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DirtybyrdGA

Hawks October game thread

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On 10/22/2018 at 11:52 AM, oztin said:

Good article on the owner

 

Schultz: Tony Ressler has learned from mistakes, says he was ‘schmuck in the room’ for two years

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By Jeff Schultz 2h agocomment-icon@2x.png save-icon@2x.png

It’s not uncommon for someone to accrue millions or billions of dollars in the business world, decide to purchase a pro sports franchise as a sort of fun diversion, then fail spectacularly, like a Lego champion who expected to seamlessly blend into an aerospace laboratory.

Owning a sports team doesn’t require any unique brilliance, but having expertise in real estate, retail or operating private equity firms means bupkis in the world of bats, balls and, “What? You signed Dwight Howard?”

Which brings me to Hawks owner Tony Ressler. If there is one reason to feel good about the franchise’s future, it’s him. That’s bound to get lost at some point because the Hawks finished 24-58 last season and are not expected to be any good this season (notwithstanding their win Sunday in Cleveland). Ressler has significantly moved the franchise forward in several ways the past year, and equally important, he acknowledges his early missteps put the franchise in a dreadful hole.

“Let’s cut the ******** — I didn’t know what I was doing,” Ressler said. “I can blame someone else, I can blame you, I can blame my wife. But there was only one schmuck in the room, and that was me.”

Ressler purchased the Hawks in April of 2015, as a 60-win Atlanta team was beginning the playoffs. Former general manager Danny Ferry was in purgatory at the time, and the basketball operations were being run by Mike Budenholzer, the NBA’s coach of the year, and assistant general manager Wes Wilcox. Ressler did the easy and seemingly most logical thing after the playoffs: He cut ties with the polarizing Ferry, promoted Budenholzer to team president and elevated Wilcox.

Boom goes the dynamite.

“It was a recipe for disaster,” he said. “Total dysfunction.”

Budenholzer and Wilcox constantly disagreed on direction and personnel decisions. They signed Dwight Howard. They let Al Horford walk. Budenholzer was determined to try to win today but was totally lost as a big picture guy. Wilcox had player personnel skills but lacked the temperament to lead people. The Hawks went from reaching the Eastern Conference Finals to exiting the playoffs in the second round a year later, then the first round a year after that.

Ressler correctly decided to remove Budenholzer as team president in 2017 and hired general manager Travis Schlenk. Budenholzer convinced Ressler, and maybe himself, that he would be satisfied to be just a coach again. He lied to both Ressler and himself. Budenholzer asked out after the season, then said no to a job in Phoenix that he was offered.

Ressler and Schlenk fumed as the saga played out publicly while the Hawks were trying to acquire trade compensation for their lame duck coach. Budenholzer eventually went to Milwaukee for nothing. The Hawks signed former Philadelphia assistant Lloyd Pierce as their new coach. But last year was a wasted year in the rebuild from a developmental standpoint, and that’s on Budenholzer.

Ressler said he wasn’t surprised by Budeholzer’s decision at the end, nor will he speculate as to his state of mind during the season.

“Bud was not the right coach for us,” he said. “He was desperate to coach a superstar. I don’t know where Bud’s head was; you’ll have to ask him. But I do think when some people have a very short life as the decision-maker, and they no longer have it, sometimes they miss it. I know this: Getting a Lloyd Pierce, a coach with his attributes who works hard and wants to help young guys get better, is exactly what I wanted and exactly what Travis wanted.”

Ressler hasn’t done many interviews. He never had to in private business. But he has come to understand the sports world is different, and he believes at some level one can’t move forward without acknowledging lessons learned from the past.

“For two years, I was a deer in the headlights,” he said. “It’s like the story of a poker game when you’re looking around, and you wonder who the fish is. If you don’t know the answer, it’s probably you. I don’t want to blame somebody else because I was the schmuck ,and I didn’t have to do it. I realized the mistake the minute after I did it.”

I will go easier on Ressler than he will on himself. He was in charge, but he trusted the people he put in place. True bad sports ownership isn’t when someone is trying to compete and do the right thing. Bad sports ownership is when winning isn’t the priority but stock price is, when someone would rather satisfy their own ego than accept input from those with actual knowledge in the sport.

We’ve seen bad ownership in Atlanta. It’s not Tony Ressler.

He pushed for a long-overdue practice facility and got it built. He purchased a developmental G-League franchise. Most recently, he spearheaded a $200 million makeover of the arena formerly known as Philips (now State Farm). The Hawks now have arguably the NBA’s nicest venue, complete with expanded and open concourses that one can actually walk around now, multiple viewing areas, a massive new scoreboard and video boards, three private clubs, attractive redesigned suites, two corner suites with golf simulators (why not?) and a barber shop (OK, a bit much).

These are not small achievements. The arena makeover includes $142.5 million in public money, and we can debate whether tax dollars ever should fund a sport’s team stadium or arena without taxpayer approval. But the Hawks actually stayed in their own building, unlike the Braves or Falcons, and received far less help than either of the other two franchises.

His next quest is to get the public and city officials to invest in a $1.75 billion development of, “The Gulch,” the downtown eyesore that sits adjacent to the arena.

He calls the sunken area, “a useless hole in the ground, unless you’re a train.”

But Ressler has fixed what he can for now. There is peace in basketball ops, and he’s staying out of the way. He also scoffs at rumors that he was the reason the Hawks traded the third overall draft pick, Luka Doncic, to Dallas, for fifth pick Trae Young and the Mavericks’ first-rounder next year. The rumor goes that Ressler believed Young would be easier to market to fans.

But Ressler said the trade only happened because “basketball operations feels like they have a kid who’s going to be really good with a really high ceiling, and we got a great first-round pick next year. If the rumor is that I picked Trae over Doncic because of marketing, it’s the dumbest ******* thing I can imagine. It’s fundamentally untrue.”

The Hawks (1-2) won Sunday night in Cleveland. Young led them with 35 points and 11 assists. So, yeah.

This won’t be a beautiful season. Many project the team to finish with the NBA’s worst record. It is the ultimate long shot. So I posed a question to Ressler: If I had $10 to burn, should I buy lottery tickets or put it on the Hawks to win the title in Las Vegas.

Ressler hesitated before answering: “Hmm. I think I would buy two beers here on opening night, because we have $5 beers now, and I would say you’re spending your money more effectively. But if you have a few years in that bet, I would take the Hawks.”

(Photo of Tony Ressler: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Why did Phillips already need an upgrade?

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