Why Horford made right decision, and how this affects Millsap

Hawks center Al Horford walks off the court for possibly the last time as an Atlanta player following Sunday's loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Horford is an unrestricted free agent. (Curtis Compton / ccompton@ajc.com)

Hawks center Al Horford walked off the court for the final time as an Atlanta Hawks player following a playoff elimination game against Cleveland. (Curtis Compton / ccompton@ajc.com)

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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31 comments
hardworkinman
hardworkinman

The Boston deal only nets him about 6.4 million more over the four years. Unless he gets a contract for $16.6 million/year or more on his next contract at age 34, he lost money leaving Atlanta.

I think at the end of the day it was a pride issue. He felt slighted by the Hawks signing Howard and wanted to go elsewhere. That's his prerogative, but it's my choice as a fan to not like the choice he made. I still dislike Tom Glavine for leaving the Braves for the Mets.

AnsweredTHIS
AnsweredTHIS

For weeks you told us that Al would resign.  How about STHU Schultz and do some "real" reporting on things you know about.  You frigging stink man! Your stories suck, your blogs suck, and your "reporting" the sports in Atlanta REALLY SUCKS! 

TeheranHeight
TeheranHeight

Hawks got a big man who has all the tools to once again become a dominant presence in the paint on both sides of the floor. Howard pairing with Millsap makes up one of the top frontcourts in the NBA and will give Dennis Schroder the resources he needs as he steps into the starting role.

TeheranHeight
TeheranHeight

I think the fans will come come out more to see Howard than Horford and if Howard can stay healthy he will be an upgrade over Horford. Rebounding killed this team and there was no way this was going to improve with only the resigning of Horford. This system will work great for Howard because of the offensive rebounding opportunities he we have. He won't be asked to do much on offense.

JuneBaby
JuneBaby

why all this continued talk of salary cap limitations all while other teams are signing free agents to contracts on top of their other great players with large contract numbers? something doesn't ring true about these salary cap limitations....it seems to me that the hawks are still trying to pay cheaply, and in the end that's what's going to bite them in the butt......

DawgNole
DawgNole

@JuneBaby

It's already bitten them in the butt--for their entire 48 years in ATL.

Bryan Crabtree Show
Bryan Crabtree Show

We need someone strong at center - who can get a rebound. Horford is a great guy and player, but not what we need.  Howard may work.  It's 50/50.  It could be very powerful or it could choke the team.  Bazemore is young just 26 and still a little green. That said, he is incredibly talented, has great character and I think will end up being worth every penny of the avg $17.5 million he received.  Milsap is solid and there was not shot he was leaving. He's still our best player and he might play better under this roster.  As for Teague vs. Schroeder, that is a no brainer.  Shroeder is also young, very smart and still has a lot of potential beyond the game he has been playing.  Net affect, this could be a very powerful team.  If I get a vote, which I don't, I would put Hardaway and Korver in an equal rotation.  Korver is a sleeper when a team gets complacent and he can nail  you with 9-12 points in 1-2 minutes.  Outside of that, Hardway is fast and is still not fully mature in his game.  More minutes and he'll get there fast.   My guess? We have a rough start followed by a much better ending to our season and playoffs.

jcarson
jcarson

Horford solid but not a difference maker.  I like taking my chances with Howard and Milsap for a year of two.  If Milsap leaves, we have another $20 mill go after something else.  All of this is moot, unless we somehow get a superstar or two in here, which seems impossible to do.

Corey
Corey

What great NBA talent would want to come to play for the Hawks with fans cheering for the opponents; fans leaving after half time and only showed up to see a hip-hop artist perform. Fans coming to see a superstar from an opposing team and wearing that team member's jersey? I guess it's hard to build a loyal fan base with so many residents here coming from somewhere else. 

DawgNole
DawgNole

@Corey

Nope, it's hard to build a loyal fanbase when your city wins only ONE championship in the four major sports--covering 165 seasons/50 damn years!

Stop blaming the fans for the crap they've had to endure on the field for the past half-century.

POV1948
POV1948

Admittedly Hawks were in a difficult situation.  Giving Al a max deal at this point in his career would be hard to justify, yet losing him sets them back a notch or three.  Hope they've got another meaningful move to make, otherwise the coming season will continue a slide that started in late 2015.  Since then they haven't looked like the confident, well oiled machine of earlier in the 2014-15 season.  


A lineup of Millsap, Bazemore, Korver, Howard when his back/feelings aren't hurt, and Schroder running the point looks like a 6-7th seed at the very best.  


I wish Al the best, he has always been easy to root for. It goes to show how insane the $ is that he could have such a miserable playoff and get paid like a champ.

Falcons63
Falcons63

I think BigDawg31650 said it best.  No matter what route Hawks mgmt. took with Horford the local writers were going to complain. Sign him to a max deal and you overpaid.  Don't sign him and you get the "Hawks are incompetent" rambling which I'm so tired of hearing.  Remember, these same writers were calling for the team to be broken up and the reset button hit 30 games into last season!!  In all reality, Al was not a Max Deal player, plain and simple.  Look around the league and you see a lot of Max deal buyer's regret!  Was this team ever going to win a title with the core of Al and Milsap no matter how many tweaks were made??  If you aren't making a real effort to win a title then you're wasting time.  This may not work out, but I do give Hawks mgmt. credit.  It would have been easy to sign Horford, add a cheap wing and backup PG.  You win 48-50 games and get exposed in the 2nd round of the playoffs.  It seems they aren't playing it safe and are going all in, something they had been accused of never doing in the past.  Can't wait to see how it works out.

GeorgeJetsen
GeorgeJetsen

Al never did anything special here to advance in the playoffs so good riddance and good luck with the Celtics. The recent increase in the amount of money these guys are getting is ridiculous and will eventually lead to the downfall of the NBA.

AMFILMSHD
AMFILMSHD

please look at the stats.  in an off year, howard averaged almost 15 rebounds a game in the playoffs.  if you add Paul and AL's numbers and you get the same.  keep Paul and howard and you get 10 more rebounds a game in the post season.  


that my friends win games, more than horford could.

John92
John92

What were the Hawks thinking? I love seeing fellow Atliens coming home and doing things for the home team however I question the signing of Howard and allowing Horford go in free agency. I wish Big Al all the success he can get. Hawks.... I'll be watching from the wings. 

TOJacket
TOJacket

@John92 They offered him a fair contract.......he wasn't loyal to ATL.

makk99
makk99

Bottom line is if al really wanted to be here he would have signed the hawks 5 year offer to play next to a true center in dwight and move to his natural power foward spot. I say good luck and thanks for the memories but we will be fine in the ATL going foward. We could not bring back the exact same team after getting dusted by the cavs 2 years in a row and in both series i seem to remember the dissappearing act from our center.

BP80
BP80

Dead horse is dead, Jeff.
Out of curiosity, how many Rockets games did you watch this season, and how much of your opinion has been formed by the "Dwight is a locker room cancer!1!" narrative? It seems to be completely lost among the Atlanta professional commentariat that Dwight Howard remains a hell of a basketball player. 

BIGDAWG31650
BIGDAWG31650

Before he left everyone the columnists were saying that Al didn't deserve max money but the Hawks would have to give it to him which would be a mistake, now that they didn't and signed a true center Horford was invaluable.  He was a valuable member of this team but given a choice of Horford or Milsap I am going with Milsap every time.  You got Howard for three years to see if he has truly changed and stayed away from a 5 year max contract for a player that wouldn't be taking you any farther than he has in the past which is a win for me.  The Hawks and Coach Bud are at least trying to break through to the next level with this move, hopefully there is more to come in the form of a 2 guard  that is starter level quality and a back up point that is capable of managing a game. 

NajehDavenpoop
NajehDavenpoop

The thing about Al leaving making the Hawks irrelevant is funny. Were they relevant when Kevin Durant wouldn't even give the Hawks a meeting before Al decided to leave? Or when countless elite free agents before him during Al's tenure didnt even consider the Hawks an afterthought? Was the national media paying attention to the Hawks the last 9 years while Al was here making the team perfectly respectable?

There's an argument to be made that Al leaving makes the Hawks worse in the short term. There's another valid argument that letting him leave is poor asset management. But relevance? The Hawks haven't had that since they traded Nique. Al wasn't changing that one way or another. In fact they are probably more relevant now with Dwight Howard given that he is a "name".

coops34
coops34

@NajehDavenpoop Schultz is acting like he lost his puppy.  Al did the Hawks a favor by not accepting that contract. 

moboman
moboman

Its the next moves -- at PG and SG that will determine the fate of next season.  More signing to be done.  Nets just made a 50mil offer to a Heat restricted FA guard, Heat have 3 days to match.  Will that cut into potential pay for DWade?  Can we offer him more?  For a year or two?

BosnianBaller
BosnianBaller

Basically comes down to the fact that Horford took less money to play for the Celtics and not only that he made a comment that said he liked the celtics fans and trashed the hawks fan. Hawks shouldn't or offered anything. he was outplayed and out hustled by Tristan Thompson and not only that his numbers fell of drastically this past year.

If we kept al what would of changed?? Do you really think we would beat cleavland with the current team and the addition of some minor free agents? No chance. At least this way we can see what Howard has. We know he can do something that al can't which is rebounding and he is a true center something we haven't had here since mutombo and Ratliff

You also failed to mention the 2 first round draft picks like prince who will have a big impact on the team.

Signing al Horford would of meant 2nd round tops and out . At least this way there is some hope of maybe going a bit further

honest_abe
honest_abe

jeff, i respect your opinion on this but i think you got this all wrong.  signing al to a max contract would have moved the excitement meter backwards.  fans are already complaining about being stuck in no mans land of being good but not great.  al was a consummate pro and teammate but his career numbers are lower than dwight's in a down year.  he was less willing to rebound each year as his slight frame didn't want to bang down low anymore.  once power forward's start shooting 3's you can expect them to start camping out there.  not that would've been perfectly fine as a stretch 4 but it wasn't going to work on this team as the hawks starting center.  it's fine during the regular season but you saw in the playoffs horford struggled mightily in the paint.  i just remember he got 1 rebound in a playoff game against the cavs.  you don't pay someone max money to get 1 rebound in a playoff game.


on the other hand dwight has the city excited.  whether  you like him or not he's got the city buzzing about him.  i contemplated whether to get season tickets or not.  he might not be the dwight from orlando but i'm confident he will be better than the version we saw in LA and Houston.  he fits better in the eastern conference.  he had alot to do with Houston's run to the western conference finals 2 years ago.  he avged 16.4 points, 14 rebounds and 2.3 blocks during that run!  in comparison horford's best playoff numbers was 2013 where he avged 16.7 points, 8.8 rebounds and .8 blocks in only 6 games.


who is the better center?  that isn't even an argument.  dwight by far.  who is a better player and teammate?  that is worth a discussion.  but a motivated dwight could mean big things for the hawks.  

ChrisRMurphy
ChrisRMurphy

Horford is a high-character guy, and knows how to play the game, i.e., with 5 others on the court.  He is not a superstar, but enjoyable to watch, and apparently play with.  Howard is a ball-suck in a game that has evolved into 3-point land.  Since he is a lousy foul shooter, even if he is a go-to guy, he ain't gettin' you 3 points- so once behind, the Hawks can't play catch-up with the better shooting teams (meaning, all of the ones ahead of them).  

sgmock
sgmock

change was needed. The core went as far as they were going to go. I love Al and will miss him but Millsap (In my opinion) is better for this team. I really believe in the Hawks player development system and I think bud believes his system may be a plug and play system. Plus we need rebounding and rim protector in the worst way. If Howard truly changed (and I think he has) We will be a very strong team.


We shall see