The date is April 24th, 2016. The Celtics have just beaten the Hawks for the second straight game in front of a raucous, all kelly green crowd. Hawks players are hanging their heads, and questions about the team’s ability to continue in the playoffs were beginning to rise. On a night where seemingly nothing could go right on either side of the ball for Atlanta, Paul Millsap stepped up and put the team on his back. He recorded 45 points, just two shy of Dominique Wilkins’s franchise record for scoring in a playoff game. Wilkins, the Hawks’ last superstar, also had his legendary performance in a loss to the Celtics. Millsap has become a perennial all-star since coming over from Utah three years ago. He has gotten better every year, but this game put him on a different level, the superstar level. Some may debate it, but Millsap is now a legitimate NBA star. The first Atlanta has had since Dominique Wilkins, but that April night might be the last memory Atlanta fans have of Millsap.
According to multiple reports, the Hawks have interest is signing Dwight Howard. Howard has opted out of his deal with the Houston Rockets and has set up a meeting with the Hawks in free agency. He has expressed an interest in playing for his hometown, something that has not always been the case in regards to Howard. The reports also suggest that Atlanta views re-signing Horford as a major priority. Atlanta wants to get bigger inside and it looks like they would love a frontcourt of Horford and Howard. If Atlanta successfully signs Howard and re-signs Horford, Paul Millsap is either going to have adjust to a different role or be traded.
Atlanta could try and utilize Millsap at times at small forward and then move him to the frontcourt when either Horford or Howard needs a breather. Millsap would likely only have to play 10-15 minutes a night on the wing, but he might not be able to do it. Playing on the wing is a lot different on both sides of the ball. Millsap is not a great shooter and opposing teams will live with him shooting three-pointers. On defense, the players are a lot quicker and there is a lot more space to cover. Millsap is one of the most versatile defenders in the league so if anyone could do it it would be him, but the task is still a lot tougher than people realize. Keeping Millsap would give the Hawks the ability throw multiple different looks at opposing teams. At times the could play small with Horford or Millsap at the center and other times they could run HUGE with Howard, Horford and Millsap all in at the same time. The evolution of Al Horford’s three-point shot makes playing all three together a real possibility.
If Atlanta cannot make the situation between the three work they would have part ways with either Horford or Millsap. While Millsap was the best player for the Hawks last season, financially it makes the most since to move him over Horford. Millsap essentially only has one year left on his deal because the final year of his contract is a player option that he will surely opt out of. Atlanta has full bird-rights on Horford this season so they can sign him to a long-term deal while going over the cap.
If the Hawks dangle Millsap on the trade market, there will be no shortage of suitors. With the Hawks new frontcourt of Horford and Howard, Atlanta would look to fill the void at guard. Teams like the Suns and Timberwolves come up first. They are two teams with loaded backcourts that could use help like Millsap to get them into the playoffs. There are also several current playoff teams like the Raptors and the Celtics that would love to get their hands on Millsap and have a lot of options they could send in return.
Millsap has become one of Atlanta’s most beloved athletes, but if the Hawks successfully sign Howard, it could mean the end of the line for Millsap as a Hawk.