The Hawks are coming off their best season in Atlanta – and that’s not all. Guard Kyle Korver thinks it’s about to get even better now that the team has new owners, a new front office and new uniforms. With coach Mike Budenholzer the new president of basketball operations, Korver believes the Hawks have a good chance to move past the Eastern Conference finals next season. ”There’s a ton of people who definitely get credit, but Bud really has kind of lifted this place in a lot of ways, so happy for him,” said Korver, a 13-year NBA veteran. ”I think you get good people who work really hard. You get them together and you get somebody like Bud to lead them and you’ll keep moving in the right direction.” The Hawks had Korver, guard Jeff Teague, guard Kent Bazemore and forward Mike Muscala moonlighting as models for a new combination of uniforms and fan merchandise on Wednesday.
Budenholzer was not present, but the NBA coach of the year is expected to join the new ownership group, led by billionaire businessman Tony Ressler, at an introductory news conference Thursday. With the NBA draft about to bring in new players and the $850 million sale complete, Hawks CEO Steve Koonin says the team is positioned to change its image on and off the court. ”New owners, new players, new look, new responsibility – that’s why we’re calling it the `next generation of the Atlanta Hawks week,’ ” Koonin said. ”It’s a whole sea change, and I think there’s nothing but sunny skies for the Atlanta Hawks.” It certainly didn’t look the way last summer, but Budenholzer was credited – not just for holding the Hawks together during the season-long absence of former general manager Danny Ferry – but for leading the team to its first 60-win season and its first Eastern Conference finals appearance.
After getting swept in four games by the Cleveland Cavaliers, Budenholzer and new GM Wes Wilcox must decide if the team will try to keep starting forward Paul Millsap and starting guard DeMarre Carroll from leaving as free agents. Bazemore hopes the roster core stays together, but either way he likes the Hawks’ chances with Budenholzer in charge. ”Coach Bud is a players’ coach,” Bazemore said. ”He’s down there. He’s in the trenches with us, so he’ll have a better insight than pretty much anyone else you can name inside this organization as far as what to do.” Koonin and his staff began researching a change in uniforms and a secondary logo last July. They eventually settled on a combination of colors – keeping the Hawks’ red and white and casting aside blue in favor of dark gray with lime green numbers and trim. Koonin wanted to change public perception of a franchise that was locked in perpetual mediocrity.
Never a big winner and rarely a bottom dweller, the Hawks stood no chance to land big-name free agents like LeBron James but they usually won enough games to stay out of the running for a lottery draft pick. Everything changed last season when the Hawks kept winning. The NBA made an unprecedented decision to name the team’s starting five as its ”player of the month” in January. Four starters played in the All-Star Game, and the Hawks eventually made it to the Eastern finals before falling flat against James and the Cavs. Suddenly the Hawks were selling out nearly every game, but it was mess off the court after Bruce Levenson, the leader of the former Atlanta Spirit ownership, and Ferry both made embarrassing remarks about minorities. The NBA forced Levenson and his partners to sell, and they found buyers in Ressler, former NBA star Grant Hill, New York investor Rick Schnall, Spanx founder Sara Blakely and her husband Jesse Itzler, co-founder of Marquis Jet. Changing the uniforms was another logical step. ”We wanted to make a statement – to recreate the brand and recreate the image of the Hawks,” Koonin said. ”I think we’ve done so.”