The NBA standings really didn’t say it all Saturday. There were the Atlanta Hawks, in first place in the Eastern Conference’s Southeast Division with a 20-16 record.
After a 9-2 start, the Hawks had a horrific 20-game stretch. They went 6-14 to raise plenty of questions. Now they’ve won five games in a row — something you think would quiet the fears of those who wondered what this team was really all about.
Instead, the Hawks were in the process of being blown up. They finalized a trade of Kyle Korver to Cleveland, and at the same time the trade rumors involving Paul Millsap became louder and louder.
The timing is strange. Again, they’ve won five in a row. If this had happened a month ago, when the Hawks were in a seven-game losing streak, maybe it would have been easier to take.
When the season began, the Hawks weren’t exactly a candidate to knock off Cleveland or Golden State. There was, however, reason to believe they could be better than last year’s 48-win team. Maybe not as good as the 60-win team two years ago, but there was still hope for improvement.
Dwight Howard, a true center, was brought in to replace Al Horford. Dennis Schroder replaced Jeff Teague at point guard. Horford and Teague were two vital members of the top-seeded team from two years ago, but the replacements looked like improvements.
To pull the plug on the chances for the team not even halfway through the season is bizarre. Should they give this group more time before blowing it up? Is the five-game winning streak a sign they’ve gotten on track?
The problem is Millsap’s future. It looks to be outside of Atlanta, and the Hawks don’t want to get nothing back for Millsap, like what happened when Horford left last summer. Millsap will soon turn 32 years old, and rightfully so, the Hawks are skeptical about giving a max deal to someone that age.
Millsap may be worth a ton of money now, but how much would he be worth in the latter years of a new long-term contract? The Hawks can’t be burdened with a bad contract. They got rid of Joe Johnson and that was a miracle, but there’s no guarantee that could happen again.
If the Hawks feel this group won’t cut it, and since they’re likely to let Millsap walk anyway, they might as well trade him now. But it’s still odd to do it during a winning streak. This team’s season was basically finished when the Korver rumor hit the Internet Thursday night.
There must be a plan here, but it’s got to be more about the long-term than this season. They must believe they can get a good draft pick in a Millsap trade. They must believe they may get one younger player in a deal. And they must believe they can compete for free agents.
That’s not been easy to do through the years, so they better hope things change. They invested in Schroder a few months ago. They have young rookies in Taurean Prince and DeAndre Bembry, but what’s the core of the future of this team?
What should Howard feel about this? He’s only under a two-year contract, but when he was introduced with Kent Bazemore in July, the thought was this was a team ready to contend again. Instead, Howard might watch much of the starting lineup around him leave in trades.
The Hawks can’t beat the Cavaliers as long as Lebron James is playing, so they seem to be simply going through another transformation. Will this one work?
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