In advance of the 2017-2018 NBA season, the great Ben Golliver of Sports Illustrated made his list of five coaches who might find themselves on the hot seat this season and Atlanta Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer landed fourth. Golliver points out immediately that Budenholzer’s place on the list has very little to do with his ability and much more to do with the changing team around him—with the arrival of general manager Travis Schlenk, it’s fair to question when Budenholzer will last in this role. Schlenk didn’t hire Budenholzer and general managers tend to want to bring in their own guys to lead the team on the floor. If a Warriors assistant coach gets antsy and wants a head coaching job, will Schlenk reach back across the country to bring him to Atlanta?
The front office shakeup this past offseason is Exhibit A in the “Budenholzer is outta here” argument. Relinquishing his role as president of basketball operations will certainly alleviate some of the stress on Budenholzer, but how will a notoriously competitive coach deal with the fact that his team is clearly rebuilding for the future?
Whether by choice or not, the Hawks may be looking for a new coach come next April; it’s not inconceivable that Budenholzer will want to move on from an Atlanta team that doesn’t look particularly close to contending, especially given the massive amount of success he’s had in his career, both as an assistant in San Antonio and through the first four years of his tenure with the Hawks. Only Kent Bazemore, Mike Muscala, and Dennis Schröder remain of the Hawks of 2014-15, and while all three will play big roles on the 2017-18 team, the franchise is a long way from those 60-win heights.
The argument for Budenholzer wanting to stay in Atlanta is his tremendous development track record. Hawks University has pumped out player after player and will be in session in a big way over the next few years as the team rebuilds.
From making Bazemore and DeMarre Carroll into $15+ million players to finding and developing useful players outside of the first round in Muscala and Mike Scott, Budenholzer and his staff and proven themselves to be quite adept at improving players across various archetypes. If that’s what interests him, then he’ll have free rein to do as he wishes with a mass of young players: DeAndre’ Bembry, Taurean Prince, John Collins, and the three possible first-round draft picks in the upcoming 2018 draft are all raw in one way or another and will need a coaching staff like Budenholzer’s to reach their full potential.
Of course, the option may not be up to him, as Schlenk and ownership may opt to bring in their own coach to man the sidelines. Owner Tony Ressler was the one who gave Budenholzer full power in the front office in 2015, but he’s also the one who took it away this past summer, so there might be a mixed bag of emotions between the two men. Ressler is on the record saying that he doesn’t care about his personal relationship with his general manager—it’s an easy extension of that idea that he wouldn’t much care whether he gets along personally with Budenholzer and will judge his head coach on merit alone.
Still, if Schlenk wants to bring in his own guy to play a Warriors-esque game, then Budenholzer may find himself on the chopping block. Of course, Schlenk would have to bring in players to make the Golden State system work and this roster is nowhere near that level, but Schlenk will have the power to change that too if he’s up to the job.
It seems unlikely that Budenholzer would lose his job based on the results of this season—everyone knows the Hawks aren’t going to win very many games and that this year is focused on the development of the young guys with an eye on a top-three draft pick next April. However, there are always other factors at play when a coach loses their job, any number of which may bring an end to the Budenholzer era in Atlanta.