Atlanta Hawks: Timing Is Right To Search For Assets

Dec 23, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Atlanta Hawks forward Paul Millsap (4) reacts after a play in the fourth quarter against the Denver Nuggets at the Pepsi Center. The Hawks won 109-108. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 23, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Atlanta Hawks forward Paul Millsap (4) reacts after a play in the fourth quarter against the Denver Nuggets at the Pepsi Center. The Hawks won 109-108. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports /

With trade rumors surrounding the futures of some of the team’s most notable players, it may finally be worth the Atlanta Hawks’ while to move on and build for the future.

The Atlanta Hawks aren’t bad, but they’re not particularly good either. In many ways that’s a sentiment that could be applied to the best part of the last decade for the franchise.

This time, there’s something different, though. The Hawks are the NBA’s fifth-oldest team at present and would be in an even worse spot in that regard if not for adding two rookies in last summer’s NBA Draft.

While being old isn’t a problem if you’re in position to contend now, the Hawks are continuing to move backwards from their 60-win peak of 2014-15.

As such, a team that has made the playoffs for an Eastern Conference-long streak of nine straight seasons is left with some important decisions to make.

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There’s a very good chance that the Hawks could choose to ride out the season with their current group, sneak into the postseason as a seventh or eighth seed and extend that streak to a 10th successive year.

The question of what would happen then offers some problems, though.

All-Star forward Paul Millsap, Kyle Korver, Thabo Sefolosha, Tim Hardaway Jr., Mike Muscala, Mike Scott, Kris Humphries and Tiago Splitter are all destined for free agency in one form or another at the end of the season.

In recent days, ESPN’s Marc Stein reported that the Hawks were now all ears when it came to potential trades on some of those key figures, and it wasn’t surprising. According to Stein:

"S‎ources told that the Hawks, fearful of losing Millsap in free agency without compensation in the summer, are not openly shopping him but are taking calls on the 31-year-old and other pending free agents, notably sharpshooter Kyle Korver and swingman Thabo Sefolosha."

While the idea of moving Millsap, the team’s best player and someone who has been a fan favorite since moving to Atlanta in 2013, may seem unappealing for some, it shows prudent thinking on the part of the organization.

After trading Jeff Teague prior to the draft and then losing Al Horford to the Celtics in free agency, the Hawks’ perspective had already changed.

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Even with Kent Bazemore re-signed and the addition of Dwight Howard, the Hawks look destined for the kind of rebuild that’s inevitable for all teams sooner or later.

The Hawks went through a similar situation in 2012, when Danny Ferry‘s arrival as general manager triggered the departures of Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams, with Josh Smith set to follow not too long behind them.

On that occasion, the Hawks were able to rebuild without missing a beat. The moves they made were bold, but they were necessary. By tearing the band-aid off, Atlanta moved on.

Millsap’s departure may lead to an even more pronounced step back, but it’s better than the alternative.

With no clear upward trajectory on the horizon for this group, the prospect of paying a soon to be 32-year-old Millsap the final big-money contract that his play has earned could cripple the Hawks financially for years to come.

Left with the dilemma of letting his contract wind down and watching him walk with nothing coming back in return, or hanging on to a player who could command a max contract that isn’t in their best interest to pay; searching for whatever value they can get towards the necessary next step in the interim seems like a worthwhile pursuit.

The Hawks will field no shortage of phone calls on Millsap, as he’s the kind of player who could push a contender over the edge or come in and set the culture for a young group on the rise.

If the Hawks can find a return that offers them promising young players that can fit in with a core likely to be constructed around the constantly improving Dennis Schröder, versatile wing Kent Bazemore and the hometown veteran Dwight Howard, or draft picks that could yield those same kind of young talents; they owe it to themselves to take up the option.

When the time comes to rebuild, often the quickest path to success comes in committing and making the necessary tough decisions. In Atlanta’s case that comes in doing whatever it takes to gather assets.

Next: Millsap Trade Rumors: 10 Teams That Should Trade For Him

At present, the Hawks look to be preparing for a long winter without any supplies to ensure they’ll re-emerge on the other side. If they want to change that, they’ll have to fight off sentimentality and accept that it’s time to move on.