With rumors floating around that the Atlanta Hawks will be targeting Chris Paul and Dwight Howard in free agency, the Hawks began their offseason finding a head coach to help create a new identity for the franchise.
The Hawks named San Antonio Spurs assistant Mike Budenholzer their new head coach on Tuesday, just one day after the Spurs advanced to the NBA Finals, finishing off the Memphis Grizzlies with a four-game sweep.
The 43-year-old Budenholzer, who spent 19 years with the Spurs, began his NBA career as a video coordinator for two years before taking an assistant coach position for the next 17 seasons.
Throughout Budenholzer’s tenure with the Spurs, the team won four NBA championships built around a nucleus of Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Tim Duncan and head coach Greg Popovich.
In order to achieve their success, the small-market Spurs adopted a strong defensive philosophy with an offensive system predicated on ball-movement. The Spurs won three titles between 2003-07, but following the Spurs’ four-game sweep over the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2007 NBA Finals, Budenholzer was promoted to Popovich’s top assistant. He replaced P.J. Carlesimo, who became the Seattle Supersonics head coach on July 5, 2007.
Budenholzer has been Popovich’s top assistant for the past six years.
“Mike Budenholzer has been extremely important to our success in San Antonio,” Parker said. “He is a great coach. I think the Hawks made an excellent choice and I’m very happy for Coach Bud.”
Budenholzer isn’t the only former Spur on the Hawks, though. Hawks general manager Danny Ferry came to Atlanta after a two-year tenure as the Spurs vice president of basketball operations.
During Ferry’s two years in San Antonio, the team finished with the top record in the Western Conference. Ferry is hoping Budenholzer can bring similar success to Atlanta.
“Part of what’s exciting about this for me is he has a great understanding of the league,” Ferry said. “He’s been part of San Antonio. He wasn’t just in San Antonio like some of us were, he’s been there for the duration. He’s seen how it evolved. He’s seen how it has grown. Mike, [general manager R.C. Buford] and Pop were the ones who were there the whole time.”
With Ferry and Budenholzer now running the business in Atlanta, the Hawks will look to create a new era as the team tries to replace Larry Drew, who went 128-102 in three seasons.
Atlanta will now shift their attention to free agency with just three players under contract and more than $40 million in salary-cap space to spend. The Hawks cleared space by trading Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams last season and allowing Josh Smith, Kyle Korver and Jeff Teague test the free agent market.
The Hawks still have Al Horford, and it appears the team plans to build around him going forward.
For now though, Budenholzer will continue to serve as Popovich’s top assistant during the NBA Finals in an attempt to win his fifth NBA championship ring before joining the Hawks. The NBA Finals begin Thursday June 6.