Judging by the questions each man got this week, there is interest in how new Hawks GM Travis Schlenk and coach Mike Budenholzer will coexist. That makes some sense because Schlenk now has the franchise-shaping power that Budenholzer once had. But it also seems there’s a perception that there’s no way Budenholzer is OK with Schlenk’s rebuilding plan and that this will cause friction between the two.
Both Budenholzer and Schlenk said they are on the same page but that won’t stop outside speculation about potential rifts. Maybe I’m weird, but I’ve never had much interest in interpersonal front-office drama. Leaders have different personalities and styles. Roles change and evolve in professional sports and, at some point, all coaches and executives must adjust. Ultimately they are judged by the final product.
But, more than that, I think there’s a misconception about how rebuilding goes in pro sports. Front offices might “tank” for the lottery in the way they build the roster but coaches and players don’t tank. It’s against their financial self-interest to do so and, in nearly every case, it also runs counter to their pride and sense of professionalism.
Budenholzer’s job is clear: win games and develop his young players. Really, that’s always been his job. It’s just that the organizational focus has shifted more to the latter. Whether that’s what Budenholzer would rather do is beside the point because it’s what he’s being paid to do.
There are only 30 NBA head coaching jobs and multiples more people who want them. I can’t think of many coaches who are confident enough about getting a better gig (or even another gig) that they would risk the one they have by defying organizational goals.
I did cock an eyebrow when Budenholzer said that focusing only on coaching would “free me up to take a breath.” Surely, he’d rather still be running the entire basketball operations because who wouldn’t? But I believe Budenholzer when he says he has a “great passion for” coaching, and I believe him when he says he’s on board with the organization’s big-picture goals.
Said Budenholzer: “If you appreciate and actually enjoy and embrace the process—whether you are winning NBA championships or winning 60, 55 games, or you are in a different phase of your organization and you are growing and developing and laying the foundation for something that you think can be special—that process can be incredibly rewarding not just for coaches and players and everybody that is involved with it. If you are just focused on the end result, you are probably going to have a frustrating year. But if you embrace on what you go through every day and how you work every day, there’s a lot that can be taken from that.”
Surely Budenholzer would rather be chasing championships as a coach/top executive. But that’s no longer his job with the Hawks. I think he will do his best to win as many games as he can with the team he’s got, while also staying faithful to the organization’s long-term plan.
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