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Paul Millsap Is Opting Out, and the Hawks Are Looking to Twitter for Answers

A study in when self-aware corporate social media becomes sad

(AP Images/Ringer illustration)
(AP Images/Ringer illustration)

The NBA news cycle is a vicious whirlpool of unending updates.

While we’re still catching our breath from one of the wildest playoff games this season, the Atlanta Hawks, who bowed out of the playoffs as anonymously as they entered them, have decided to hack into our current stream of NBA content.

On Monday morning league sources told The Vertical that Paul Millsap would opt out of the final year of his contract to test the free-agency waters. The Hawks big man, who averaged 18.1 points and 3.7 assists, both career highs, in 69 games this season, would have been paid a cool $21.4 million in the final year of his deal. Millsap turning down that kind of money is like the time I decided not to have a second helping of free Chipotle at a catered event. I still regret it.

Millsap’s decision may seem preposterous to the average basketball fan, but it’s a financially sound move because — stop me if you’ve heard this before — the salary cap is going up again next season, to a projected $101 million, and Millsap (and his agent) was smart enough to sign a three-year deal with a player option for the third year back in 2015 so that he could capitalize on the financial boom.

The move isn’t surprising. Millsap wants more money, and this gives him a chance at it and a potential spot on a contending team next season. Only two years ago, the Hawks won 60 games and garnered the title Spurs East. How things have changed. The Hawks now fall in the morass of NBA teams unable to compete, but also a bit too talented to blow it up and rebuild. This paradox haunts many franchises, but the Hawks have become the model Perpetually Middling Seed. In the wake of Millsap’s likely departure, Atlanta seems desperate to find a course of action sooner rather than later, which brings us to its vacant general manager position.

Following the departure of Danny Ferry as Hawks GM two years ago, the Hawks handed the basketball ops reins to head coach Mike Budenholzer out of desperation. Bud hasn’t crashed and burned, but he hasn’t thrived, either. Just a few weeks ago, the Hawks publicized their decision to go out and get a real GM.

Before the Millsap news broke Monday, the Hawks’ Twitter account, known for authoring some of the best tweets in the #content game, decided to tweet, in their maybe-too-self-aware persona, and poke fun at their hiring process.

The Ratio struck again.

And so the rumors ensued. Most notably, that the Hawks are interviewing Chauncey Billups — yes, you read that correctly — for GM as well as Wizards senior vice president of basketball ops Tommy Sheppard and Warriors assistant general manager Travis Schlenk.

This sounds great and all, but who does Twitter want to see as the Hawks’ GM?

  • LaVar Ball, who would trade every good player to the Lakers while making Big Baller Brand the official Hawks apparel.
  • Phil Jackson. Every Hawks fan would drink for free in New York for taking P-Jax away. Three years ago, every team would have jumped at the chance to get Jackson. Now, nobody wants him. What a world.
  • The Rock. Rescuing Atlanta basketball seems great, but he’s got much bigger aspirations.
  • Alex Rodriguez, who might not be able to properly lead a basketball front office, but could talk to players about birth control?
  • Dikembe Mutombo, which, yes, please.
  • Danny Ferry, which, no, thanks.

The Hawks are going to hire a real GM, though if they do choose Billups, he would be a fascinating case study for a recently retired player opting for a front-office position instead of one on the sidelines. But this whole "pick your own GM" tweet in the same vein as voting for a new concession item is slightly weird. Controlling your own message is very 2017 for athletes and teams alike, but this rise of proprietary media is now making its way into uncharted waters such as teams profiling candidates before they’re been hired.

Regardless of who is manning the basketball ops in Atlanta, the Millsap conundrum is real. He could be gone unless the new front office convinces him to believe in this roster, and while Dennis Schröder is a solid player, he and Millsap alone are not nearly enough to carry a team into title contention when LeBron is still in the conference. The faster the Hawks hire a GM, the faster they can try to convince Millsap, who could be a highly coveted piece for a better team, to stay.

The news cycle and the structure of the NBA’s hierarchy have a lot in common: They are both ruthless and fleeting. Over the last few years, the Hawks have become the poster team for that harsh reality. As they reshape their front office and take stock of what they have heading into next season, they’ll have to make the decision that plagues most teams in their class. Do they recharge or do they rebuild? Whatever the choice, it needs to come quickly. The Hawks’ identity right now is their Twitter account. That should probably change soon.