If Atlanta Hawks general manager Danny Ferry does his job right, the city of Atlanta will finally have three professional sports teams it can be proud of, joining the Braves and Falcons.
Ferry, who joined the organization last year, coasted through a buffer season in 2012-13. Unloading Joe Johnson, who had one of the most absurd contracts in NBA history, freed the Hawks from a financial choke-hold that arguably prevented them from escalating to a championship level in the past five seasons.
The Hawks entered last season with an odd-ball cast and crew, consisting of multiple players with expiring contracts, including the polarizing
Despite having a transitional roster on hand, Ferry still let go of head coach Larry Drew after the Hawks finished 44-38 in the regular season and fell to the Indiana Pacers in the first-round of the playoffs.
Expectations weren’t too high for the Hawks—at least they shouldn’t have been for fans. Ferry had built a solid reputation while working in the front office in San Antonio, who’s team is once again competing in the NBA Finals.
His hiring brought an immediate sigh or relief and excitement to fans who were getting tired of former general manager Rick Sund, who was the mind responsible for Johnson’s mega-deal.
However, many message boards or radio call-ins during the season exposed a breed of fans who were still distraught with the B-level of the Hawks franchise; the team is always just good enough to reach the playoffs, but dysfunctional enough to embarrass itself on national television.
It’s shocking that Drew was let go, but equally inviting that Ferry has brought in a former co-worker in Mike Budenholzer, who previously worked as an assistant coach for the Spurs.
Familiarity and stability in the front office is obviously the driving force of this change, more than the fact that Drew wasn’t doing his job. In fact, knowledgeable basketball fans should have figured out by now: Smith is an uncoachable player, but the rest of the team overachieved in 2012.
Everyone involved with the organization knew the 2012 team was full of moving pieces, and that there wasn’t a lot on the line. Therefore, Drew’s firing was seemingly already in the cards. This move was just another part of Ferry’s process to build a strong foundation.
Ferry’s next responsibility will be bringing in a player—or two—who will bring immediate national interest to Atlanta. With the amount of cap space the Hawks will have at their disposal thanks to the contracts that are coming off the books, Ferry will have just enough cash to pull a blockbuster move off.
There’s obviously already a lot of internal chatter about the prospects of the NBA environment changing for the better. The Hawks possibly violated a tampering rule when a letter blast to prospective season ticket holders read, “Player interest is skyrocketing as the possibilities of landing Chris Paul or Dwight Howard become more and more of a reality.”
The blast was immediately defended by team president Bob Williams, but there’s no doubt Atlanta will be a top suitor for Paul, who’s in a rut with the Clippers, and Howard, who the Hawks reportedly pursued last offseason.
Howard, an Atlanta native, has been a polarizing figure who has drawn character comparisons to Smith, but those who see the glass half-full believe the addition of Howard could re-ignite a fire under Smith’s feet that could brew a new contract for him as well.
Nevertheless, the Hawks finally are no longer weighed down by a hyper-maxed contract, a general manager who seemingly never understood his team needed a big man, nor a disconnect between management and coach.
The existing relationship between Ferry and Budenholzer have already ensured newfound stability. The amount of cash the team will have this offseason inevitably ensures a signing that will create a buzz.
It’s hard to believe, but the Hawks could create just as much noise this offseason as the Falcons have in the past few years, as well as the Braves.
There’s no doubt the Hawks have impressed since 2007, when they began their six-year streak of making the postseason.
But, finally, we’re seeing this team actually willing to take the next step. Hopefully the days of Atlanta teams being ‘just good enough, but still miserably bad when it counts’ are over.
It’s hard to believe fans here could very soon feel spoiled. Oh, how the times are changing.