When Danny Ferry arrived in Atlanta as GM and President of Basketball operations of the Hawks, the spin was that a long dysfunctional and public ownership group was going to fade out of the public eye. In theory that was a great thing as the Hawks were long viewed as a dysfunctional franchise and weren't taken seriously on or off the court in NBA circles.
Sadly that reputation was earned by the franchise thanks to an ownership group that constantly bungled things from the start. The laundry list of this ownership group's failures is miles long. Ownership groups are the norm in professional sports these days, but usually that group has one singular goal and a purpose. For the Atlanta Spirit Group, the infighting began shortly upon their arrival. For many years, the defining moment would be the issue with former group member Steve Belkin who protested the Joe Johnson trade and was exiled from the group after a lengthy and very public court battle.
As the group changed, the infighting never stopped and the thirst for control within the ranks was always present even if it wasn't always visible. Everyone needs something to hang their hats on and the former Atlanta Spirit Group's hat was hung on dysfunction. Whether it was operating its basketball team on the cheap, selling its hockey team while insisting it wasn't for sale, or re-signing its free agent shooting guard to an enormous contract so that the team would be more attractive to potential buyers. Nothing was off limits and the more obscure or ridiculous the better.
For a brief moment, it looked like everything was going to change with the arrival of Ferry. Bruce Levenson had wrestled away control of the franchise and empowered Ferry to reshape the Hawks' on the court and off. With Ferry at the helm, the franchise started to change as did its perception around the league. It was no small coincidence that with Ferry in place, ownership stepped out of the public eye and that was a good thing for the franchise's reputation.
As the saying goes though, a tiger can't change his stripes and although things on the surface appeared to be fine, there was still plenty of dysfunction and distrust operating behind the scenes as we would soon find out.
It is important to point out that Ferry is not innocent by any means in this controversy. From the outside, it appears he felt comfortable and in control to the point of arrogance. He let his guard down. There is no place in this world for scouting reports of that nature, yet Ferry read aloud the report on Luol Deng as if he was in a room among friends.
Power starved individuals are no one's friend. Neither are those with their own agenda. Ferry's misstep provided the opportunity for Michael Gearon and this ownership group to deliver this city and this franchise one final public black eye.
Through all of this, there is hope that the Atlanta Hawks can come out the other side unscathed. By all accounts, Tony Ressler's group is excited and ready to make their mark in the NBA. The basketball side of the equation is in good hands with Mike Budenholzer and Wes Wilcox assuming control. The system that Ferry put in place will remain even after he is gone. It says a lot about the leadership that the Hawks currently have in place that they could navigate these stormy conditions and come away better. The future for once appears to be bright.
For the former Atlanta Spirit Group, it ends much like it began. They destroyed themselves from within and will forever be the example for how ownership groups should not operate. Danny Ferry got caught up in something much bigger than him and paid the price. Luckily, it appears the Hawks just might survive.