By now, the rumors about Paul Millsap have spread across every corner of the internet, turning the Atlanta Hawks into a national news item for the time being. A Millsap trade could affect multiple teams across the league, and it’s easy to envision the versatile forward serving as the missing piece for a franchise on the verge of contention. With that in mind, it’s important to consider what a trade of this magnitude would mean for Atlanta as well.
If the Hawks choose to trade Paul Millsap — which is at least a serious possibility right now — the team will be fundamentally shifting its philosophy toward roster construction. This would represent a complete rejection of nearly every move made over the summer, and a complete about-face from the strategy that brought Dwight Howard home to Atlanta.
This summer, as everyone knows, the Hawks essentially swapped Al Horford for Dwight Howard, choosing to move forward with an aging core rather than attempt to rebuild. The reasons for this strategy are fairly easy to understand — a full rebuild in a market like Atlanta could be risky — and the team elected to try to keep moving forward with its current core. As many remember, the Hawks tried to move Millsap then as well, hoping to use his talent to bring in younger assets (and add more talent while still contending for a playoff spot).
Now, though, trading Millsap would represent a complete shift away from this “never rebuild” plan. There is almost no scenario in which the Hawks could trade Millsap during the season and still stay relevant in terms of the playoffs, and such a move would be tailored exclusively toward the future. Without getting too far into the weeds of what a trade of this magnitude would bring back to the Hawks, it’s safe to say that the present value of any draft picks or prospects would be much less than what Millsap currently offers.
If MIllsap is gone, then, the team is fully committed to a rebuild. That makes sense, and fits perfectly with rumors that players like Kyle Korver and Thabo Sefolosha could be moved as well. It’s also even possible that the team could try to trade Howard, although such speculation lies outside the purpose of this post.
Any combination of these moves, should they occur, would invalidate everything that the team did over the summer. Trading Millsap would mean publicly admitting that keeping an aging core together was the wrong decision, and that Atlanta doesn’t have enough talent (as currently constructed) for a deep playoff run.
Losing Millsap would be a bitter pill to swallow, and would be close to uncharted waters for a regime that values continuity so much. So many of the things that Atlanta values (continuity, culture, team chemistry) make trading a player of Millsap’s skill and character difficult to do.
If this is the strategy the team pursues, it may have already lost much of its appeal. Whatever value Millsap brings back now, it’s hard to imagine that a team’s front office would be willing to give up as much for half a season of his talent as it would have been willing to part with during the summer. This is also true for Korver and Sefolosha, although not to the same extent.
Paul Millsap is a fantastic player, and the cornerstone of this version of the Atlanta Hawks. Regardless of whether or not he gets traded over the next few months, he has already given Atlanta an enormous amount of value and production. If the team moves on from him, it will be giving up much more than one player.