Atlanta is going to have to make some tough decisions this offseason. Paul Millsap has said he is “probably” going to opt out of the final year of his contract. The 32-year old has been an all-star in all four seasons he has spent in Atlanta. The Hawks also have to deal with the Dwight Howard situation that is now hanging over their heads after losing to the Wizards. Howard may have had a revival year in Atlanta, but his benching in the playoffs as well has his response to that benching is reason for concern. There might be a philosophy issue between Coach Budenholzer and Dwight Howard. If so, the Hawks are going to have to find a suitor for him quickly. While Millsap and Howard are the current star power of the organization, and the decisions surrounding these players are critical, they should not be the Hawks main priority heading into the offseason.
That title belongs to Tim Hardaway Jr., who exploded onto the scene during the second half of the season. The former New York Knick averaged 17.5 points per game on 47.1% shooting. Atlanta has not had that type of production from the shooting guard in quite some time, and it appears Hardaway Jr. may just be scratching at the surface of his potential.
It was this time two years ago, the Hawks decided to give up their first-round pick for the rights for Tim Hardaway Jr. Knicks fans laughed, as the trade seemed like a no-brainer given Hardaway’s performance over his first two seasons in the NBA. It did not look too good for the Hawks either after year one. Hardaway never really cracked the rotation and only saw action in 51 games. But like most players under Coach Budenholzer, year two was much different. Hardaway took off and became the team’s go-to scoring option late in games. He was effective creating shots on his own as well as spotting up around the arc for open threes.
There are two main reasons why the Hawks need to make signing Hardaway their main priority: their lack of shooters and the franchise’s focus on the future. Following the trade of Kyle Korver, the Hawks had very few guys who could knock down the three-ball at a consistent rate. He is the only current Hawks starter that can even be considered a spot-up shooter and the only one that strikes any fear into opponents. Coach Budenholzer loves to have shooters on the floor, and right now Hardaway is the best one the Hawks have.
Atlanta should also have their eyes on a few years down the road as their time to become championship contenders. In the current era, the Cavs and Warriors are simply miles ahead of everyone and it is going to be impossible to catch them without at least a couple of superstars. The Hawks currently do not have a single superstar, but with Hardaway Jr. they have a trio of possible young stars that could blossom into something to build around. Dennis Schroder, Taurean Prince and Tim Hardaway Jr. are all 25 and under and are who the Hawks need to be building their future around.
The Paul Millsap decision is critical. He has been the anchor for this Hawks team, but he is approaching his mid-30s and will be in line for a humongous raise. By the time his contract is near it’s end, it is highly unlikely Millsap will be as productive as he is now. Atlanta may still opt to pay Millsap for fear of not being competitive, but regardless this has to come after they retain Tim Hardaway Jr. They invested a first-round pick in him in 2015, and they would be fools to let that pick and his potential walk out the door.