By Justin Baker

It’s been a busy week already for the Atlanta Hawks. Monday, it was announced that Paul Millsap will opt out of his contract and test the financial waters of free agency and Tuesday the team is meeting with former NBA point guard, Chauncey Billups about the team’s vacant general manger position.

There has been this great debate since the Atlanta Hawks bowed out of the 2017 NBA playoffs with a Game 6 loss to the Washington Wizards. Should the Hawks blow up their roster? Should they let Millsap and Tim Hardaway Jr. walk? Should they ship off Dwight Howard, Dennis Schroder and Kent Bazemore? Should the Hawks tank for the next few years and HOPE to collect enough lottery picks in the NBA draft to build their team around much younger, unproven talent?

I’ve heard the argument for doing so. Look I get it. The most common response I’ve heard: The team keeps losing more games every year. You can’t win a championship with Millsap as your best player. And my favorite excuse: “There’s no point in trying if LeBron James is playing in the Eastern Conference.”

Whoa! Wait a minute. I’ll give you a decline in wins. I’ll give you the idea that Atlanta needs to add more scoring options other than the big play of Millsap and the turnover-laden, inconsistent play from Schroder. But since when did Atlanta become the New England / Boston of the South?

Since when did this city expect a championship every year or bust?

This whole “What’s the point in trying if LeBron is playing in the Eastern Conference” excuse is trash. I’ll be the first one to admit that I have been one of the bigger supporters of that philosophy up until recently.

Maybe it was the bone-crushing loss and heartache that I, along with many of you, suffered when the Falcons choked away the final quarter of the Super Bowl. Maybe it’s the fact that after 30 years of living and dying by my hometown’s professional sports teams, I’m just so thirty to finish first. I don’t know what it is exactly, but tanking isn’t what I want to see the Hawks do.

And neither should you.

First, you must have a plan when you rebuild. Is it a three-year plan? A five-year plan? How are you going to build your team back up? Through the draft, free agency, trades? These are important questions to ask before you decide to drop some TNT down the hole of the Hawks roster and ignite the fuse of a rebuild.

Sure, there are some examples of teams being awful for a few years only to be back in the NBA Finals conversation every year. Before you go all Golden State, Cleveland and Boston on me, let’s remember that those are the outliers, not the majority.

How has that rebuild plan worked out for other teams? The Sacramento Kings were competitive once. How about that team in Charlotte? The Orlando Magic could use some actual magic to be competitive again and the Philadelphia 76ers? Yikes!

The reality is, a rebuild doesn’t always work. You purposely get rid of your better, more proven talent in mere hopes of rebuilding and finding the exact puzzle pieces to fit into a championship-caliber team.

For everybody that thinks the Hawks should just blow it up simply because you’re buying time until LeBron retires. I ask you, why? Do you want to be at the bottom of the barrel year after year?

Anybody who has watched this Hawks team over the last three or four years has been treated to some pretty good basketball. Yes, their playoff exits are noted, but still, since 2014, the Hawks are 85-38 at home, a .691 win percentage.

So, you had almost a 70 percent chance of seeing the Hawks grab a victory every time you went to Phillips Arena over the last three years. Isn’t watching a team who wins more often than not more entertaining than watching a team get their doors blown off in its own building all the time?

My biggest comeback to all of you who want the Hawks to tank because of LeBron being in the way? What happens when King James gets hurt? Think about it. In the 2015 NBA Playoffs, the Hawks were coming in hot. Atlanta was 60-22, the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference and cruised past the Nets and Wizards winning both early round matchups, 4-2. Then Atlanta met the Cavs.

Yes, LeBron in his first year back in Cleveland swept the Hawks in four games. What if LeBron got hurt though? What if Atlanta took advantage of a team that would have been without LeBron and without Kevin Love?

You see, your chances of winning a NBA title if you’re going up against LeBron James and his teams every year in the playoffs are low, but there is still a chance. To have that chance you must be in the playoffs; you must be ready to strike when the moment is right, and the Hawks are there.

For 10 years in a row now Atlanta has been in the playoffs. Three years in a row they have finished in the top five. Have some pride Atlanta, this isn’t a bad basketball team. At least you can show up to a game without having to put a bag over your head. 76ers fans don’t have that luxury, and haven’t in years.

Remember Philly’s plan to blow up its roster and rebuild after the post Allen Iverson era? How has that worked out? It hasn’t, as a matter of fact things were so bad in the city of brotherly love that the NBA had to step in and take control of the team in hopes of making it more than a door mat for the other 29 teams in the league.

Yes, it’s hard to argue that Atlanta is better than the Wizards, Raptors, Celtics or Cavaliers right now, all four teams who finished with better records this season. What if Atlanta could add one or two players that changed all that though? What if Paul George came over from the Pacers (reports are that the team did offer Indiana four first-round drafts picks for George in February) or what if they made a deal with the Chicago Bulls for Jimmy Butler.

Honestly, it’s not what the Hawks need to be successful, but it wouldn’t hurt. I was kind of surprised this past offseason when Atlanta signed Dwight Howard. Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer has proved he can win without a big-name star. He originally built his best team (2014-2015) around role players like DeMarre Carroll and Kyle Korver.

Atlanta doesn’t have to go out and sign a Russel Westbrook or Kevin Durant. Atlanta is a Blake Griffin or Jimmy Butler away from being right back in the conversation for top three teams in the East.

If the Hawks put themselves in position to still be in sight of LeBron James’ rearview mirror, they can pass him at any time if he goes down with an injury. I’d rather lose to the best payer every season knowing I have a shot than hoping to find gold in the NBA draft lottery every year. Wouldn’t you?

Ask any local contractor, if your house is in good shape and you’ve invested a lot of time and money into it, it makes more since too shore up your foundation than to start over from scratch. Once you go into rebuild mode, you may never bounce back. Beware of “the blowup,” it may lead to a dumpster fire instead of fireworks for many years to come.


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