A little over a year ago at this time I called Mike Budenholzer the Atlanta Hawks' most important offseason acquisition. In the 13 months since I made that statement, little has happened to change my mind. In fact given the events of this summer, Budenholzer may be even more important now.
Installing Budenholzer as the team's head coach was the first move for General Manager Danny Ferry as he began to shape this franchise in his own vision. There was lots of talk about changing the culture, accountability and doing things the right way. That carried over on the court as Budenholzer installed the same virtues and the result was a rather beautiful brand of basketball. I thought and still think Atlanta has a championship level coaching staff. Its just a matter of adding talent to the mix.
Atlanta's new culture came under fire this offseason with the controversy surrounding ownership and GM Danny Ferry. To date Budenholzer has avoided tarnish and along with CEO Steve Koonin will be instrumental in rebuilding the reputation of the franchise. With Ferry away on a leave of absence, Budenholzer is the team's acting GM and now must succeed in a dual role. When asked how he will manage to do both he is quick to point out that he has a great staff to fall back on.
"They don't get enough credit. They are not talked about enough. But I think our players know how good they are and our players appreciate them and know we want to help our players get better. We want to be prepared every night. I think it's a great staff. I'm really excited about them."
Quin Snyder left Budenholzer's staff this summer to become the head coach of the Utah Jazz and for a moment it looked like Darvin Ham might follow suit. Ham eventually elected to stay and along with Kenny Atkinson and Taylor Jenkins will make up the holdovers from last season.
Budenholzer added Euroleague coaching great Nevin Spahija this offseason and thinks he will fit in well with the current staff.
"I'm excited about adding Neven Spahija, a friend and a colleague that I have known for a long time and have a lot of respect for. I think people know how we feel about the international game and the European game and how we can learn from each other. Adding him was great."
The Hawks shifted Jim Thomas from an assistant coach to the front office where he will serve in a scouting role. In his place Atlanta added a pair of young coaches to the mix in Ben Sullivan and Charles Lee. Not surprisingly, both have a background in player development. Sullivan comes from the San Antonio Spurs where he worked in development and was assistant video coordinator. Lee spent the last two seasons at Bucknell.
Player development has become a priority for the franchise and already has a couple of success stories in DeMarre Carroll and Mike Scott. Not only young players but guys like Paul Millsap, who expanded his game during his first season with Atlanta, have benefited from playing under Budenholzer's staff.
Atlanta will enter the season fighting to prevent the events of the summer from becoming a distraction. That makes this coaching staff even more important as they and the players try to insulate each other.
Talent may ultimately win games but seldom is talent successful without a strong leader as head coach. The Hawks appear to be in great shape with Budenholzer at the helm.