A report surfaced on Sunday that the Atlanta Hawks were listening to trade offers for some of their veteran players and most notably All-Star forward Paul Millsap. While that may be unbelievable for some, the Hawks absolutely must do their due diligence in exploring Millsap’s trade value.
This season hasn’t gone as the team expected despite two straight wins including Sunday’s big overtime win over the Spurs. Atlanta got off to a great 9-2 start against a soft schedule and then followed that up with a 1-10 stretch that dropped them below the .500 mark. They are 8-7 in December with a defensive rating that is approaching 110.
They have shown the ability to beat some good teams as victories over the Cavaliers, Raptors, Spurs and Rockets suggest. However, multiple losses to teams like the Lakers, Timberwolves and Suns also show that they haven’t quite figured it out.
That is why they must start exploring their options now. Atlanta has from now to decide if this is a playoff team that is capable of postseason success and they have from now until February 23 to do so.
At 18-16, the Hawks are in the thick of things in the Eastern Conference but that doesn’t mean they are in position to compete with the likes of Boston or Toronto. Beyond that, there is the Cleveland Cavaliers, who remain an overwhelming favorite to return to the NBA Finals.
Losing Millsap would mean waving the white flag on the season, but it would also mean getting something of value in return. Atlanta shopped Al Horford and Jeff Teague hard at the deadline last season but ultimately elected to hang onto both for a playoff run. They traded Teague and netted a lottery pick but watched Horford walk away to Boston for nothing.
Millsap’s situation and Horford’s are eerily similar. Atlanta was reluctant to give Horford a full max offer last summer and it ultimately cost him as he left for one of their rivals. Millsap will turn 32 in February and will be eligible for an even larger contract than Horford was. Somewhere in the neighborhood of $30 million annually. His play over the last three seasons suggests that he is worth it, but can he possibly keep that up as he heads into his mid-thirties? Even if he is capable of maintaining his current level of play, how much would a max or near max deal limit the pieces Atlanta could put around him?
It is also worth noting that Millsap does have a contract for next season but can opt out of his deal and enter free agency. Barring a catastrophic injury, there is zero chance that Millsap will opt in. There is no reason for him to as this will likely be his last opportunity to cash in on the open market.
Those are all questions that the Hawks must have good answers for before the deadline. If this team doesn’t round into form, they can’t afford to just wait until this summer to sort it out.
Atlanta has famously resisted the urge to rebuild, instead choosing to retool on the fly. This is a situation where they may have to come to grips with the fact that taking a step back is necessary to future success.