Danny Ferry speaks at a press conference Monday after being named the Hawks’ new president of basketball operations and GM.
ATLANTA — Atlanta Hawks co-owner Bruce Levenson says he had “dozens” of conversations with Danny Ferry over three months as the two discussed what it would take for Ferry to leave the San Antonio Spurs.
Levenson’s persistence paid off Monday as Ferry was introduced as the Hawks’ president of basketball operations and general manager.
Levenson said Ferry, 45, was the only candidate he interviewed after Rick Sund, who had been general manager for four years, suggested three months ago it was time to look for new long-term leadership for the team.
“The next morning I called the San Antonio Spurs and asked permission to talk to Danny,” Levenson said, adding Ferry was the only candidate he interviewed.
Ferry comes to the Hawks after two years as vice president of basketball operations for the Spurs. As general manager for the Cleveland Cavaliers from 2005-2010, Ferry helped build a team that advanced to the 2007 NBA Finals.
“I was not looking to leave San Antonio,” Ferry said. “I was very happy there. … Obviously it’s a wonderful place to work. But getting to know Bruce over the past several weeks really made me think and challenge myself. Was this the right time and the right thing for me to do?”
Ferry, who agreed to a six-year contract, sought assurances from Levenson about the ownership’s commitment to the Hawks. Levenson and Michael Gearon Jr. are the majority owners of the group which last year failed in its attempt to sell the team to California developer and pizza chain owner Alex Meruelo.
“My discussions have been more about building an organization and how it’s going to happen and feeling comfortable with the commitment level that Bruce Levenson has in doing so,” Ferry said. “Once I got comfortable with that, I’m ready to go and let’s start digging into the roster.”
Levenson said he may add an investor but said they’re not selling.
“We’re very much in control of the team and we’ll be in control of the team for a long, long time,” he said.
Ferry said he wants the Hawks “to have a value-based identity with good guys who play hard, who play together and share the ball that can be professional on the court.”
Just like the Spurs.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said Ferry’s decision to move to Atlanta should be a positive sign for Hawks fans frustrated by the team’s inability to reach the conference finals.
The Hawks lost to Boston in the first round of this year’s playoffs after making it to the second round three straight years.
“When they see it’s Danny Ferry coming there with his five kids to settle down and make this thing go, he wouldn’t be doing that if he didn’t feel there was a commitment from ownership to do this the right way,” Popovich said in a telephone interview.
“You can bet it’s a serious move and it does signal a real desire to get this thing done. I think the fans can feel real good about that.”
Sund has agreed to work with Ferry in an informal advisory role for at least two months, including in this week’s NBA draft. Levenson said Sund, 61, would have remained as general manager for another year if Ferry had not accepted the job.
“Rick has been beyond fantastic throughout this whole process and I have been transparent with Rick,” Levenson said.
Sund attended Monday’s news conference and said, “I didn’t want to retire.”
“It just came to they’ve got a guy who makes sense, hopefully for the next 10 years,” Sund said, adding Ferry asked if he would remain as a consultant.
“We’ve got so much going on I just said let’s not worry about that until July,” Sund said. “I’ll be here this month and next month and we’ll work together and I’ll help you with whatever areas you need as you transition into the job.”
Ferry, a former standout at Duke, averaged 7.0 points and 2.8 rebounds in 917 career games with Cleveland (1990-2000) and San Antonio (2000-03).
Ferry’s name also had been linked with a similar opportunity as GM with Philadelphia.
“It would have been a great privilege to work with Doug Collins,” Ferry said of the 76ers coach. “I think he’s really good and smart, a great basketball mind.
“But for me I just got very comfortable with this opportunity as it related to Bruce. I felt a sense of humility but also a sense of intense focus and passion and pride about what can happen here going forward. The resources, the willingness going forward made me very excited about this opportunity and ultimately that’s what brought me here today and that’s what got me excited about getting to work.”
Hawks coach Larry Drew said “it’s pretty obvious” the team is looking to capitalize on Ferry’s success with the Spurs and Cavaliers.
“We’re looking to get over the hump,” Drew said. “We’ve been a team that’s knocking on the door and I think we share the common goal. We want to get to the next level and that’s going to be our focus.”
The NBA draft is Thursday and the Hawks have the No. 23 overall pick.
The Hawks return six-time All-Star guard Joe Johnson, center Al Horford, forwards Josh Smith and Marvin Williams, point guard Jeff Teague and backup center Zaza Pachulia.
The status of Smith, entering the final year of his contract, will become an immediate priority for Ferry.
Ferry also must build the remainder of the roster with the team’s other nine players becoming free agents.
Sund, Seattle’s general manager from 2001-07, was hired by Atlanta in 2008 to replace Billy Knight.