Either Hawks snap up McMillan or regret it after someone else does

Since March 1, the Hawks have won 73% of their 22 games, a pace that’s the envy of its conference. Even with Thursday’s loss to Milwaukee, they have gone 16-6 since then, after going 14-20 (.412) to begin the season. Over that time, they have pieced together their longest win streak in six seasons (eight games). They have won games they have no plausible reason to win. They have hardly needed to reach into their fanny pack of ready-made excuses. They have stopped treating fourth quarters like nap time.

You don’t need a bar graph to recognize all that as a positive trend. Even if it is an unsustainable one, enjoy while you may.

So little is clear and certain in this life. But there is this: The only possible explanation for this surge is coach – note the pointed refusal to use the qualifier “interim” – Nate McMillan. Like they say, just follow the science.

It’s not as if the Hawks traded for any difference maker before the deadline – all their dealing this season was done at conception.

Nor have they experienced any great rash of good health. They just this week won two games with the very core of their team on the shelf. In fact, the great looming question of these Hawks remains: How good might they be if so many of them weren’t dressed for a cookout at game time?

At this point, the Hawks have to ask themselves who they could possibly hire better to harness and direct their young talent? The man just fits, like sweatpants during a pandemic. He’s doing work that could be coach-of-the-year stuff if only he had a little more year with which to work.

GM Travis Schlenk has steadfastly held that there will be no discussing the future coach until season’s end. Maybe that’s an approach that works to keep all parties on task until the eventual playoff ouster. But I wouldn’t mind a press conference tomorrow announcing an arrangement more permanent.

Little chance that anyone is going to come in here this summer and interview better than McMillan has the last month-and-a-half. And there’s nothing more a man who already is 20th all-time in victories can say over a lunch with the GM and the head of HR that he hasn’t already stated far more convincingly in any given huddle, whiteboard in hand. He’s aced the tryout.

Somewhere I hear the voice of John Lennon at the end of “Get Back,” saying, “I would like to say thank you on behalf of the group and ourselves, and I hope we’ve passed the audition.”

Waiting only brings a whole other level of uncertainty into what should be pretty much a certainty. Waiting gives other teams that surely will be in the market for a new coach time to cast a covetous gaze at McMillan.

Of course, there are other hungry teams in the woods looking at the work McMillan has done since taking over for Lloyd Pierce thinking, “We could use some of that.”

If Hawks don’t make this strong, smart, solid hire, someone else in the NBA will.

Few NBA coaches are indispensable. Look across the way Thursday, where former Hawk Mike Budenholzer was plying his trade. He’s a fine coach, one who didn’t want to be a part of the hard work of a rebuild in Atlanta. He’ll put in some quality work in Milwaukee, the Bucks will eventually disappoint once too often, and he will be asked to leave. It is the way of his craft.

And McMillan is chased by his own coaching ghosts, notably the string of first-round playoff losses and his 3-16 postseason record at his last posting in Indiana.

But the Atlanta work is all that matters as far as the Hawks are concerned. And that has had “Hire him on the spot” written all over it.

There’s the obvious respect he has commanded from a team that had grown too quickly deaf to Pierce’s message. It’s all right there in the record. Don’t even start on comparative weakness of the opposition the past month. For the Hawks, there is no such thing as a soft spot in a schedule. They have been the ones looked upon as the soft spot.

There’s the potential difference McMillan can make with certain players on this roster. Call it the Bogdan Bogdanovic Effect. He has taken off these past couple of weeks, stepping up and leading the Hawks in scoring in four of the past five games. There is more flourishing to be done with McMillan’s help.

In the continuum of Atlanta interim coaches – and it is a growing line – you’d have to place McMillan well beyond the Raheem Morris temporary caffeine jolt and more toward the Brian Snitker don’t-make-this-hard-because-the-answer-is-right-in-front-of-you end of the scale.

Waiting to make what seems to be the natural choice only adds another layer of angst to the process.

But assume nothing here. On his end, you know, McMillan has to decide whether he wants to enlist full-time with this outfit. He just may get a better offer.

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