The Atlanta Hawks announced on Wednesday that head coach Mike Budenholzer and the team would be “mutually parting ways.” What’s notable about the amicable split between Budenholzer and the team he coached for the past five years, is the message general manager Travis Schlenk seemed to send through his media availability on Thursday, a day after the news was made official. Schlenk was unrelenting in his stance when describing that Budenholzer and the team both felt that it was time for the parties to go their separate ways.
Bud spent 17 years with the San Antonio Spurs as an assistant and won numerous championships. With the Hawks, Budenholzer brought in his winning culture that allowed the team to win 60 games in 2015 and earned a trip to the East Finals. Bud is interested being in an environment that is focused on winning.
For the Hawks, their interests lie in continuing to develop a young core that will carry them into the next paradigm. From day one, Schlenk established the idea that he wanted to institute a new way of operating – focusing on getting younger and stockpiling draft picks and assets. Losing Budenholzer hasn’t led to any deviation from that plan, according to Schlenk. “This doesn’t change our plan at all,” Schlenk said. “Our plan is still the same. We’re going to continue to develop our young players; we’re going to continue to build through the draft, we’re going to continue to gather assets, and maintain our financial flexibility.”
At the end of the season, according to Schlenk, he and Budenholzer held “several conversations” about what the future would look like for them both. Ultimately, the conversations ended with Budenholzer on the market for a new job. The two continued to talk up until about an hour and a half before Schlenk’s Thursday presser, according to the gm.
“It was not one thing,” Schlenk said. “ It was just over the course of several conversations we just felt like this was best for [Budenholzer] and his career, and it was the right time for where [ the Hawks] are.”
Budenholzer now has the freedom to look for a new team that will see his coaching philosophies, the same ones that helped him win coach of the year in 2015, as an asset. When it was announced that Bud was actively speaking with other teams, including the Phoenix Suns and New York Knicks, it became clear to the public that the relationship between he and the front office had reached its end. Schlenk says that when other teams around the league started to contact him about speaking to his head coach is when he knew that Budenholzer was looking for another gig.
Letting arguably the most successful Hawks history walk without any compensation is the reality the Hawks face. Schlenk, in his press conference, alluded to the fact that he and team owner Tony Ressler had to make the decision with that in mind. “We made the decision that it was best for us to do this yesterday as opposed to waiting and seeing what might happen, but we certainly had [Tony’s] blessing,” Travis Schlenk said.
Budenholzer has two years left on his contract equalling to about $13 million. Schlenk didn’t expound on the conversations he and Bud had regarding his contract situation.
According to Jeff Schultz of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, if another team hires Budenholzer, the amount the Hawks will have to pay out will decrease some.
Budenholzer had a healthy relationship with the players up and down the roster. Schlenk said he and the players are focused on the same vision and that he isn’t worried about the backlash from the locker room after this decision.
“I think the players’ focus is the same as my focus,” Schlenk said. “I think the main goal is what’s next. Who do we get, and that’s what the focus is now – to go out and get the next coach that will lead us into the future.”
Schlenk isn’t surprised or blindsided by the recent events surrounding his team. The former Warriors executive has seen this all before and is prepared to take the next step. Schlenk says that “ideally” the search for a new head coach will have been successful before the 2018 NBA draft.
“One of the jobs when you’re in a position like mine, or really any job in management, you have your contingency list when it’s time for a change,” Schlenk said. “We certainly have a list together. We’re going to do a thorough job, but whether they have head coaching experience or whether they’re assistant coaches, both will be looked at.”