Has the captain bailed on his ship, or is this just a matter of two conflicting points of view?
Last week, it was announced that former Coach of the Year Mike Budenholzer’s time in Atlanta is done. His departure from the team serves as yet another reminder of how far the Hawks have fallen since their magical 2014-15 run, and leaves the team in the unfortunate predicament of searching for a new head coach.
So just whose fault is it that Budenholzer left? Well, it goes without saying that Budenholzer is one of the better coaches in the NBA. The 60-win season alone proved that, but he also wrung 24 wins out of a 2018 core that had no business winning more than 10. However, it can also not be denied that it is at least partly Budenholzer’s fault that the Hawks are currently staking the future of their franchise on ping pong balls rather than competing for an NBA title.
It was, after all, the stunning lack of vision displayed by Budenholzer and his GM counterpart Wes Wilcox in the front office that led to the Hawks’ unprecedented downfall. Whether it was the ridiculous contract dished out to Kent Bazemore, the doomed-from-the-start signing of Dwight Howard, or the unwillingness to trade players like Al Horford and Paul Millsap in the final year of their contract, Budenholzer and Wilcox clearly did not know how to handle the success the team experienced in 2015. They made all the wrong moves, forcing current GM Travis Schlenk to reboot the franchise via a full-scale rebuild.
So, the argument can be made that this is the monster that Budenholzer created, and he should want to make amends for his faults by riding out the rebuild and leading Atlanta back to contention in the future. However, another possible reason for his exit could be that the Hawks’ current front office simply did not see Budenholzer as being the long-term guy for the team’s rebuilding plans.
Recently, a report emerged from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski that an unnamed NBA owner had berated a coach of a rebuilding team for winning a late-season game that seemingly hurt the team’s chances of securing a high draft pick. Many Hawks fans speculated that it was Hawks’ owner Tony Ressler who had scolded Budenholzer, given the Hawks’ late-season wins at Washington and Boston.
If this truly was the case, it would make sense that Budenholzer would want to get away from the organization. In this scenario, the front office and the coach clearly have differing perspectives on the direction of the team and it wouldn’t make sense for the relationship to continue.
As with most things in life, the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle, and we’ll likely never know exactly what led to Mike Budenholzer’s unfortunate departure. However, although I know it’s hard for Hawks fans to hear right now, no NBA coach is irreplacable. At this point, all we can do as fans is to trust that Travis Schlenk and the Hawks have a plan.