Mike Budenholzer came to Atlanta to be a head coach, after passing on other chances, because he had worked with general manager Danny Ferry in San Antonio and thought they could build a Spurs East kind of organization.
Then Ferry shot himself in the foot, being at the very least careless and unthinking with a bigoted comment in a scouting report, something he paraphrased close to verbatim in a conference call with ownership. Make no mistake, whatever was in the report Ferry screwed up. That is why he is now on leave from the team (and may not return, depending on the new owner coming in).
That leaves Budenholzer doing both jobs, coach and GM. It’s not what he signed up for.
Fortunately for him he had a mentor — Gregg Popovich has had both roles at San Antonio and Budenholzer was his assistant for nearly two decades. Budenholzer also learned from Spurs GM R.C. Buford, who works hand-in-hand with Popovich, and the Hawks coach told Steve Aschburner of NBA.com that prepared him for this job as much as anything.
“There are extra things you have to do to prepare for camp and the season,” Budenholzer acknowledged. “But we’ve got a great group. So there’s more work but I think we can manage it. The team, for the most part, is in place. That’s the most important thing….
“It’s something where I spent 19 years in that kind of a set-up,” he said. “To whatever degree I can be comfortable, I wouldn’t feel that now if I hadn’t spent all those years around that in San Antonio with Pop and R.C.”
Budenholzer’s situation is different from Popovich — or Doc Rivers, Stan Van Gundy and Flip Saunders, the other NBA guys with both jobs — in that his is temporary. The Hawks were thrown into this front office mess with the release of Ferry’s audiotape and now the future direction of the Hawks organization will fall to a new owner coming in once Bruce Levenson sells his share of the team (part of a different race-related scandal in the Hawks organization).
That new owner likely brings in a new team president/GM quickly — a guy who will not have hired Budenholzer and may view organization or how to build the team differently. A guy who might want his own guy in the coach’s seat.
But for now, lifting the Hawks beyond the “they’re okay” status the franchise has lived in for seemingly many years falls all on Budenholzer. Ready or not.