point guard falls inside the top 20 overall and, amusingly, quite a few spots ahead of old pal Jeff Teague.
After trading Jeff Teague and making Schroder the starter, the Hawks are probably committed to him as their point guard of the future. That's going to be costly, however, and Schroder could command a near-max deal from a point guard-needy team.
The notion that Schröder could receive a max contract is certainly frightening on the surface, but if he produces at slightly improved level in a starting role, that will almost certainly be the reality. Pending a change in the CBA, Schröder’s max level would be considerably lower than that of a player like Millsap, and given Atlanta’s ability to match any offer under his restricted free agent status, this shouldn’t be a long-term impediment for the franchise.
In addition to Millsap and Schröder, Atlanta’s free agent list for 2017 will include Kyle Korver, Thabo Sefolosha, Tiago Splitter, Tim Hardaway Jr., Mike Scott, Mike Muscala and Jarrett Jack, leaving the front office with a sizable task ahead. The two names that will generate the buzz, though, are Millsap and Schröder, and the monetary obligations will be heavy in order to retain both.