When Tony Ressler bought the Hawks, they were coming off their best-ever season in Atlanta – 60 wins and a conference-finals appearance.
They just didn’t know where to go from there.
Atlanta’s general manager, Danny Ferry, was in front-office purgatory after saying racist things. The Hawks eventually gave coach Mike Budenholzer the dual title of president-coach and named Wes Wilcox general manager.
Under Budenholzer and Wilcox, it often seemed as if Atlanta was going in two different directions – because it was. The Hawks traded Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver for draft picks but also held onto Al Horford until he left for no return in unrestricted free agency. Atlanta predictably regressed, but not into the lottery.
Finally, in 2017 – after declaring the Hawks would “make every effort imaginable” to re-sign Paul Millsap – Ressler demoted Budenholzer and Wilcox and hired Travis Schlenk to run the front office. Schlenk let Millsap walk and began a rebuild that’s progressing nicely. Budenholzer lasted one more (losing) season as coach then escaped to Milwaukee.
And Ressler is accepting blame for those couple of meandering seasons.
Ressler, via Jeff Schultz of The Athletic:
“Let’s cut the bullshit — I didn’t know what I was doing,” Ressler said. “I can blame someone else, I can blame you, I can blame my wife. But there was only one schmuck in the room, and that was me.”
“It was a recipe for disaster,” he said. “Total dysfunction.”
“Bud was not the right coach for us,” he said. “He was desperate to coach a superstar. I don’t know where Bud’s head was; you’ll have to ask him. But I do think when some people have a very short life as the decision-maker, and they no longer have it, sometimes they miss it. I know this: Getting a Lloyd Pierce, a coach with his attributes who works hard and wants to help young guys get better, is exactly what I wanted and exactly what Travis wanted.”
“For two years, I was a deer in the headlights,” he said. “It’s like the story of a poker game when you’re looking around, and you wonder who the fish is. If you don’t know the answer, it’s probably you. I don’t want to blame somebody else because I was the schmuck ,and I didn’t have to do it. I realized the mistake the minute after I did it.”
Admitting and correcting mistakes are strong traits. I’m not sure Ressler has suddenly solved everything, but this is encouraging. (Nor am I convinced things were as bad in Atlanta as he makes them out to be, but I prefer this bluntness to the typical sugarcoating.)
The Hawks are only one season removed from a decade-long playoff run, and it could be a while until they build back up. Sustained losing could test Ressler’s resolve to stick with this plan.
But at least there’s a clear plan in place now.