As Hawks owner, the best thing Tony Ressler had going for him was that he wasn’t the Atlanta Spirit. Twenty-two months on, he’s still not that. (For example, he’s not suing himself.) But nothing he has done has instilled great faith among a forever-dubious electorate, and this latest act makes him look capricious at best and silly at worst.
Not two weeks after expressing full confidence in his front office, Ressler is redoing that front office . If he knew such a thing might happen, why speak to the AJC at all? If he didn’t know such a thing might need to happen, what had he been watching? And even if we ascribe credit to Ressler for finally Seeing The Light, doesn’t the maladroit nature of this makeover make us wonder if he’s capable of building a better mousetrap?
If you’re keeping score, the Hawks are in the market for a new president of basketball operations, Mike Budenholzer having been reduced to being just a coach, and a new general manager, Wes Wilcox having shunted aside to do a job yet to be specified. These things needed to happen, yes. But we ask: Will the new president and new GM be the same person? Will the new person(s) mesh with Budenholzer, who has grown accustomed to getting his way?
Bigger question: Will the new person(s) be able to undo the knots this front office of two years’ standing has tied? Dwight Howard, who apparently nobody else in the NBA wants, is under contract for two more years at $47.3 million. Paul Millsap is 32 and will surely want a five-year deal at max money to stay. Tim Hardaway Jr. can leave as a restricted free agent. There’s 60 percent of the starting five.
The Hawks once had a clear idea of what they wanted to be – a good-shooting, good-passing team that played fast and spaced the court. So how did Dwight Howard, the non-passing lane-clogger who can’t make a jump shot, wind up here? How did a team with four All-Stars only two seasons ago go from having one of the NBA’s sleekest offenses to ranking fourth-from-worst in offensive efficiency? How incongruous will it be to commit to a rebuild around youth if your highest-salaried players are Howard, who’s 31, and – assuming he stays – Millsap?
The Hawks didn’t win 60 games two seasons ago by accident. That team was an example of careful planning and clever cultivation. They didn’t fall from 60 wins to 43 by happenstance, either. They got old and expensive, which you could see coming, but mostly they lost sight of what made them good. This is the tangle the new administration will be handed: How do you rise from being a shade above mediocre if you don’t have one of the NBA’s 10 best players, and how would you persuade one of those 10 players to come here if he’s going to have to play with Dwight Howard?
Let’s be clear: If the right person(s) is/are hired, the Hawks will get better. Danny Ferry made a difference, did he not? But the two years post-Ferry – with Budenholzer as basketball czar and Wilcox as GM – served to undo much of that work. It will take time to turn this battleship. And Howard is 31. And Millsap is 32.
And the owner is no longer a blank slate. On the contrary, Ressler is the guy who insisted the composition of his front office was just dandy -- right up until the moment he decided it wasn't.
Further reading: Ressler's worst move as Hawks owner was his first.