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Three weeks later, there’s lack of clarity on Hawks’ GM search

The list of names that have been connected to the Hawks’ general manager vacancy includes, but possibly is not limited to, Chauncey Billups, David Griffin, Joe Dumars, Tommy Sheppard, Travis Schlenk, Gersson Rosas, Brandon Williams, Michael Zarren, Brent Barry, Troy Weaver, Neil Olshey, Sam Hinkie, Mark Hughes, Scott Perry, Trajan Langdon, I believe the 16 candidates who did not make it past the play-in round of Georgia’s District 6 election and a hologram of Red Auerbach.

About the only certainty of this front-office search is that when majority owner Tony Ressler and his partners finally pull back the curtain, we won’t see Billy Knight, with his arms around Shelden Williams and Speedy Claxton.

It has been three weeks since the Hawks blew up the front office. It’s difficult to tell if they’ve made any progress. Either they have a brilliant plan that’s right on schedule and they’re doing a great job keeping it a secret, or they’re not quite sure who they want or what they want or whether they’re going to hire for one position or two.

The Hawks, whose search is headed by majority owner Tony Ressler and partner Grant Hill, are considering current general managers. They’re also looking at former general managers. They’re also considering current assistant GMs who might be strong from a personnel and/or analytics standpoint, but aren’t the best candidates to put on stage. They’re also thinking of others who might be the perfect guy to present to the public, a former NBA star with instant credibility, but have never worked a day in a front office.

Billups, who reportedly interviewed Monday, would fill the category of a great out-front guy. So would former Hawks star Steve Smith, who didn’t exactly deny interest in a radio interview Monday on 92.9 FM. So would Hill, who seemed the obvious choice from the time he became part owner, but he apparently prefers the climate-controlled environment of his television job and doesn’t want that responsibility.

The seeming inexactness of this process is not comforting, especially when you consider:

  • Orlando completely reshaped its front office in the last two days, hiring Toronto executive Jeff Weltman as president of basketball operations and Milwaukee’s John Hammond as general manager. So the Magic are done. They can now focus on other things. Like the product.
  • The draft is June 22. The Hawks have three picks (19th, 31st, 60th). Free agency starts soon after. There’s the important matter of whether to sign impending unrestricted free agent Paul Millsap. There’s a decision to be made about restricted free agent Tim Hardaway Jr., who will get offers. There also will be decisions about what to do about Dwight Howard (who was benched for the fourth quarter of playoff games) and Kent Bazemore (who signed a big contract, then lost his starting job). There are other potential trades and moves involving draft picks and players.

Ressler has said he would feel comfortable going through the draft without a new general manager in place. Well, that’s one.

There are too many big-picture decisions that need to be made. Leaving them to the current remaining staff (assistant general manager Jeff Peterson, scouts and advisor Rick Sund) is not ideal. Big-picture decisions without the permanent big-picture guy is not the way to go.

This doesn’t mean Ressler won’t ultimately find the right individual (or two) to run basketball operations, along with coach Mike Budenholzer. He erred when he initially expressed confidence in Budenholzer and general manager Wes Wilcox as his heads of state, but he ultimately made the right decision two weeks later when he announced changes. Budenholzer would no longer be president; Wilcox would now be a “special advisor,” which is effectively an exit ramp from the organization.

But when the team’s social-media department amusingly published a tweet Monday, reading, “Lots of rumors swirling out there. Who do YOU want to see as our next GM?” part of me wondered if they legitimately were seeking suggestions.

The public candidate list lacks the “wow” factor, but that’s not what this should be about. When the Falcons hired Thomas Dimitroff and Mike Smith to head football operations in 2008, nobody in Atlanta thought they would lead one of the NFL’s most losing franchises to five consecutive winning seasons and four playoff berths.

Winning the news conference is overrated. Ask the Buffalo Bills (Rex Ryan).

But if Ressler is determined to make a relative splash with a basketball icon (Billups, Smith, Dikembe Mutumbo), he will need a strong second hire to run the guts of the operation. This job is too difficult to hand over to a novice, even in good circumstances. These aren’t good circumstances.

They can talk to Griffin (Cleveland GM), Schlenk (Golden State assistant) and Zarren (Boston assistant) after the playoffs, but that shoudn’t suggest any of those are prime candidates (“reports” notwithstanding).

Ressler said recently it would be “a wide-open search.” That’s apparent. But three weeks later, the question is whether the job search is any clearer on the inside than it seems from the outside.

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