The Long and Hot Hawks Summer

The Hawks new GM, Travis Schlenk, has a full plate and a lot to consume. The first item on the agenda is Paul Millsap. Millsap has opted out his contract and will be on the wish list just for his toughness alone. But his 2016-17 season, Millsap’s first playing with Dwight Howard, was a mixed bag. His 18 points and 7.7 rebounds plus 3.7 assists were effective. But Millsap took the most shots of his career and shot a career low 42%. His three ball was Utah Jazz dismal. He had a career low in offensive rebounding- attribute that to Howard. He had a career high in assists and scoring. His defensive rating was the lowest in four years and so was his PER.

Paul Millsap is 32 years old. Is he hitting the back nine of this career? A four year contract puts him as a primary player when he is 36. The league is young, quick and transition basketball crazy. Is paying Millsap $100 million being proactive about the future?

Schlenk doesn’t have the open checkbook he had with the Warriors and venture capitalist Joe Lacob who is writing checks with a lot of zeroes these days. In Lacob’s case, the checks he is writing will pay dividends; in consecutive years the Warriors set the record for most regular season wins and most playoff wins. The Hawks have not been past the Eastern Conference Finals, and in the ECF they haven’t been competitive. The Hawks are like every other team in the East. They can’t beat LeBron.

Realistically, how much should the Hawks pay Millsap. This year he made $20 million. Is he worth $25 million? And what does that do to the cap? If $20 million can’t beat LeBron, what will an extra $5 million do?

The second part of Schlenk’s job is smoothing things over with Dwight Howard. Howard was visibly angry with his playoff demotions and to a lesser extent, the thinly veiled Budenholzer criticism about Dwight needing to play harder. Budenholzer was right but those are not the kind of lobs you throw the media when Dwight Howard is involved. The death by paper cuts critique ruined Howard’s relationship with Stan Van Gundy once upon a time.

Budenholzer learned tough love from Gregg Popovich and that team culture comes before stars ego but Pop never had a thin skinned star like Howard. But to be fair to Howard on this point, no player wants to sit on the bench when the game is on the line.  I liked him being salty. The question is, does Howard understand his liabilities in this new version of NBA basketball where players of his size and offensive ability just don’t fit anymore, particularly in small ball.

Schlenk has to reassure Howard that he is part of what the Hawks are trying to build and that just because he may not be featured doesn’t mean he isn’t important. I’m still skeptical that Howard is going to work and wouldn’t be surprised at a Howard trade, particularly if it allows the Hawks to pay Millsap and get two veteran players for Howard. I don’t believe the Hawks system works for Howard. He is the type of player that needs touches.

Schlenk was with the Warriors for over a decade. He was there in the lean years, and helped build the Warriors juggernaut via the draft. His expertise is scouting. Look at who the Warriors drafted. Steph Curry who everyone said was too small and fragile. Draymond Green who everyone said was a jack of all trades, a master of none. Klay Thompson who everyone ignored. A lot is made of the Kevin Durant acquisition but the Warriors won the 2015 title because of who they drafted and who they were willing to trade (Monta Ellis) to give Curry breathing room.

The Hawks are hoping for similar magic. They have a nice point in Dennis Schroder who fits this current system. But they are weak in perimeter scoring after Kyle Korver left, below average in scoring overall and sorrowful in offensive rating.

Mike Budenholzer damaged the financial side of things by overpaying Dwight Howard and Kent Bazemore, things Shlenk has to clean up. And no one knows how his relationship with Budenholzer will grow over time. After all, he didn’t hire Coach Bud.

But a championship pedigree from the man calling the shots is a good start for the Hawks.  Hang on though. It’s going to be a long, hot Hawks summer.


photo via llananba