Evaluating Danny Ferry’s Work In Atlanta
In a move expected for months, the Atlanta Hawks and former president of basketball operations Danny Ferry have officially parted ways. Ferry, if you recall, ignited a furor last summer when it was revealed he made racially insensitive remarks about then free agent and former All-Star Luol Deng during a staff meeting.
While a debate naturally occurred after Ferry’s remarks came to light, the death blow to his tenure at the helm of the franchise was undoubtedly delivered as soon as the misguided words arose from his tongue.
In a city with a population that is roughly 50 percent African American, Atlanta has surprisingly struggled to lure marquee free agents to the city. Ferry’s ill-timed words didn’t start the trend of neglect from the league’s biggest stars, but his seemingly racial indifference didn’t help the issue.
All-Star forward Carmelo Anthony, a free agent last summer, basically confirmed this sentiment before the start of last season.
“[There] ain’t nobody [who] would want to go there,” Anthony told Tim Bontemps of the New York Post before the start of last season. “At the end of the day, Atlanta … I think it puts Atlanta back even further now, from that standpoint.”
While Anthony praised the city of Atlanta, the message was clear that Ferry’s words wouldn’t be taken lightly by fellow players looking for a new destination to lace up their high tops and call home.
“Atlanta is a great city, a great market, great people, great atmosphere,” Anthony said. “But as far as the comments were made, I think it was uncalled for. From an owner, from a GM, those are not things you play with.
“As a player, as an athlete, we’re looking for a job, we’re trying to find a place where we can move our family, we can make our family comfortable, where we can be comfortable in a comfortable environment, but those comments right there, we would never look at. I’m speaking on behalf of all athletes. We would never look at a situation like that, I don’t care what it is.”
While the law firm of Alston & Bird says it “did not find evidence” that Ferry “was motivated by racial, ethnic or country of origin bias or animus,” the damage to his credibility, at least in Atlanta, was done.
Alston & Bird’s findings were consistent with the message ESPN analyst Jay Bilas, a former teammate and longtime friend of Ferry, told Basketball Insiders last September.
“I have known Danny Ferry for 30 years,” Bilas told Basketball Insiders. “He is and always has been a great teammate and friend. I have always known him to be a man of great character and integrity and, knowing him as I do, I don’t doubt his character or integrity for one second.”
According to multiple reports, head coach Mike Budenholzer will be promoted to president of basketball operations – having the final say in roster moves. Meanwhile, longtime assistant general manager Wes Wilcox is expected to take over the general manager role.
While the debate can go on forever on Ferry’s true beliefs off the court, the one area that isn’t nearly as debatable is the former executive’s impact on Hawks’ on-court product.
The Hawks rollicked to 60 victories this past season, the Eastern Conference’s best regular season record and capped it off with an Eastern Conference Finals appearance.
The team had four All-Stars (Jeff Teague, Al Horford, Kyle Korver and Paul Millsap) and the latter two were Ferry acquisitions. They also had the NBA’s Coach of the Year in Budenholzer, who was hired by Ferry.
Besides acquiring Korver for “cash considerations” from Chicago and signing Millsap to a bargain two-year, $19 million deal, Ferry also signed emerging forward DeMarre Carroll to a two-year, $5 million deal – which easily became one of the best bargains in the league. Millsap eyes free agency this summer in hopes of landing a near-max deal and Carroll is up for a significant raise come July.
Ferry also sat patiently and allowed the market to set the free agency price tag for All-Star guard Teague in 2013. Ferry ultimately re-signed Teague to a four-year, $32 million deal, a bargain of sorts that increased the team’s financial flexibility under the salary cap.
But perhaps the biggest accomplishment of Ferry’s tenure was moving the contract of guard Joe Johnson off the books, along with former No. 2 overall pick Marvin Williams. Those two deals saved the Hawks roughly $90 million in committed dollars at the time – paving the way for some of the aforementioned moves – and kept the team in the hunt for marquee free agents the past two summers.
Sure, there were first-round draft misses on guard John Jenkins and forward Adreian Payne under Ferry. And a draft day deal involving Lucas Nogueira didn’t pan out (although the club also acquired Mike Muscala in the same trade).
But for the most part, Ferry’s strategy of keeping the Hawks fiscally prepared to land a marquee free agent each summer, bargain basement hunting for unheralded gems and quality staff hires were strong drivers in putting the Hawks where they are today.
The Hawks seamlessly moved out of the Johnson, Williams, Josh Smith and Larry Drew era, with the slightest speed bump experienced by fans of the franchise.
Ferry was a veteran executive who had an up and down tenure with the Cleveland Cavaliers as the head guy, then went back to San Antonio in a support role to hone his craft. In Atlanta, Ferry was largely successful running the show during his tenure and is a big reason why the Hawks’ current postseason streak currently stands at eight.
The franchise now embarks down the road of the unknown with Budenholzer making the final roster decisions. Budenholzer is an excellent coach, but it is a legitimate question to ponder if his knack for coaching guys up on the sideline will transition as effectively into the executive chair.
The city will undoubtedly miss the presence of Ferry as it relates to the franchise that once flew under the radar. But how long they miss his presence will ultimately be decided by Budenholzer and Wilcox’s adjustment to the hot seat.
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