Mike Budenholzer is in for many long hours as the new head coach of the Hawks, who are rebuilding and likely about to lose some key players.
ATLANTA — The Hawks need only look at their history — nine years ago — for precedent that the No. 17 pick in the NBA Draft can produce a quality player.
The Josh Smith selection worked out pretty well. He ranks in the Top 10 in most of the franchise's statistical categories, including games played, points and rebounds.
The Hawks have the Nos. 17 and 18 picks in Thursday's draft and may need to replace Smith, should the unrestricted free agent sign with another team. What kind of players the Hawks draft in the first round, as always, may not be known for some time.
“I think this draft has good players in it, players who can be contributors, and we are studying all of them very closely,” general manager Danny Ferry said. “Every day, film, draft workouts, interviews, the year and body of work that our scouts put in behind it as well. I'm confident that after this draft, in some shape or form, we'll be in a better position.”
There is plenty of other evidence that a quality player can be selected from the middle to the late first round. The Pacers' All-Star trio of Danny Granger, Roy Hibbert and David West all were taken 17th or 18th.
There have been misses at those spots, too. Shawne Williams and Sean Williams were taken 17th in 2006 and 2007, respectively. Each had multiple arrests and played for several teams, appearing in less than 220 NBA games. Zarko Cabarkapa, the 17th pick in 2003, played just 150 injury-plagued NBA games.
The Hawks have had two first-round picks five other times since 1991. The most recent, in 2007, yielded Al Horford at No. 3 and Acie Law at No. 11. Smith was the second of the Hawks' first-round picks in 2004, with Josh Childress taken at No. 6.
With only three players holding guaranteed contracts for next season, the Hawks have plenty of needs in building a roster through the draft and free agency. Center and shooting guard currently are the biggest holes to fill. According to Ferry, all the needs will be addressed in time. The draft is the first step.
"In every draft there are good players," Ferry said. "People want to analyze drafts up and down, but if you analyze drafts overall, how drafts have been through the years, there are multiple, multiple players who end up having good, long NBA careers, some of them at a very strong level, some of them as role players.
"Obviously at 17 and 18 we don't know what is going to be there, but I'm confident that we are going to get players in that position that can be NBA players for us going forward."
The Hawks also have two second-round picks, Nos. 47 and 50 overall.
Ferry and his staff will enter Thursday with a draft plan, an order of how they think the draft will unfold and who might be available to them. There likely will be trades, and the Hawks could be one of the participants, and surprises that will scramble even the best-laid plans. Ferry described draft night as fun.
“You are curious to see, as the draft night unfolds, the decisions that other teams make and how that affects the chain and then ultimately what is available for you,” Ferry said.
With NBA Finals loss sill fresh on his mind, Budenholzer gets to work in ATL
ATLANTA --- This doesn't seem like the ideal situation. There's still the raw pain of falling one victory short of a championship. The hangover from Game 6. The goodbyes he said to players and staff. The goodbyes he said to his own family. There's an almost completely vacant roster on his new team, which also happens to be his first head coaching job, which means this isn't just about implementing new systems, but helping to create a new culture and direction for a franchise and proving to everybody that sitting next to Gregg Popovich all of those years will pay off.
There's no time for Mike Budenholzer to process.
No time for a cleansing breath.
No time to ponder how close he came to being a part of a fifth NBA championship.
No time even to fly home for clean socks.
There's a draft in, like, 10 minutes.
"Over it?" the new Hawks coach said Saturday, repeating a question about his emotions following an NBA Finals loss with San Antonio. "Well, I don't know what word I would use. I know I'm fortunate to be here and my mind can shift to the Atlanta Hawks. That was a great season that we had. We all wanted it to end differently. I'm sure there will probably be times when I'm 80 and look back at the last couple of games. But to be here now allows my mind to dig into something new. I haven't had much time to just sit around reflecting."
Coaches never really stop thinking. Their mind is like a Super Ball bouncing off walls. For Budenholzer, the only thing that has changed are the walls.
He already is in Atlanta. He lives in a hotel that's connected to his office in Philips Arena, which eliminates so many inconveniences, like stoplights.
"I walked here today without going outside for a breath of fresh air," he said.
Somebody "just pointed me in the right direction" of his office. It has a desk, a couch and a television. The TV hasn't been on yet.
Hours have been occupied with him looking at tape of draftable players, getting caught up on personnel matters with general manager Danny Ferry and assistant Wes Wilcox and making introductions to current Hawks players with phone calls.
There has been little time to stop and think since Spurs players, coaches and families got together for a postmortem dinner late Thursday night, following Game 7 in Miami.
"We broke bread together, laughed a little, cried a little, were (expletive) off a little," Budenholzer said.
Then Friday morning, he went to the airport, hugged and kissed his wife and kids, and caught a flight to Atlanta to begin work. They flew back to San Antonio.
At some point this summer, there will be a reunion. Until then, Budenholzer may not see the sun a lot.
His task alone is overwhelming enough: Try to help transform an Atlanta franchise that never has made it past the second round of the playoffs into a respected outfit like San Antonio. No pressure.
Now imagine that this is the first time since 1994 that Budenholzer hasn't worked for the Spurs. His previous job: Playing basketball in Denmark and coaching two youth teams.
He will face some of the same questions that Ferry is, namely: Can Atlanta do what San Antonio did? But a team can't do anything without players, and the Hawks don't have a lot of those right now.
Budenholzer doesn't look on a board and see Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. He sees only a few potential pieces to build around, namely Al Horford. The return of Jeff Teague (restricted free agent) is not absolute. The return of Josh Smith (unrestricted) seems unlikely. The Hawks have four draft picks and cap space, so the building process has potential. Just don't expect too much too quick.
"This is going to be a long process," Budenholzer said. "You just start by working day in and day out. The best way for the process to happen is to keep the focus on what you're doing and where you want to be."
Regarding the team's relative blank canvas, he said, "I think it's a positive, to be able to participate with Danny, build a team together and bring in players we feel strongly about. To not have names on the board means we have flexibility."
When asked about players with expiring contracts, he said, "Decisions haven't been made yet," adding most of the focus has been on the draft. (He's well-trained.)
Between games and practices in San Antonio, he hired two assistant coaches, Quin Snyder (who used to coach San Antonio's D-League team) and Darvin Ham (he interviewed by phone and the two had one face-to-face meeting). Ferry officially hired Budenholzer on May 28, and the two spoke "occasionally" thereafter, the coach said.
"Danny was respectful in allowing me to fulfill my responsibilities in San Antonio," he said. "He wanted me to feel good about the way things finished there."
It wasn't the perfect ending. The Spurs held a 3-2 series lead and a fifth title ring appeared imminent. Then came an unraveling late in Game 6. They led by 10 points to start the fourth quarter and 94-89 with 28 seconds left. But they blew the lead, lost in overtime and then lost in the deciding seventh game.
Budenholzer understands he doesn't have to forget all of that now, he just needs to stick the emotions in a shoebox.
"It's good to have something else to focus on," he said. "Does that make sense?"