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NBA AM: Change Ahead For The Hawks?

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Change Ahead For The Hawks?

Yesterday a flurry of stories hit the web that suggested that the Atlanta Hawks were parting ways with general Manager Wes Wilcox and that current team president and head coach Mike Budenholzer was likely relinquishing his role as team president.

No sooner than those stories dropped did the Hawks put out a statement denying either situation had been resolved, but admitted the team was evaluating things and nothing had been decided at this point.

“Hawks leadership is undergoing a period of evaluation and looking at how basketball operations works best,” the statement read. “There are no changes to report at this time and any reports indicating otherwise are inaccurate.”

If you recall back in late March, in this space, we covered a number of front office situations that seemed to be headed towards a change, and the Hawks were one of the ones listed.

The narrative surrounding the Hawks has several wrinkles, the biggest being that ownership, who has now been on the job for just over two years, feels the need for a more traditional front office dynamic. Part of that is recognizing how tough it is to be team president and head coach but also how important strong leadership at the top is to team success.

That’s not to say that anyone feels the Hawks current leadership is weak, it’s realizing there could be more added to a pretty respectable team.

The belief this week is that the Hawks would like to keep Wilcox in the fold and have him play a role going forward. The question becomes whether Wilcox, who is a solid NBA executive, wants to take what would ultimately be a demotion.

For Budenholzer, carrying both roles has been taxing and league sources say he seems like he’d like to give up the responsibility and focus solely on coaching, as the dual role creates some internal conflicts that make the coaching job harder. Add to it that majority owner Tony Ressler and partner Grant Hill are taking on an increasingly larger role with a louder voice in the operational side of things.

Compensation plays a role in everything at this level, so that is a factor.

The Hawks seem to have been heading towards this kind of change for several months, so its shouldn’t be overly shocking, as this is usually how things play out for teams with new ownership groups that take time to find the right leadership mix.

The Hawks face another tough offseason, with All-Star Paul Millsap headed towards free agency. Ressler told reporters during the playoffs that retaining Millsap was critical going forward.

“We love Paul. We are going to try our best to sign Paul. I promise you that,” Ressler said to Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal Constitution.  “If we lose Paul, which we desperately don’t want to do, we move on. We pull up our plan and we move on.

“But the goal is not to lose Paul. Paul is exactly the kind of player I love on the Atlanta Hawks. I don’t know how else to say it. I’ve said it to Paul. I’ve said it to you. I’ve said it to whoever has one ear, let alone two ears. Paul Millsap is a great guy, on the court and off the court. The NBA is a complicated place. The range of income for these players and the number of year that they have to maximize their income makes it a complicated business model.”

Millsap is eligible for what could be a five-year $207 million max deal. If Millsap leaves the Hawks, the best he could hope for is a four-year deal worth around $154 million.

The Hawks don’t have to offer Millsap the full amount, they could offer something north of what other teams could offer but less than max, but that’s a dangerous game of poker for a team that lost Al Horford to free agency last summer, not playing its cards right as free agency opened.

Ressler and company paid a reported $850 million for the Hawks and have big plans for the downtown Atlanta area, so keeping the Hawks competitive and a draw for fans is critical to that goal, which is also likely driving the desire to make some changes to leadership.

As the Hawks said yesterday, nothing has been decided, however it does look as though change is coming.

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About Steve Kyler

Steve Kyler

Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.