Exclusive Q&A: Hawks owner Tony Ressler on recent changes within team leadership

Hawks guard Trae Young prepares to shoot while (from left) Hawks owner Tony Ressler, general manager Landry Fields and assistant GM Kyle Korver watch before the Hawks’ game against the Cleveland Cavaliers at State Farm Arena, Friday, Feb. 24, 2023, in Atlanta.

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Hawks guard Trae Young prepares to shoot while (from left) Hawks owner Tony Ressler, general manager Landry Fields and assistant GM Kyle Korver watch before the Hawks’ game against the Cleveland Cavaliers at State Farm Arena, Friday, Feb. 24, 2023, in Atlanta.

When this season began, the Hawks had high expectations that they would make a stronger postseason run.

But 62 games into the season, the Hawks have not met them. They’ve lingered at or below .500 for much of the season, which prompted Hawks owner Tony Ressler to make a change to the front office. Then, Hawks general manager Landry Fields made a change to the coaching staff.

All of those changes have prompted plenty of questions, and Ressler looked to answer them Friday in an exclusive interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Q: When did you notice a need for changes, and when did you decide that it was time to kind of shift in a different direction?

A: Well, listen, I thought that front office could run much better than it was running. And I felt we could be far more collaborative, far more communicative, and ultimately make better decisions. And that is precisely why I wanted Landry to be in charge and have a different kind of environment. And we do.

Q: Why is it important to kind of have that collaboration on all fronts in the front office? Sometimes you don’t want to have too many cooks in the kitchen. So how do you stop yourself, not you specifically, but everybody from feeling like they need to put their voice out there?

A: That’s an interesting question. Because different businesses have different styles. I’m sort of of the opinion, and again, trying to build a culture and what we stand for, I thought that Landry communicating, and, by the way, bringing Kyle (Korver) in as his assistant GM, again, his choice to do that, and to create a much more open and communicative environment. I think their view, which I certainly embrace, was we can make better decisions as a result of far more input from far more people. And you’re right, a lot more people do want to have a voice, I think, and we have a lot of talented people in the front office that have a voice, maybe not in the decision-making process, but have a voice in the scrambling of the egg or whatever, however, you want to describe it, the evaluation and the process. So I am of the opinion that more collaboration and more communication ultimately leads to better decision-making. And I didn’t think we were making as great a series of decisions over the last few years as we could have.

Q: When did you notice that the collaboration wasn’t going in the right direction with (former Hawks president) Travis (Schlenk) and then the decision for him to kind of step back?

A: I didn’t really put as much on (Travis). Our front office just wasn’t operating. Let me say, again, in a way that I think I’ve concluded, of course, I’ve maybe wanted this for a while but didn’t have it. I think when ownership and the front office and the coaching staff and a roster are all communicating with one another, better things result. And I don’t think I had that before, under our previous leadership, and I believe strongly we have that today. And that’s truly ownership, front office, coaching and a roster – as in speaking to your players, understanding, communicating all the way through, I believe strongly that that’s what I was in search of, and that’s what we have today.

Q: With the collaboration, I’m curious about how much weight your voice has in the decision-making?

A: The only real decision I make is, who’s in charge ... and it seems there’s a lot of stories. I think my job is to put the best people we could find, and frankly, the best person I could find in charge of basketball operations and business operations. And for what it’s worth, that’s my job, and I defer to people that know more than me. Yes, my job is to challenge, which I do. But I’m very much in charge of ‘who’s in charge,’ and then, frankly, understand the vision and the decision-making process. And that’s what I did.

Q: How do you stop yourself from maybe overstepping, where if you feel like the decision isn’t moving in the right direction, how do you have those conversations?

A: I’ve never overruled the front office. So I don’t know, my job isn’t to overrule. My job is to challenge. And to make sure you have people in charge that can make good decisions. And if you don’t think the good decisions are coming and happening consistently, you have to change senior management, which I did.

Q: How much of a voice does your son, Nick, have in some of the decision-making of the organization and running some of the basketball operations?

A: I fully acknowledge, for whatever it’s worth, that my son, who I’m so proud of doing a great job, has a voice in the organization. But by no means does he make any of these decisions. Again, when I don’t give an interview about what happened, it seems people create things, and I’m trying to put those to bed. So the simple answer is, Nick works in the organization, helps me in both the business and basketball operations, helps me understand the goings-on of the organization, if you will, helps me evaluate what we’re doing. But he sits in the same role (I do). He’s in ownership, but is full time to the organization. So the simple answer, is ‘No, he’s not in charge of any decision-making.’ Our GM and our assistant GM and our prior leadership was in charge, then our current leadership is in charge, now.

The idea of even responding to this for anyone that works here or knows, I don’t know who came up with that. It’s actually untrue. And a bit unfair, actually, to Nick and to me. You should accuse me, which by the way, I’m delighted with making bad decisions. And you have every right or every fan, certainly every writer, every member of the press, has every right to criticize the decisions. But please don’t suggest that I delegated any authority to anyone because it’s just not true. So yes, I decided that our front office wasn’t working well. So I changed it. And today, for what it’s worth, I couldn’t be more delighted. Our new front office felt that we should change and make a change in coaching for a whole bunch of reasons that I thought made perfect sense to me after hearing them. And for what it’s worth, we made that change as well. And we are as an organization, delighted with where we are for sure. So, that is exactly what occurred. And the front office, to me today, is beautifully positioned, and maybe as importantly, all rowing in the same direction, from ownership, to leadership, to coaching, to player. So, I feel like we’ve not had this level of communication throughout the organization in quite some time. I’m delighted.

Q: And when you look at (recently hired coach) Quin (Snyder), now coming in with what Landry and Kyle have brought to the table, I think the timeline shifts a little bit. How patient do you feel you can be with giving Quin some time put his vision into place?

A: So under the category of all of us evolve, and have to get smarter and better in whatever we do, I actually don’t have the impatience people seem to think. And why don’t I have the impatience? Yes, like every person in Atlanta, I want us to be a better team. Like every player on our team, I want us to be better. Everybody wants us to be better. But I actually believe that having a GM and assistant GM and a head coach, all of whom clearly, communicating beautifully, and rowing in a similar direction is enough for me, right now. And I really do believe it’s about building a long-term foundation with a team that is rowing in the same direction.

Q: When you talk about collaboration from the top down, what are you looking for Quin to execute and accomplish?

A: Again, well, I actually think you should be asking that question to Landry and to Kyle because they’re in charge of basketball ops. And to me what I wanted above all I now have, which is a great GM, a great assistant GM, a front office that’s collaborating, communicating, and the head coach that is communicating with the front office. So, obviously above all, what I’m looking for is a team that is going in the right direction. I actually believe we are right now.

Q: How do you look to avoid having a coaching change almost every 18 months or so, as you all have had as of late?

A: Well, I’m hoping that when you have a front office and the coaching staff that communicate beautifully with each other, add in their roster, that magnitude of change won’t happen, every 18 months, and if you’re pointing out that it shouldn’t happen to you every 18 months, I’d agree with you.

Q: When it comes to the idea of the luxury tax and the reported mandate that there may have been moves needed to be made to keep you guys under the luxury tax, where do you stand with that?

A: It’s a made-up comment. All right, so I want to be clear. We’ve said this, so many times, I’ll say it yet again, we have no fear of the luxury tax. We’re not worried about the luxury tax. We go in the luxury tax. Do I think it’s a good idea to be incredibly average (and) in the luxury tax? I’d rather not. I’d rather be contending in the luxury tax or being a great team in the luxury tax. But at the end of the day, I’ve never suggested a trade to get out of the luxury tax ever. Whoever said that will be giving you an untruth, directly, indirectly, intentionally, unintentionally. Never said it. Never will.