Budenholzer’s sudden departure a surprise to Hawks players

Former Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer confers with Kent Bazemore during a time out against the Cavaliers in a NBA basketball game on Thursday, November 30, 2017, in Atlanta.  Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
Former Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer confers with Kent Bazemore during a time out against the Cavaliers in a NBA basketball game on Thursday, November 30, 2017, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: ccompton@ajc.com

Several Hawks players said they did not feel abandoned by Mike Budenholzer following his sudden departure from the organization. However, they admitted to being surprised and felt that the process of rebuilding a roster may not have suited their former head coach.

Four current Hawks players – Kent Bazemore, Mike Muscala, DeAndre Bembry and Isaiah Taylor – attended the introductory press conference for Lloyd Pierce on Monday after he was named the 13th full-time head coach of the Atlanta franchise. Pierce replaces Budenholzer after he and the Hawks agreed to part ways last month despite two years remaining on the contract of the former NBA coach of the year. Budenholzer received permission and interviewed for several head coach positions just days after the end of the season where a stripped down Hawks roster won 24 games. Budenholzer did not get jobs with the Suns and Knicks but remains a candidate with the Raptors and Bucks.

“I take it a day at a time,” Bazemore said. “I never really thought of him leaving. I think I said at my exit interview, I figured he was here for the long haul. Things happen. Coach Bud has a good heart, a great heart. He did what’s best for him. You can’t knock a man for that. You can’t get upset. He will go somewhere and put his imprint on that franchise. He was coach of the year a couple years ago. The man knows his X’s and O’s. Won a lot in San Antonio. Last year was probably as hard on him as anyone else. For him to get out, he probably feels great about it and, like I said, I’m happy for him.”

Bazemore said he attended the Pierce introduction to show his support for the new head coach – one leader to another – and as a sign that he had the back of the coach. 76ers player Robert Covington also attended the press conference, as Pierce arrived following five years as an assistant in Philadelphia. Covington praised the player development work of Pierce and credited him with his growth.

“This is my sixth year in,” Bazemore said of the new situation he and the organization find themselves in. “I kind of understand what goes on. You get a lot of vets when you first come in who explain all this to you, give you a heads up on what the deal is. I’m happy for coach Bud. It took a lot of courage to leave. Any time you can make that kind of decision in your life for the better, I’m happy for him.”

Several other Hawks players and members of the organization have declined to speak on the record since Budenholzer’s departure.

Winning – or the lack thereof – appears to be at least one of the issues that prompted Budenholzer to want out of the organization just three seasons after 60 wins and a trip to the Eastern Conference finals. Nearly all the players from that successful team – including every starter – are gone.

“I think it was a big surprise but I think Bud had a hell of a run while he was here,” Bembry said. “Whenever I saw Bud as a coach, I always saw him in the playoffs. He’s always done his job. When I heard it, I was surprised. But also there is a vision that (general manager) Travis (Schlenk) has and Travis has been through. Wish Bud the best of luck but it’s a process.

“Bud is used to (winning). I believe he should end up on another team and will handle it the right way. I think this is a good move for us. A lot of young guys on the team, a young coach. A lot in common. It’s a good pickup.”