Jeff Schultz

This AJC sports blogger takes things seriously when he has to, but he really would rather not

Why Horford made right decision, and how this affects Millsap


Some lingering thoughts on Al Horford's departure, Dwight Howard's arrival and how things set up for the Hawks moving forward.

If you missed coverage of Horford's free agent signing with Boston on Saturday night, here's a link to my column on the risks coach and team president Mike Budenholzer is taking, and here's a link to Chris Vivlamore's signing story.

Some leftover thoughts:

Horford made the right decision: He's 30 years old and this was probably his last chance to hit it big in free agency. He deserved a chance to get the best contract possible. He also deserved the chance to put himself in the best possible position to win a championship. Boston offered him the max for a four-year contract ($113 million). The Hawks, as his former employer, had an opportunity to offer him a max five-year deal ($153 million) and could have guaranteed Horford's return with that. They passed. ESPN reported the Hawks' final offer was $136 million, $17 million short of the max. Yahoo reported the two sides ended talks $6 million apart. If both reports are true, that would mean Horford was holding out for $142 million, $11 million below the max. Worth noting: Boston's four-year, $113 million factors out to $28.25 million annually. The Hawks' reported five-year offer of $136 factors out to $27.2 million annually. Five years at $142 million would've been $28.4 million per year, or close to Boston's reported annual offer.

The Hawks will tell you Horford left $23 million on the table. That may be true. But it's spread over a longer term so it's kind of apples and oranges.

There's also this: Horford is going to a more storied franchise with a deeper well of passionate fans and with championship banners hanging from the arena rafters. He's also going to a team that clearly is headed in the right direction under coach Brad Stevens and general manager Danny Ainge. Horford had an excellent relationship with Budenholzer. But given the roster changes, I'm not sure which direction the Hawks are headed. Also,  Kevin Durant is giving serious consideration to signing with the Celtics, whereas he wouldn't even meet with the Hawks.

Is Millsap more important than Horford?  I've made it clear that I believed signing Dwight Howard was a mistake  and I wrote going into free agency that losing Horford could render the Hawks irrelevant. That said, a case could be made that once the Hawks decided to make the move with Howard at center, they would have a better chance for success with Millsap at power forward, not Horford. Millsap is a better offensive player. There was a likelihood that the Hawks would've been forced to trade Millsap for salary cap space if Horford was going to re-signed, but a front line of Howard-Horford-Kent Bazemore lacks an obvious offensive touch.

When rumors of a Howard signing circulated last week, I contacted somebody familiar with the personalities involved and was immediately told that Horford did not like Howard and questioned whether that pairing could work. Horford obviously was willing to make the best of it if he had re-signed with the Hawks, but there's no question that was a lingering issue.

As for Millsap, it will be interesting to see how he responds to being mentioned in trade rumors during the Horford negotiations. Like Horford, he's a classy professional and understands how the NBA business works. But he has the option to opt out of his contract after next season, and it would be surprising if he didn't do so, whether the Hawks have a good year or a bad year. Even with an average season, Millsap will be in a good bargaining position after the year, given his overall game and the respect he has earned around the league. Will the Hawks holding trade talks be on his mind? Maybe a little. But overall, his decision will be based on the same things that led Horford to Boston: money and franchise direction.

Lineup concerns: Any chance for Hawks success starts with the need for Howard to ingratiate himself with his teammates and give the impression he's all in. With Horford, that came naturally. With Howard, it will take some effort. Pending other roster changes, the Hawks will have a starting lineup of Howard, Millsap and Bazemore up front, Dennis Schroder at point guard and either Kyle Korver or Tim Hardaway Jr. at shooting guard, with the other coming off the bench.

The roster has major issues. In order of concern: 1) There currently is no backup point guard (former Georgia Tech start Jarrett Jack, released from Brooklyn, is among the available free agents); 2) The Hawks need more offense in general, but certainly at the wing positions. If they don't make a major move, they will be relying on three things: Bazemore developing his offensive game; Korver squeezing a stronger season out of his 35-year-old legs;  Hardaway starting strong and playing with confidence, now that he's fully implemented in Budenholzer's system; 3) Schroder is going to have to mature and develop quickly as the starting point guard, because for as much as Jeff Teague was inconsistent, he played more under control than Schroder.

Dept. of Marketing: It will be interesting to see how the Hawks market themselves moving forward. They came into this past season off the high of 60 wins and an Eastern Conference finals appearance. Those achievements are long gone, and it seems safe to conclude that doubts about direction are in the minds of many fans again. Logic suggests they'll do something with the "Howard comes home" storyline, but that's going to have a short shelf life, and in a fickle Atlanta pro sports market the Hawks probably have lost the benefit of the doubt over the past few months.

Recent ramblings from the Digital Jukebox


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About the Author

Jeff Schultz is a general sports columnist and blogger who isn't afraid to share his opinion, which may not necessarily jibe with yours.