Danny Ferry and Mike Budenholzer have a history together from Ferry's San Antonio days. Photo by Scott Cunningham/NBAE/Getty Images
Welcome Coach Bud
By Jon Cooper
It's said that good things happen in threes.
For the last decade, Mike Budenholzer has associated three and the good things that come with it with Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili — the San Antonio Spurs' big three.
But on May 28, three of a different kind became the deciding factor for Budenholzer in ending his 19-year association with the Spurs and accepting the offer of Atlanta Hawks General Manager Danny Ferry to become the franchise's 12th full-time head coach.
"As a head coach, you look at three things: ownership, GM and roster," Budenholzer, a 43-year-old native of Holbrook, Ariz., said in meeting the local press at the Philips Arena Center Club. "Here in Atlanta, they have all three things going in a positive direction, so it made it the perfect place, the perfect fit for me. Having all three of those things pointing in a positive direction made me say, 'Now is the time.' This is the right fit, and I'm ready. I've been in San Antonio for a long time. It was going to take something like this opportunity and this team and this group to make me feel comfortable and feel great about taking this step. Atlanta has all that."
Coming to Atlanta to accept his first NBA head coaching job capped off a wild two days in which Budenholzer helped oversee the Spurs' sweep of the Memphis Grizzlies to capture their ninth Western Conference Championship, then get offered the Hawks' coaching job.
"It's been a pretty amazing 48 hours," he said. "It's exciting for my family, it's exciting for me. The opportunity to come here and be a head coach with the Atlanta Hawks, it's something I've dreamed about and wanted for a long time, and when you couple that with returning to the NBA Finals, I'm living a dream."
Budenholzer has spent the past 19 years as a key behind-the-scenes player for the Spurs in their run of five NBA Finals appearances, nine Western Conference Championships and 18 Playoff appearances. He was hired 19 years ago by current coach Gregg Popovich. After two years as video coordinator he was named assistant coach. For the last six years he's been the staff's No. 1 assistant.
He's planning on bringing elements of the Spurs' blueprint to Atlanta, with the most important having little to do with X's and O's.
"I think the most important thing that you can take from coach Popovich in handling young players and really handling all players," Budenholzer said. "He wants competitors. That's the card that I want to call on in dealing with all of the Atlanta Hawks. As we work and we put things in and we work with young, old, new, returning, that competitive spirit is running through their veins and throughout practices and throughout games. That's going to be the most important thing. Pop' cares about people, he cares about his players. They need to know that we care about them. When you care about them you can push them. You can demand of them. So those are probably the two biggest things that I would take from coach Pop and bring with me to Atlanta."
A 1993 graduate of Pomona College in California, Budenholzer played one year of pro basketball in Denmark with the Vejle Basketball Klub, where he averaged a team-high 27.5 points per game. He also got his first head coaching experience, coaching two different teams within Vejle system. Soon after he came home he was hired by Popovich.
One considerable factor in the Hawks' ability to pry Budenholzer away from the Spurs is his close relationship with Ferry, who played in San Antonio for three seasons (2000-2003), then came back and served as vice president of basketball operations for two years (2010-2012).
"He's a good friend," Budenholzer said. "We have kids that are similar ages. It's been a friendship that I've valued and is part of what makes this a special opportunity."
While they are good friends, Ferry expects that they won't always see eye-to-eye and expects plenty of times that they'll go nose-to-nose.
"His acumen, his understanding of the players and the game is something that I value highly. The idea of how he wants to play, the clarity of the system that he wants to bring I value highly," Ferry said. "That being said, we'll have great arguments and debates with our staffs together. But we will be unified after those debates. We've gone after it a few times. Those are healthy. I want that. I want to be challenged and I want to challenge him. Ultimately that puts the Atlanta Hawks in the best position to succeed. That's what we both want."
The Hawks return a pair of veterans in center Al Horford and guard Lou Williams and 2012 draft picks, guard John Jenkins and forward Mike Scott on the roster. Budenholzer believes that's a good start.
"Al Horford is someone I'm excited about coaching," he said. "I look forward to developing that relationship with Al and sharing some of my visions and my thoughts in all areas. I can't wait to start that relationship with Al and really all of our players. Those relationships are critical to my success. It starts with Al but it goes through the 15th guy, whoever that may be."
Point guard Jeff Teague, a restricted free agent, is also rated highly.
"Jeff is someone that I feel strongly about, and he's part of why I'm excited to get this opportunity. He's a heck of a player," Budenholzer said. "There are a lot of decisions that need to be made on a lot of different fronts, including Jeff. I look forward to working with Danny on that."
The lines of communication will heat up after the NBA Finals, as the Hawks prepare for the June 27 NBA Draft — Atlanta has four picks, Nos. 17 and 18 in the first round, Nos. 47 and 50 in the second — and the free agent signing period that begins on July 1.
"We're respectful of my responsibilities in San Antonio and the Finals, but we're excited to get working on all of it, the Draft, free agency, preparing for the season," Budenholzer said. "[Ferry] and I will work and talk through all those processes."
The Finals actually will serve as a starting ground for Budenholzer in going up against the Miami Heat, a Southeast Division rival going forward. He will attempt to lay the groundwork on a chain of success in Atlanta that he hopes, in time, will rival San Antonio's.
"Patience and an ability to see a big picture and make decisions that are based on long-term success and building something special here, sometimes requires patience on everybody's part," he said. "It's not just the fans. It's on myself as the coach and Danny as the GM and the ownership. There's times where patience is crucial, but there also needs to be progress and improvement, and I think if you're seeing that improvement that gives you patience.
"I'm going to have to have confidence coaching everybody," he added. "We've had our successes in San Antonio, whether it's superstars or role-players, that confidence, they feel it, they see it. That's what I'll bring, no matter who we're coaching or who we bring in to the 2013-14 Atlanta Hawks."
Jon Cooper is a freelance writer based in Atlanta.
Second photo by Glenn James/NBAE/Getty Images