Heading into this season, the expectations were relatively low for the Atlanta Hawks.
Clearly in rebuilding mode, Atlanta predictably struggled, going just 24-58.
Although the Hawks weren’t considered as a major threat in recent memory, they had a habit of making the playoffs. In fact, Atlanta made the postseason in each of the previous four years, advancing past the first round twice and all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2014-2015.
In that season, coach Mike Budenholzer won NBA Coach of the Year honors after leading his squad to a 60-22 regular-season mark. It was just his second campaign with the team (and second as an NBA head coach), but Budenholzer made a name for himself quickly.
Since then, though, the team has declined, both in overall talent and in the win column, going 48-34 and 43-39 in 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 respectively. Despite the current rebuilding of the roster, the team is headed in the wrong direction, which is why they agreed to a mutual agreement to part ways with Budenholzer.
According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Budenholzer had two years and more than $14 million left on his contract. Atlanta owner Tony Ressler and general manager Travis Schlenk met with the coach on Tuesday night and decided that splitting up was the best option for both sides.
"I am grateful for the five years that I spent as coach of the Atlanta Hawks and will always cherish the incredible contributions, commitment and accomplishments of the players that I was fortunate enough to work with here," Budenholzer told ESPN on Wednesday night. "From ownership to management, support staff to the community, I'll look back with great pride on what we were able to achieve together with the Hawks."
Budenholzer spent 17 years as an assistant under Gregg Popovich with the San Antonio Spurs before going 213-197 during the regular season and 17-22 in the playoffs with the Hawks. According to Wojnarowski, the Phoenix Suns and New York Knicks were recently interested in him, but he pulled himself out of consideration for the Suns position. He remains a candidate in New York and interviewed with the Knicks on Sunday.
The Hawks will now enter a complete rebuild. They have three first-round picks and an early second-rounder as well, which should help move that process along nicely. In these situations, a first-time head coach usually receives an opportunity, so one of the league’s top assistant coaches might be who the organization turns to.
Budenholzer should not have a hard time finding a head coaching job. Since a number of teams are currently in need of one, his record in Atlanta and four championships as an assistant with the Spurs and should come in handy for him.
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