Q&A: Hawks’ Tony Ressler looking to avoid complacency on all fronts

Atlanta Hawks owner Tony Ressler is all smiles taking in the scene at State Farm Arena while his team prepares to play the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 3 of their NBA Eastern Conference semifinals series on Friday, June 11, 2021, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Curtis Compton/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Atlanta Hawks owner Tony Ressler is all smiles taking in the scene at State Farm Arena while his team prepares to play the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 3 of their NBA Eastern Conference semifinals series on Friday, June 11, 2021, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com

Hawks primary owner Tony Ressler stressed that the team is committed to improving every year regardless of the results in an exclusive interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Thursday. Here is a Q&A with the owner. Some of the questions and answers were edited for clarity and length.

Q: With where the franchise is now, did you ever anticipate that the turnaround would be as quick as it has been since the new regime has come in?

A: Yeah, I did kind of think we would have this turnaround. I’m not quite sure how quick it was. I’ll leave that to others. But I think this is my eighth season as owner or lead or whatever they call us and in the eight season, I’m really proud of where this franchise has come. I do think it took us a couple of years to understand what was needed and the magnitude of investment that was required, type of thing.

But I do think, generally speaking, and I’ve said this before, and I stand by it, when we first got here, we were like, ‘well, we got to make a lot of just the buildings better.’ It was like, forget how to run a better business. We thought we needed literally a practice facility, which we did not have. We needed a G League facility, which we did not have. We needed a G League team, which we did not have. And we, again, I want to be careful, but we needed an arena that was not ranked, I think, generally last. I don’t think I’m exaggerating. Then I would also say we needed to be more present in the community, whether it’s in for profit or not for profit activities. We had to be, frankly, more present, and more aggressive in trying to transform downtown Atlanta, we thought. And if you look at that list of five or six items that I just described, I think we’ve attempted to impact all six of them.

Q: What have you learned about the on court the process of building a really good basketball team?

A: Well, I think I learned that it requires a level of patience that I have not had in my life. Because if you move too quickly, you could actually make it worse, which I didn’t appreciate, if you tried to get too good too fast. So it’s as strange as that might seem, if you’re coming from a pretty young group of guys, and so I think patience. But I have learned over the past eight years of being an owner and I used to say, ‘I’m too green, you know, I’m learning as I go.’ I don’t have that excuse anymore. And I think now it’s, it’s about making good decisions. And I’d say most players that you run into, that really do expect to be in the league for a long period of time sort of have this, ‘I have to get better every year,’ whatever that means, sometimes they have specific (goals), but ‘I have to get better every year,’ which I love that comment because I say from a business perspective on the court, and off the court, I make the same exact argument, ‘we have to get better every year.’

Q: It’s still early, of course, but where can you point to as areas where you guys improved on the court?

A: We’re big believers that Dejounte (Murray) is a great addition. But, again, Onyeka Okongwu is a year older. Jalen Johnson is a year older. (We picked) AJ Griffin in the draft, Tyrese Martin in the draft. I’m just saying we’ve added Aaron and Justin Holiday, we think we’ve added a whole bunch of players that make us better, and that have gotten better year over year. Obviously, we have a starting five that, you know, I still say -- last night, I’m not saying was our best game -- but I would say last night at least, I think it reaffirmed I think we have four guys in our starting five that could give you 20 points any night. Now will it be every night? We’ll see. But they could give you 20 any night. And then we have a fifth guy that actually is a 12 (points) and 12, rebounding machine. So all I’m trying to highlight is that we think we’ve taken a step forward. We think we are a better team this year than last year. That’s something that is too early for us to prove to you. I can tell you that we as an organization thing we have gotten better. But you know, I hate to say it, you can’t bull(expletive) yourself. You know, the record speaks for itself. So, so far, after one game, we feel we’re (better), but you know, listen 20, 30, 40 games into the season, we’re gonna know and we think we’re better than we were last year.

Q: The addition of another All-Star certainly helps the on the court improvements. What would be the next step to continuing to raise the bar and getting better?

A: You’re so right. I don’t know how else to say it. But no matter how good a business you run, in professional sports, but certainly in the NBA, one thing I’ve learned in my seven or eight years, when you win more games, everyone’s happier. Your fans are happier. The food tastes better. The drinks are better. You get fewer complaints. You know, the traffic isn’t as bad on the way to the arena and it’s just when you’re winning, everyone is happier. And when you’re losing, everything is worse.

So yes, we have to stay focused on getting better on the court. We’re trying to make all those correct decisions. We’ll see. Let’s face it. We think the Dejounte is a great player in virtually every aspect of the game, but you know what? I can’t speak for others, but I haven’t seen a full season of Dejounte and Trae (Young) and De’Andre (Hunter) and John Collins, and Clint Capela, and (Bogdan Bodganovic), etc. But seeing those 5, 6, 7, 8 guys play together. haven’t seen it yet. So at least the starting five, last night, last time I checked, was the first time they actually played together in an NBA regular-season game. We saw some glimpses of it, frankly, in Abu Dhabi. But you know, last night was the first real game they’ve played. And I would say we had a lot to be excited about. But, but my view is, it takes a while. Let’s say ‘we have high expectations.’

Q: As far as Dejounte, how many conversations have you been able to have as far as what his mission is for helping you guys get back to a more successful path?

A: The good news about the Dejounte, (he) is a pretty remarkable young man who’s come a long way in his life. And I think it’s pretty clear that he is determined, to just to be a great player, but to be a great teammate, and actually to be a great person. What else could you ask for? So and I think he is made incredibly clear, as I hit both on and off the court, he intends to be all of the above and for what it’s worth, based on what I’ve seen, we’re pretty fortunate to have him here in Atlanta.

Q: In your eight years as an owner, have you seen a guy come into an organization and just kind of try to make his presence known right away?

A: Well, in his defense, he is, I think, kind of a natural leader, frankly, and happens to be a great player. So, maybe comes a little easier for him. But the truth is, we have some other great players. And I think he’s well aware, I think that makes it all the more exciting. And you know what, we kind of think we have some great players that should complement each other beautifully. And that’s what we’re going to find out. And let’s face it, we think our starting five has a whole lot of really good players. And it’s not like Trae is a surprise to anyone these days. We have some greatness on this team and Dejounte and Trae and look what De’Andre and John and Clint, they all bring something pretty special. So listen, I keep saying the same thing, of course. But until you see, right now, it just looks great. But I’m really excited to see and take a breath after the first 20 games and say, ‘what have we learned?’

Q: How do you temper expectations and not let yourself get too far ahead?

A: You know, everybody wants to win so badly in the NBA. So, I think you do have to (temper expectations), and I try not to get too high or too low. And yes, it would be pretty obvious for me to say that the Eastern Conference Finals run was as fun of an experience I’ve had as an owner, or as a human. But you know, that’s not your life every season. And one thing I’ve learned, which is something players are so good about, nobody’s more competitive than the NBA. So when guys say, “oh, I want to win so badly,’ every player wants to win so badly. They’re so competitive.

So at the end of the day, our job is just to put all the resources together so that we have the best chance of winning. So yeah, listen, we all want to win so badly. But we want to make sure we keep it in check and run a good business and do everything we can do to make hopefully lives a little bit better, for the team, for the franchise and the community.

Q: How do you see the Hawks’ season going, especially with the Eastern Conference has gotten so competitive?

A: I think we have about eight, nine, 10 really good teams. I don’t remember it this competitive, really good teams that are all easily playoff quality. And I think we’re in the mix, of course. But there’s a lot of good teams in the atlas. And it’s great for the NBA, it’s great for our fan base. But the good news is we are moving toward a deeper and more competitive league. Not exactly sure why, but but it’s happening. So I think the good news, at least as far as I’m concerned, is we have a really competitive conference and league, and we’re right in the mix.

Q: Shifting back to your team a little bit, De’Andre Hunter just got his rookie extension. Why was it important for you guys to keep him aboard and part of the future plans that you guys have?

A: Listen, De’Andre has done everything well. He’s had some bad luck in my first three seasons, health wise, whatnot, injury wise, but you know what, he’s a kid that can do everything. And he’s a great kid, he’s a great player, wants to get better. And for whatever it’s worth, we believe he’s getting better, continuing to get better and off a pretty high bar. So that’s a kid that you’re thrilled to have here. I actually think he complements the rest of our guys beautifully.