Danny Ferry was happy working as a basketball executive for the San Antonio Spurs, a model NBA franchise revered for its stability, player development and championship aspirations.
He was recruited to come to work for the Hawks, whose owners once sued a former partner, had a sale of the team fall through last summer and whose core group of players has tried in vain for years to make it to the Eastern Conference finals. Not an easy sales job.
"We had hurdles to overcome to get Danny to come here," Hawks co-owner Bruce Levenson said. "Not just because of some of the missteps that we've made but also because he and his family were in a great position in San Antonio."
It took several conversations over the past three months, but Levenson convinced Ferry that the Hawks are ready to be more like the Spurs.
The Hawks introduced Ferry as the team's general manager and president of basketball operations Monday. Ferry signed a six-year contract to succeed Rick Sund, who will remain with the organization for at least the next month to help with the transition.
Ferry was San Antonio's vice president of basketball operations since 2010, following a five-year stint as Cavaliers general manager. Before he agreed to head Atlanta's staff, Ferry questioned Levenson about the the franchise's negative headlines over the years.
"This organization, Rick has done a good job [but] it's had its challenges to deal with: the lawsuit, the sale," Ferry said.
Chief among Ferry's concerns was the team's ownership status. The league nixed the Hawks' sale last year after it determined the perspective buyer, Alex Meruelo, did not have the cash flow to cover operating losses.
Levenson said neither he nor his partners were currently looking to sell.
"Bruce has made me comfortable that he's in this for the long haul," Ferry said.
Levenson said Ferry also questioned him about the franchise's commitment to create an "enduring championship organization." Ferry said he was struck by Levenson's "real sense of humility" in discussing the franchise's past issues, especially because the Hawks have been a winning organization.
"That was a really healthy conversation because it was an outsiders' perspective asking about everything from the lawsuit to the failed sale," Levenson said. "It was a time, for me, for reflection. It really was."
Now Ferry and the Hawks will look to the future. Ferry's most immediate task is Thursday's draft, in which the Hawks own the No. 23 and No. 43 picks.
It marks the first time Ferry will be in the top decision-making role since he left Cleveland following the 2009-10 season.
In Cleveland, Ferry was charged with building around LeBron James, who won two league MVP awards during that time. The Cavaliers twice posted the best record in the league but lost to San Antonio in the 2007 finals and never made it back.
The challenge will be far different for Ferry with the Hawks, who don't have an MVP candidate in spite of a big payroll. But Levenson said Ferry didn't discuss such short-term issues before taking the job and instead is focused on developing the franchise's future.
"It's not something that's going to be built over the first week, it's not something that's going to be six months or even the first year," Ferry said. "Hopefully over time you will see that we've built a program that's really well run, well organized and prepared to make the best decisions we can make."
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