Tony Ressler doesn’t foresee changes to the Hawks’ front office despite a win total that has decreased in each of the two seasons that he has owned the team and set up the current hierarchy. He likes how the team is positioned and its future despite his frustration with the regression.
The Hawks principal owner spoke to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Friday about a number of issues facing the team and his ownership group. He addressed the structure of the basketball operations department with Mike Budenholzer as head coach and president and Wes Wilcox as general manager. The Hawks were coming off a 60-win season and a trip to the Eastern Conference finals when the Ressler reached agreement to purchase the team April 22, 2015. The Hawks have won 48 and 43 regular-season games the past two seasons.
“I don’t think so,” Ressler said when asked if he plans to make changes. “I love Bud and Wes. I love the intellect, the competence and the commitment to win of both Bud and Wes. … This is the NBA, and I’m trying to be as thoughtful about this as possible. I want to win very badly. I want to win a championship very badly. … I think Bud and Wes can actually do what I’m looking to do, can achieve the greatness I’m looking to achieve at this franchise.”
Ressler spoke in length about the franchise’s decision-making process with an environment that seeks input from Budenholzer, Wilcox, members of the basketball operations and coaching staff and other team owners. He said he leans most on Budenholzer and the championship pedigree groomed after 19 years in the Spurs organization. However, there is a continued spirit of cooperation and the sharing of ideas on every decision, both on the basketball and business sides of the franchise. He said Budenholzer and Wilcox complement each other in their areas of expertise.
But make no mistake, Ressler makes the final decisions.
“To me, the loudest voice has been earned by his 20-plus years of experience in the NBA,” Ressler said of Budenholzer. “At Ares Management, I think I have the loudest voice and if you think I have the final decision on a business that manages $100 billion of assets for institutional investors, you couldn’t be more wrong. I don’t have the final decision on anything. But please hear me, the way we are trying to manage the Atlanta Hawks is I have Bud, I have Wes and they do look at the world differently, which I love.
“But the president of basketball operations is what I say it is, not what you say it is. It has the loudest voice, not the final word. There’s a dramatic difference.”
Ressler said he understands and agrees with the adage that coaches want to win now and general managers want to win in the future. He disagrees with the notion that Budenholzer is conflicted by the end games of the two positions because of the organization’s structure.
“That’s not true,” Ressler said of Budenholzer having the last word. “I make the final decision, with all due respect. Just so you know, Bud is incredibly inclusive. Wes’ view, (senior advisor and former general manager) Rick Sund’s view, (assistant general manager) Jeff Peterson’s view. I’m in the decision-making business in my other job. It’s what I do for a living. If you think Bud makes a final decision on everything that we do, you don’t understand the way the Atlanta Hawks are run.
“Bud is a fantastic coach, a fantastic basketball mind, has a perspective that we cherish and respect and consider critically important. There should be no confusion.
The Hawks have one starter, Paul Millsap, and four other players remaining from the 60-win season. Ressler said personnel decisions have been made with the goals of trying to get better and younger while continuing the run of 10 consecutive postseason appearances. There will be no complete tear down. The current roster has a mix of young and veteran players and there are a number of upcoming draft picks that can be used in several ways to improve going forward.
“Yes, despite those 10 straight playoff appearances, I’m frustrated as hell,” Ressler said. “I want to be better. I think we understand this team has been here for 50 years and hasn’t won a championship. I saw that coming in. But we have, and something I do believe we should be proud of, 10 picks in the next three years. We have, I would argue, a really good young core of players. … I think we have a good group of vets …
“But we also acknowledge, at least I would argue, that we need to get better, we need to be positioning for a championship because after 50 years of not winning a championship, I get what the priorities have to be.”
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