On Monday, David Aldridge of NBA.com unveiled a sizable profile of the Atlanta Hawks’ braintrust and it is absolutely worth a deep-dive read in the aftermath. One focus was the decision made by owner Tony Ressler and GM Travis Schlenk to “hit the rebuild button” beginning in late June and, while there were other themes worth monitoring, another was the move to remove player personnel control from head coach Mike Budenholzer’s plate.
Understandably, Budenholzer would not necessarily be thrilled with what amounts to a demotion but Ressler spoke to Aldridge about the decision to make the change. One central (and repeated) theme was that, simply put, being a GM and a head coach requires two very different skill sets and both are “full-time jobs.”
“I think Mike felt he was a great head coach. I tried to convince him and I think he realized fully that being the GM is a full-time job. So why does anyone on earth think they can do two extraordinarily difficult jobs? And I believe Bud saw that very clearly. And to this minute, I think what Bud wanted above everything else was a great GM who knew more about player personnel than he could or did. It’s not a part-time job. And anyone who thinks it is, I think makes a big mistake.
“And being a great head coach that is extraordinary in player development, and where players literally -- which is not that common -- there are not that many ways to distinguish yourselves, to differentiate yourselves as a head coach in this league. But making players think they can come here to get better, I absolutely believe is one of those. But that’s not a part-time (bleeping) job. That’s a tough job. I think Bud, and I certainly had a strong view, as you might imagine, I said we need a great GM and we need a great head coach. I thought we had a great head coach. And I thought we had a GM that was not great, that was not experienced, who was not top dog. It’s just two jobs.”
This is a league-wide trend with regard to the removal of dual roles and Budenholzer is not the only coach affected recently. Doc Rivers lost power in Los Angeles, Stan Van Gundy is on the hot seat (at least to some degree) in Detroit and even Tom Thibodeau has come under fire for his roster construction work in Minnesota.
Still, it is a challenging situation for Budenholzer to move from a position of overall authority to working directly for Schlenk and that has to be noted, especially in the early going. Budenholzer also spoke to aldridge and, while he reportedly noted that it “wasn’t easy” to make the change, he appears to be settling in to the new normal.
“It’s a change. And I think that can be a positive, where either I have to think through things even more deeply and be more convicted or more capable of articulating why it is something is important to me and have everybody understand it. And there’s going to be people who say ‘I completely, totally disagree, and we’re not going to do that.’ And I’ll grow from it, and hopefully the organization grows from it. But when you’ve kind of been in that position and you do have passion and you do have vision, hopefully all for good, it’s certainly going to be different. But it’s a good different. It’s a good change.”
Budenholzer, at least publicly, seems to be embracing things as currently organized and he went on to state plainly that “this gives us the best chance going forward to have a chance in Atlanta to have success.” The former NBA Coach of the Year has earned justified praise for his work on the sideline and, intuitively, it makes complete sense that, in 2017, working full-time as a general manager/head of basketball operations should be separate from the inner-workings of acting as a head coach.
At some point, Schlenk and Budenholzer will likely disagree on a philosophical issue and, frankly, that may have already happened. Still, it appears for now that the two are on the same page and statements like these should go a long way toward dampening the thought that Budenholzer could be on the way out sooner rather than later.