ATLANTA — For the second time this decade, the Hawks are in the midst of a gigantic regime change.
Danny Ferry was once the new GM with a plan on how to bring his experiences from San Antonio to Atlanta, with a hand-picked coach from the Gregg Popovich tree in Mike Budenholzer. They promised a singular voice between front office and coaching staff that would yield a winner, and for a brief moment, they appeared to be on that track. They wanted to build upon the foundation that was already in place and elevate the franchise from being a perennial mid-seed out East to a legit contender.
Before they could really start building, however, the franchise was sent into scramble mode. In September 2014, owner Bruce Levenson self-reported a racist email that led him and the rest of ownership to sell the team. A week later, Ferry took an indefinite leave of absence from which he’d never return after a recording of him reading a racist scouting report on Luol Deng was made public. The Hawks would make Wes Wilcox the new GM, while Budenholzer took over as president of basketball operations.The singular voice would be split, with the two not seeing eye-to-eye on how to proceed with the future of the franchise.
The new ownership group, led by majority owner Tony Ressler as well as minority owners like Grant Hill, came in and recognized a need for sweeping changes. Unlike the Ferry-Budenholzer combo, which set out to build on the foundation already in place, the decision was made to tear down and start over. Ownership recognized a disconnect between how players view the city of Atlanta, which is a popular offseason home for some, and the organization, which has never been a destination for top players in free agency.
“Historically, the perception of the franchise has not been great and it hasn’t been consistent with what the perception of the city is,” Hill told Dime during All-Star Weekend at a luncheon with fellow Turner broadcaster Kenny Smith. “Atlanta’s a city that NBA players like, they enjoy. There’s lots of activities, there’s a real sort of culture there, a spirit, and quality of life. And you can really go down the list of why Atlanta’s great, but everyone likes to go to Atlanta and be in Atlanta, but they don’t necessarily want to play for the Hawks.”
It came down to infrastructure.
“We had to improve our facilities,” Hill continued, “change our arena, and then we had to fix our model with our basketball operations staff.”