May 29, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; New Atlanta Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer shakes hands with general manager Danny Ferry after being introduced during a press conference at Philips Arena. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

What Does the Hiring of Mike Budenholzer Mean?


Déjà vu. I’ve already seen this. I’ve had that feeling again and it’s reminiscent of last summer. It’s a mix of cautious optimism with a carthic feeling of ridding the last of the Joe Johnson-Mike Woodson coaching tree era. With all apologies to Robert Frost, the Hawks have chosen to traverse the path less travelled, and hopefully it will make all the difference.

Mike Budenholzer has been hired by the Atlanta Hawks. This makes the 5th consecutive head coach the Hawks have hired without previous experience of being in that position, after Lon Kruger, Terry Stotts, Mike Woodson and Larry Drew.

Since his ascension to assistant coach in 1997, the Spurs have seen 4 championship teams, with a 5th one only 4 wins away. The Spurs have a regular season record of 888-376, or a 70.3% winning percentage. If you’re not an engineering or math major, that’s pretty darn good. Put another way, in any average ten game stretch, the team went an average of 7-3 for a 16 season time period.

How much is Budenholzer to credit for these accomplishments? It’s hard to say but ask anyone who has known him over the years, and they’ll say he is partly a driving force. Just some of the quotes from his adversaries that have emerged over the past day:

“It is with great excitement and my pleasure to introduce Mike Budenholzer as the Atlanta Hawks next coach. I’m excited to work with Mike. Working with him, as I’ve said, we want to build a program here going forward we want to build something that can really last. Mike will be a great partner with me and really challenge me to do that and I’ll do the same with him. Looking forward to some great experiences ahead and working with him.”

“We are thrilled to have Mike as the next coach of the Atlanta Hawks. He has an incredible basketball acumen and has a keen awareness of the league and what it takes to be successful. His experience and four championships over the last 17 years provide a tremendous foundation for his leadership of our team.”

- Danny Ferry, General Manager

“I couldn’t be happier for Mike for many reasons. As anyone who’s been part of this program knows, he has been more of a co-head coach than an assistant for a long time. His knowledge of the game as well as his ability to teach and develop relationships with players are all special. I will miss him a great deal both professionally and personally and am confident that he and Danny will make a great team as the future unfolds.”

- Gregg Popovich, Spurs head coach

Sure, some of these comments may be but mere coachspeak. But there’s a genuine feeling of optimism from two of his closest former cohorts that Budenholzer can take a hold of the spotlight in Atlanta and make the most of this opportunity.

If you can’t experience success, why not attempt to cling to success’ coattails? If there was one franchise to replicate, why not pick the organization that has done the most without elite financial resources? But this won’t be an exalting of Mike Budenholzer for wins and achievements that may not come. Or speculating on a plan in place that we still cannot fully see. But it sure looks like a step in the right direction.

It will be quite difficult to field a team of just John Jenkins, Lou Williams and Al Horford, although their end of the year stats would look awfully impressive and the team’s record equally as unimpressive. Jeff Teague and Ivan Johnson are still under control, as well, as Atlanta can match any free agency offer. But it should seem an easier path to fit a coach with a roster rather than the other way around. Thus a clearer understand of the timing of the move, even with Larry Drew still in tow.

Make no mistake; it’s an unassuming hire outside the circle of NBA fans whose fandom borders on obsession. Most probably cannot even pronounce his name correctly, I would wager (BEW-den-hol-zer not BUH-den-hol-zer). But the same was said about Tom Thibodeau, Doc Rivers, Erik Spoelstra and a number of different recently successful coaches. The evaluation of coaches is so much more difficult from the perspective of an outsider compared to a player. I can easily find a shooting percentage or rebounds per game, but beyond a win-loss record, which is hard to apportion credit to the team and the coach appropriately, we can only view and assess coaching through our team-sanctioned binoculars.

So who knows what lies ahead. Budenholzer will not be putting the ball in the basket any time soon. Three years from now, he may not even be distinguishable from any other merely modestly achieving coach in the NBA currently. But it sure looks nice now, even from the nosebleed section.

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