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Breaking down the Atlanta Hawks general manager search

The GM search is on and we explore some names.

NBA: Atlanta Hawks-Press Conference Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Three names have surfaced via reports from NBA insiders as potential targets for the Atlanta Hawks in their search for a new general manager. I am on the record as being firmly against former Detroit Pistons executive Joe Dumars getting consideration for the job, as I feel that the league has changed too much since he was last a part of anything successful. His inability to re-stabilize the coaching situation after Larry Brown resigned is an enormous red flag for me.

David Griffin has a job as the Cavaliers GM but does not have a contract for next season. His name has come up in rumors related to the Orlando Magic front office search as well. It’s impossible to know if his name is circulating for the purpose of increasing his leverage with the Cavaliers. After all, he was on the other side of a similar tactic taken by Cavs head coach Tyronn Lue who refused to sign a contract after the firing of David Blatt until after the season was over. The championship the Cavs won last season certainly shifted a lot of leverage in that contract negotiation toward Lue.

On the surface, I don’t know why a person would want to step away from a position such as the Cavaliers GM role, in the next 2-3 years even, fairly or unfairly, Griffin could cement his status in the league as one of the NBA’s most successful front office executives in recent history. So unless he just really dislikes working for Dan Gilbert or unless there is something else going on there, I’m not expecting him to make a change. And if he does make a change, I don’t see any reason as to why he would be attracted to the Hawks whose ownership group lacks any track record upon which to base expectations.

It could be that if Tony Ressler is willing to pay Griffin significantly more than Gilbert is and if Griffin sees Coach Mike Budenholzer as the type of coach he would be attracted to working with, well that would certainly make this a non-zero chance situation. But it will be interesting to see if either the Hawks or the Magic have the patience to wait until (likely) within a week of the draft before they can even talk with Griffin. Also, I will be curious to see how these organizations potentially evaluate Griffin’s status and value given that he has never been the (non-interim) GM of a team that did not have Lebron James on its roster.

Troy Weaver’s name also surfaced and that really should surprise no one. Currently serving as vice president and assistant general manager for the Oklahoma City Thunder, he has been emerging over the last several years and one of the names on the shortest of the short list of the up-and-comers in league front office circles. I’m also on record that I would be thrilled if Weaver gets the job. Coach Budenholzer’s relationship with Thunder general manager Sam Presti, with whom he worked with for 8 years in the San Antonio Spurs organization, should mean that Budenholzer should get all the intel he needs in order to determine if working with Weaver would be a fit.

The name of Mike Zarren, Danny Ainge’s most trusted lieutenant in the Celtics front office, comes up with almost any open position. His reputation would indicate that he is very much worthy of consideration. But from what I have read and heard, he seems firmly entrenched in that organization. Also, should he have the ambition to run his own front office one day, it might be strategic (in terms of increasing his status and marketability) to continue supporting Ainge until they make what they will of the remaining draft assets that have been at their core of that organization’s plan for several years now. If they are able to make the right decisions and build a true contender, Zarren will be extremely well positioned to find the ideal situation for himself.

Jeff Weltman was promoted to the position of general manager with the Toronto Raptors in September of 2016. But he is not the decision maker; president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri is in complete control of that organization. Weltman’s name has surfaced in the Magic search as well, which makes sense given his status as another up-and-comer in the league. But I don’t see any evidence that what the Raptors have been doing in terms of philosophy and what they prioritize would indicate any kind of fit with Coach Budenholzer.

I have two names that so far I have not seen come up in any speculation regarding current or recent job searches for leadership positions in an NBA front office. These names might be completely new to you, but I am hoping that both are on the radar of the search firm with whom the Hawks are working.

If I could identify the ideal organization to pull front office talent from, it would be the Miami Heat. I have a ton of respect for the organization; the way that they have re-invented themselves to achieve success along with their sustained level of excellence set them apart in my view. Andy Simon has been with the organization for 22 seasons. And his rise through the front office ranks is similar to Coach Budenholzer’s rise through the coaching ranks. He currently holds the title of assistant general manager; he also serves as the general manager of the Heat’s D-League team, the Sioux Falls Sky Force.

No organization has gotten more value out of their D-League affiliate than the Miami Heat. Last season Simon was awarded the D-League executive of the year. Starting next season the Hawks will be operating a D-League affiliate for the first time. The time Simon has served working with Pat Riley and Andy Elisburg and his distinct contributions to that organization’s success, for me, makes him an ideal candidate to consider.

Bill Branch has been working in the league since 1997. His background is largely in the scouting department, but he also spent some time coaching. What sets him apart from others is that he has developed the reputation as being maybe the most connected scout in the league in terms of the relationship he has built with players across the league. He currently serves as the assistant general manager for the Portland Trailblazers (since 2011). The fact that Neal Olshey kept him on staff when he became the Trailblazers president of basketball operations and general manager in 2014 says a lot about Branch’s reputation in the league. From my research, it seems Branch is significantly respected across the league by players and coaches alike.

Branch’s relationship with and his role working with Team USA basketball is also of value to his employer. Having the opportunity to develop relationships with the most elite players in the league (and around the world) is a pretty unique value proposition. But the simple fact that he was asked to serve in the scouting capacity with the program also reflects very well as to how respected he is in NBA circles.

It’s tough to know from a distance how much grasp Branch has of the newer disciplines such as analytics, sports science, etc. But the Trailblazers are pretty invested in those areas, so one would expect that they are not completely foreign to him.

Like Weaver, Branch has some history with Sam Presti, with whom he worked with in the Thunder front office from 2008-2010. In this case also, Coach Budenholzer should be able to get a pretty easy read in terms of fit.

So, my short list, for what it’s worth would be Weaver, Simon and Branch. If Griffin sends signals that he might have interest, you have to give that strong consideration as well, even if it’s not the best thing from a timing perspective. It will be interesting to see what other names surface and who the Hawks ultimately will chose to lead their front office.