The one-year anniversary of the Hawks’ hire of Mike Budenholzer passed quietly.
The date of May 28 came only 25 days after the Hawks were eliminated by the Pacers in a seven-game Eastern Conference first-round playoff series. It came as the preparations for next season were already well underway. There may not have been a party to celebrate. There is still much work to be done.
“I think the NBA calendar has become 12 months, 365 days a year, especially when you are in the early stages of building a program and trying to put things together,” Budenholzer said this week while watching the Hawks draftees and prospects in the Las Vegas Summer League. “It’s been non-stop.”
The Hawks were 38-44 last season, made the playoffs as the eighth seed and had a real chance to upset the top-seeded Pacers until they lost a lead late in Game 6 at home.
The building project continued almost immediately after the playoffs with the NBA draft in June. That was followed a week later by the start of free agency in July.
Budenholzer and general manager Danny Ferry have served as pitchmen for the Hawks. As the team looked to add to its roster, Budenholzer met with several free-agent targets. This year, he came armed. He had a year’s worth of evidence of the Hawks’ style of play. It’s no longer theory but rather real-life application.
“I think what is different about this summer is that people got a chance to see it — whether or not they were playing against us,” Budenholzer said. “When we talked about different things we wanted to do to — no matter if it was offensively or defensively — last summer it was just talk. It’s easy to talk. People want to see it.
“This year, I am able to talk more meaningfully, more in-depth, about the way we want to play and what we want it to look like and the kind of players we think will be successful with us and help us be successful. It was more meaningful this summer of having a year to see it.”
The Hawks added first-round pick Adreian Payne in the draft. Thabo Sefolosha and Kent Bazemore have come in free agency. The team still could make another move, but all of the big names are off the market. With the core group returning from last season, the roster generally has taken shape.
One word comes up time and again as Hawks management talk about the players that are the building blocks of the organization. They want players who are unselfish. Budenholzer said he believes players want to be part of a team and system with an unselfish style — on offense and defense.
Most NBA teams want to play that way, but the Hawks point to the fact that they ranked second in the league is assists last season as proof positive of their commitment. Their 24.9 assists per game average trailed only the 25.2 average of the champion Spurs.
Whether the Hawks add another player, Budenholzer said he is content with the progress to date. Soon, it will be time to start building another year’s body of work.
“I love our players,” Budenholzer said. “I love our team. (The first year) was a really great experience. We all have a lot of room for improvement, a lot of room for growth, the coaches, the players, the entire organization. But I think we are building it with the right kinds of players, the right kind of people. I really think we are in a situation where we are just going to keep getting better and better.”