Hawks’ new ownership spending with aim of championship results

The Atlanta Hawks principal owner Tony Ressler has orchestrated several major improvements in his 17 months. (File photo)
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The Atlanta Hawks principal owner Tony Ressler has orchestrated several major improvements in his 17 months. (File photo)

For all the Hawks recent playoff appearances — the Eastern Conference’s longest streak at nine straight seasons — it was simply not good enough.

No championships.

Getting to the postseason was one thing. Building a first-class organization capable of consistently competing for that elusive NBA title? That was the goal when the ownership group led by Tony Ressler purchased the Hawks 17 months ago.

Ownership and management have put together an impressive list of franchise and facility improvements in the relatively short period of time since taking control after controversy engulfed the organization.

Since purchasing the Hawks from the group formerly known as the Atlanta Spirit in June 2015, millions of dollars have been committed, including some public money, to infuse the franchise with what many deemed to be necessary to compete at the NBA’s highest level.

The Hawks, in partnership with Emory Healthcare, have begun construction on a $50 million practice facility that will open in October. The Hawks will move from a more modest training area in Philips Arena into a state-of-the-art facility that will be all they hoped for in the way of practice, training, player development and health care.

Earlier this month, the Hawks and the City of Atlanta reached an agreement on $192.5 million worth of renovations to Philips Arena with a lease to remain in place until 2046. Atlanta will provide $142.5 million and the Hawks will provide the remaining $50 million for upgrades to the arena, including reconfiguring suites and concourses.

Last week, the Hawks partnered with the City of College Park for a new NBA Development League franchise. The Hawks will own and operate the team and College Park will build a 3,500-seat arena.

“They’ve been amazing,” guard Kyle Korver said of the new ownership group. “What do you want from an ownership group? You want them to put together a solid culture, starting with the people they hire at the top. You want them to be willing to put forward the money to put together a good team. Build a new practice facility. Have a great arena for the city. A D-League team now. They have done, literally, everything that you would ever hope that an ownership group would do. They’ve done it also at this unbelievable first-class level.

“They are incredible people. They are really kind. They are really involved but in a good way. Some owners are really involved but it feels heavy. It’s like a heavy involvement where you feel the weight and the pressure of them. They are here to help us in every way they can.”

There will be more. According to several people in the organization, additional initiatives are to come. Improvements to the area surrounding Philips Arena will likely be one of those announcements. Ressler has said repeatedly he wants to do something dramatic to the area, something befitting Atlanta.

“It’s an extraordinary city,” Ressler told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution earlier this year. “… This is far too extraordinary a city to have a downtown that isn’t much more vibrant. Our hope, our objective and certainly the vision that we hope to bring is how do we be a meaningful participant in moving that forward, really transforming what this downtown area could and should be.”

Hawks president of basketball operations and head coach Mike Budenholzer called the improvements critical. The Hawks spent several million dollars last year to update some of Philips Arena, including remaking the weight room, training rooms, player’s lounge and basketball operations offices.

“I feel like I’ve been saying how excited we are about a lot of things the last couple weeks, months,” Budenholzer said. “I continue to say how excited I am and I genuinely mean it. It’s kind of mind-boggling for us who have been here for three or four years and making these things a priority.”

Make no mistake. The goal of all this investment is sustained winning with championship-caliber teams. Co-owner and vice chair of the board Grant Hill reiterated last week the importance of giving the franchise, both on and off the court, every resource possible.

Those in the organization have taken notice of the commitment. The Ressler-led group is spending money.

The previous ownership group, led by Bruce Levenson, had promised a new practice facility to then-general manager Danny Ferry. It never came. In fact, Ferry’s settlement with the team included a substantial award because the promise was never delivered.

“I think the ownership group before, they were all kind and really great to us too,” Korver said. “But I think there were a lot of voices and it was hard to get things done. I think the Resslers, they see what they need to do. Tony is obviously an incredible businessman, knows what works and how to make things work. He’s led the way. It’s been awesome.”

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