Budenholzer putting own stamp on Hawks, no more Spurs East (updated)

You can stop calling the Hawks “San Antonio East.”

Mike Budenholzer is entering his third season as head coach, having added the title of president of basketball operations this summer. He has put his own stamp on the franchise and its style of play. Who is to argue with a 60-win regular season?

Budenholzer recently got a ringing endorsement from Gregg Popovich, his mentor and the man he worked for as an assistant in San Antonio for 19 seasons before coming to Atlanta.

“He is going to do what he thinks is best,” Popovich said last week when the Spurs were in town for an exhibition. “He’s not going to skip steps. He’s going to do exactly what he did last year and the year before. He’s going to teach, set standards, make people accountable and have another heck of a season.”

The Hawks defeated the Spurs 100-86 on Wednesday, giving Budenholzer is first victory over Popovich. The Hawks were previously 0-4 in regular-season and 0-1 in preseason matchups against the Spurs the past two seasons.

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The Hawks dropped their first exhibition game of the preseason with a 101-92 loss to the Heat Sunday night at Philips Arena. The Hawks are now 4-1 with two exhibition games remaining. Mike Scott led the Hawks with 19 points and eight rebounds. Kyle Korver had 10 points, all in the first quarter. Gerald Green led the Heat with 19 points.

“Bud learned from me,” Popovich said. “I learned as much from Bud as he learned from me. We agree on a lot of things but there are some other things we’ve argued about over the years. He’s going to do it his way. His system will be the Hawks’ system. It’s not the Spurs.”

Arguments? Oh, yes, there were many. It was all part of the system in San Antonio, where the sharing of thoughts and ideas, even if they clashed, is encouraged. It’s hard to find fault with five championships.

That’s the journey Budenholzer and the Hawks began two years ago. They took a major step last season — maybe bigger than even they expected — when they advanced to the Eastern Conference finals for the first time in Atlanta history and set many franchise records along the way.

“One of the great things about working for Pop, not just me but everybody, is he wants you to give your opinions,” Budenholzer said. “He almost wants you to disagree with him. It’s part of the whole process. I participated and engaged well.”

Budenholzer said the systems employed by the Hawks and Spurs may be similar but the personnel is different. He cited the ability of his big men to shoot 3-pointers last season. That’s not the case this season with the addition of Tiago Splitter, also a former Spur. So the coach will change accordingly.

The Spurs do have the likes of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginoboli, Kawhi Leonard and now LaMarcus Aldridge. That certainly helps. The Hawks’ magic of last season helped them land four All-Stars of their own in Al Horford, Paul Millsap, Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver.

“Any NBA coach, you just try to figure out what is best for your group,” Budenholzer said.

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