The Paul Millsap news went from bad to worse for the Atlanta Hawks.
A week after reports indicated the four-time NBA All-Star would indeed decline his $21.4 million player option for 2017-18 and enter free agency this summer, the Hawks announced Millsap will miss at least three more games with swelling in his left knee after undergoing a non-surgical procedure on Monday.
The team’s press release began with the five most dreaded words in sports: “After visiting Dr. James Andrews.” He was diagnosed with left knee synovitis, or swelling of the membrane that lines the knee joint, and underwent the procedure at Atlanta’s Emory Orthopaedics & Spine Center. Visits to Dr. Andrews can come with far worse news, but knee procedures are never a welcome sight at any point.
Especially since Millsap has already missed Atlanta’s last five games — all losses, dropping the team’s record to 0-8 without him this season. With nine games left, the Hawks (37-36) are now tied with the Milwaukee Bucks and Indiana Pacers for fifth place in the East, just two games up on the Miami Heat for the conference’s eighth and final playoff spot and 2.5 games ahead of the Chicago Bulls for ninth. Atlanta is also currently without starters Kent Bazemore (knee) and Thabo Sefolosha (groin).
The Hawks have winnable games in their next four outings — agains the Phoenix Suns, Philadelphia 76ers, Bulls and Brooklyn Nets — but that becomes more difficult without the lone remaining All-Star from the franchise’s famed lineup from the lauded four-star lineup during the 60-win 2014-15 campaign. Atlanta desperately needs Millsap back before closing out the season against the Boston Celtics, Cleveland Cavaliers (twice), Charlotte Hornets and Pacers. Otherwise, the Hawks risk losing their grip on a season that had already been slipping away even with a healthy Millsap in the lineup.
A successful return for Millsap before the playoffs would be welcome news in Atlanta, where the organization will do its damnedest to keep him from signing elsewhere this offseason. However, Millsap also missed most of training camp with right knee swelling, and knee issues for a now 32-year-old big man will only further fuel questions about whether the Hawks or any other team should commit max money to Millsap this summer. The news could be worse, but it’s still not any good.