Paul Millsap Wants Atlanta But Do They Want Him?

On Sunday, the Atlanta Hawks went out of their way to make it public that Paul Millsap was on the trading block and they were taking offers. The Hawks justified this by saying they didn’t think they could sign their toughest player and emotional team leader once he opts-outs of his $21 million dollar deal at the end of June, which many expect him to do.

The Hawks financial situation isn’t grim. If they don’t have Millsap’s $21 million on the books they hover in the $65 million range so what are the Hawks talking about?

Kyle Korver, Kris Humphries, Thabo Sefolosha and Mike Scott will be unrestricted free agents come July 1st. The salary cap is slated to cross the $100 million threshold so what are the Hawks really saying? They can’t afford Paul Millsap? Or they don’t want Paul Millsap? Is the money a convenient excuse?

The Hawks have never been a top-tier free agent destination for the hyper talented. So, it’s not like they are in the market for Blake Griffin.

Paul Millsap has had a career resurgence in Atlanta. After Utah, he turned himself into a three point shooter though he has struggled this year from distance. He is scoring 17 points a game. He scored 17 points a game last year. The year before he scored 16 points a game. And before that 17 points a game. He is the model of consistency.

His four seasons in Atlanta, All-Star years, Millsap has averaged 8.4 rebounds. His defense isn’t as good this year as it has been the last two seasons, that is a fact, and his PER has dipped from 21.3 last year to 18.3 this year but Millsap is still one of the most trusted power forwards in the league.

Because the Hawks do have the money to sign Millsap if they choose to, and Millsap, from the sound of things is willing to give the Hawks a discount because he doesn’t want to leave, could this be less about the money and more about personnel. Does this have to do with Dwight Howard and his touches?

Paul Millsap gets 68.2 touches per game. Dwight Howard gets 52.4 touches per game. Howard is grotesquely sensitive to how often he touches the ball and he hasn’t had to adjust to a quality power forward stealing from him since he played with Pau Gasol in 2012-13. Then Gasol was sensitive to Howard’s ego and facilitated the ball to make sure Howard got his touches. Is this a scenario where the Hawks are choosing Howard because they have Howard locked in for two more seasons?

If the Hawks deal Millsap which will be tough to do because he has not made it public he is going to opt-out, it is pure speculation at this point, are they looking at someone like Serge Ibaka who would give Howard more space and more opportunities with the ball? Or Taj Gibson? Is this more about time running out on Paul Millsap and the team wants to move in another direction, start from scratch?

The Hawks insist they are just listening but they didn’t have to make it public they were fielding offers. You field offers when you have come to the end of the line with a player, not when you are desperate to keep him. Notoriously, the Hawks have always asked for caviar when giving up steak; their past “listening” tours have been a waste of time. But the fact that they are willing to be in a conversation is proof enough that they are undecided about this Paul Millsap marriage. Divorce is not off the table.

Al Horford is gone. Jeff Teague is gone. DeMarre Carroll is gone. Is Paul Millsap the final piece in breaking up the band?

It looks that way.

 

photo via llananba