After winning the Eastern Conference Player of the Week, I decided to write Paul Millsap a letter. I’m sharing it with you, thus making it an open letter.
Dear Paul Millsap,
The NBA released their Player of the Week Awards today, and I couldn’t help but notice that you were selected. As a guy who has covered the team for a short time this season, my natural reaction was excitement and a sense of pride in the fact that the league finally gave you some public credit for the work you’ve done.
Josh Smith is set to make his second return to Philips Arena on Wednesday, and I will be there covering the game like I have been for part of the season. This is my first season as a member of the media, and so everything I experience is new. I wasn’t around last season, or even the past nine seasons before this one. I have watched the NBA for all of my life, and even living near Atlanta, I have watched the Hawks as much as I could. Josh Smith certainly did a lot of good for the city of Atlanta and the Hawks franchise, but there is a certain negative feel to what Smith’s tenure became here, and now the fan base has turned on him.
Smith had repeatedly called out the fans here, and said that playing for a winner and playing in front of passionate fans is something that he desired. He is now suiting up for the mediocre Detroit Pistons in front of what seems to be a basically empty arena (Pistons rank 27th in attendance). He signed somewhere that seemed to be a money grab, and it was obvious to everyone except Joe Dumars that he wasn’t going to fit well there.
Now, don’t get me wrong. If Atlanta decides to one day raise his jersey to the rafters, I wouldn’t scoff at the idea, and I would even welcome it. What he and Joe Johnson did for the franchise you currently play for was monumental, and it kept them relevant in terms of competitiveness for almost a decade.
I didn’t write you this letter to explain Josh Smith to you, and like you told us on Media Day, you don’t want to compare, but it is really hard not too. Josh Smith has all the physical tools to drive the lane and make exceptional plays, but he often settles for jumpers and ill advised shots, and that’s why the Philips faithful exclaimed “NO!” every time he chucked one of those. When I sit on media row (or even in the dreaded press box), I watch you bring your lunch pail in, and get to work. You seldom settle for jumpers, and to watch you use your high basketball IQ brings joy to my brain. You can handle the ball well for a power forward, you get in there with the trees and fight for rebounds, and you often guard guys like Carmelo Anthony if called upon. You are a perfect fit for this system, and the fact that your contract is for two years and $19 million is exceptional.
This season has been a disappointment. With your buddy Al Horford healthy, and all 12 guys operating in Bud’s system, you guys were headed for the third seed in the Eastern Conference, and with a full season together, who knows what could have happened. Now, Jeff Teague is injured, Al is out for the year, Pero is beaten down, and all seems lost. Most guys would mail it in, and start taking more shots while their effort declined, but not you Paul. You go out there every night and lead this team with full effort and intensity, and if no one has done it yet, I want to thank you for that.
This franchise can be often maligned by others, but you signed here on a discount. I have no doubt that you could have ended up somewhere like your old friend Al Jefferson did, and cash in a on a big payday. In our culture today, writers and fans love to criticize and find the negative aspects of situations. Sometimes, we fail to miss guys like you who aren’t flashy (even though you attempt a hammer dunk at least once a game) and it is more fun to point out flaws.
I can remember Media Day and I was just a guy who had no idea what he was doing. As I walked up to your table, the media began to scramble elsewhere, and I asked my first question to an NBA player. That player was you, and although you didn’t exactly offer up any headlines, I appreciated the way you answered whatever was asked. At the end of my questions I tried to loosen the mood by asking you if you were going to replace Josh Smith as the “headband guy” on the team, and you laughed. It could have been a pity laugh or an effort to shoo me away, but the positive attitude you had stuck with me.
Now, we are midway through the season, and although you have every reason to play out of the system, and try and take 28 shots a game, you don’t. You still roll up your sleeves and get to work every night. I could do the popular thing and show you what the Hawks’ on/off stats are when it comes to your play, but sometimes stats can be filler, and they can’t always quantify what you mean to a franchise. Your play this year should mean that you get to put on those hideous sleeved jerseys to wear in New Orleans on February 16th, and if I could assure your spot, I would. I sincerely hope that the coaches have voted you in to the All-Star Game, and I think your past week shows us why you deserve it.
They say the goal for media members is to remain objective, but we are human beings, and natural rooting interests occur whether admitted or not. I root for the Hawks to do well, and I root for you to do well, Paul. Atlanta may not get the attention it deserves, and you may not get the accolades that should come your way, but just know that guys like me and the other Atlanta writers are appreciative of your contributions this season.
As Josh Smith comes in to Philips Arena on Wednesday night, let him serve as a reminder to what once was, and let your presence show fans what is to come. Here’s hoping you get to represent Danny Ferry, coach Bud, and all of the city in the All-Star Game.
And once again, thanks for what you’ve done so far this season.
Keep it up,