Former Atlanta Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer waves to players and fans as he returns as the Milwaukee Bucks head coach during the first half in a NBA basketball game at State Farm Arena on Sunday, Jan. 13, 2019, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton

Budenholzer says no frustation, regrets about how Hawks tenure ended

Mike Budenholzer says he understands the narrative.

The perception, public and within the organization, that the head coach left the Hawks because he was frustrated with the now rebuilding organization. Just three seasons removed from directing a veteran-laden team to 60 wins and the Eastern Conference finals, the Hawks went 24-58 last season.

Within days of the end of the regular season, Budenholzer was officially talking to other teams, despite two years and $14 million remaining on his contract with the Hawks. The 2017-18 season was also difficult after owner Tony Ressler made several changes to the structure of the organization that included the loss of the title of President of Basketball Operations for Budenholzer.

There were talks with the Suns and Knicks before Budenholzer landed a coveted position with the Bucks.

Budenholzer returned to Atlanta for an NBA game on Sunday for the first time since his departure. He insisted that he looks back fondly on his time in Atlanta with each question pressing him about his departure.

“I appreciate the question and I’m sure that’s the narrative but I think, you guys were around every day, coaching the team and the group, I think there was a lot of growth individually,” Budenholzer said before the game. “Not winning and those types of things are difficult. There is no doubt. You can’t say they are not. But there were a lot of positives from last year. I don’t considering it frustrating or anything like that. Things happen. Things change. It’s part of life.”

Budenholzer added that he was not disappointed with the way his five-year tenure in Atlanta abruptly ended.

“I look back with a ton of positive memories, so many great relationships,” Budenholzer said. “To be a first-time head coach and to go through that growth. There are so many positive feelings I have. Change and moving is a part of life. I really don’t have anything negative or disappointing. It was a hell of a five years. I’m very, very appreciative of it.”

The Hawks also quickly moved on from Budenholzer. The organization hired Lloyd Pierce, like Budenholzer a former assistant becoming a first-time head coach. General manager Travis Schlenk, who worked one season with Budenholzer, has committed to the rebuild with young, developing players and future draft picks.

Budenholzer deflecting the notion that he was not the right coach for a rebuilding team.

“He’s doing a lot to make this organization great,” Budenholzer said of Ressler. “It’s a tough job to be the owner in a rebuild, to be the GM, to be the coach. These are tough jobs. I don’t know who the right coach is. I think they feel great about where they are and that’s important to them.”

A two-night stay in Atlanta enabled Budenholzer to sleep at the home he still has in the city. Hours before the game, he had yet to look at the final renovations of the now State Farm Arena and said he would feel right at home sitting on the same spot courtside after the benches were switched in the revamped building.

Taking control of an organization with budding superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo, Budenholzer has the Bucks off to a 29-12 record, second best in the NBA. One of those wins came earlier this month when the Bucks drubbed the Hawks, 144-127, in Milwaukee.

The Hawks honored previous Coaches of the Year on Sunday as part of their 50 Years in Atlanta series. That would include Lenny Wilkens, Mike Fratello, Hubie Brown and Budenholzer. The crowd reacting with a warm but quiet reception when Budenholzer was introduced before the game.

“Atlanta feels like they are in a good place,” Budenholzer said. “They have their direction. They know where they are going. I’m certainly very happy with the organization, with our front office, with our roster. Milwaukee is in a great place. I’m very much focused where I am.”

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