On Sunday night, the final piece remaining from the Hawks’ “Player of the Month” starting five from January 2015 departed for good when Paul Millsap agreed to a 3-year, $90 million deal with the Denver Nuggets. With Millsap gone, the last remaining links to that 2014-15 squad that earned the East’s top-seed on the Hawks’ current roster are Dennis Schröder and Kent Bazemore.
The 2017-18 Hawks will look far different than any of the Hawks teams we’ve seen since their playoff streak began in 2008, when Joe Johnson, Al Horford, and Josh Smith were Atlanta’s version of a Big Three. The playoffs aren’t out of the question for the Hawks next season thanks to the relative weakness of the rest of the middle of the pack in the Eastern Conference, but the team built to contend for homecourt in the first round of the playoffs is gone.
This was seemingly inevitable after last summer’s moves shipped Jeff Teague to Indiana and saw Al Horford walk to Boston. Once Horford was allowed to leave, the rebuild should have begun, but it never did. Every step backwards was met with a half-step forwards, keeping the treadmill of mediocrity going, all the way to a first round exit in this year’s playoffs.
Horford was allowed to walk, but Dwight Howard was signed to a massive, 3-year deal. Korver was shipped off to the Cavaliers for a draft pick, but Ersan Ilyasova was brought in for Tiago Splitter and a second-rounder at the deadline. Paul Millsap was dangled in January talks, but was eventually pulled off of the table in deadline discussions. The Hawks’ refusal to pick a direction, either going all in with their core group from that 2015 team or setting a rebuild in motion by dealing off players they weren’t going to keep to attain assets, can be traced back to one significant decision.