ATLANTA — Sports have shown us that there are many ways to win. A team can win with great players and an average coach, or even average players with a great coach. You can win with a GM who excels at squeezing every last breath out of every penny, or one who has a green light from his owner to spend money freely, or one whose player development and drafting system is so good there’s no need to to take a swan dive into the deep end of the free agent pool.
But there’s one thing a sports franchise can’t beat: faulty ownership. So let’s start there with the hawks. Let’s start at the top with Tony Ressler, because the spiral of this franchise does begin and end with him.
Ressler is a highly invested owner (that’s good) whose hyper-emotional ups and downs as fans have negatively impacted the team (bad). He has helped turn a rising franchise into a dysfunctional mess, experiencing the same painful learning curve that Falcons owner Arthur Blank experienced. Blank was driven to succeed, but so lacked objectivity early and often that he allowed Michael Vick and talked of “lifetime” contracts to matt ryan and Julio Jones, effectively undermining his front office.
Much has been written in recent months, and certainly in recent days, about the Hawks’ dramatic fall from a team that reached the 2021 conference finals and was seen as a blueprint for building the right path to one that is in ninth place. place in the Eastern Conference standings. There may be a ray of hope. the hawks led Heat by 26 points in the first half, he let that lead narrow almost predictably to four in the fourth quarter, but held on to win 121-113 on Monday.
They got back to .500 (22-22) for the first time in three weeks. They have won three in a row for the first time since early November. But small sample size. Postponing statements, especially in the context of so much turmoil.
Many have taken knockdown hits since the 2021 playoffs: bring youngwho has the talent but sometimes appears to lack maturity and leadership skills for someone from your state; coach Nate McMillan, who has had his share of frustrations with Young and will likely be training for him for the rest of the season; former general manager and team president Travis Schlenk, who in late December was suddenly moved into the obscure role of “senior adviser,” which is generally what teams do when they don’t want to fire someone just for face, especially with such a lot of time left on someone’s contract; Nick Ressler, an unknown employee in the organization, except for the rather important fact that he was the son of the owner and had become an increasingly prominent voice in the past two years.
About Nick Ressler: The Hawks are doing everything they can to try to quell the narrative that the 27-year-old with no basketball experience has been a major influence on decision-making. It’s just a “voice in the room” they say. (Just one voice. Okay. And right now I’m imagining a job interview with someone from HR saying, “Hey, I see your last name is Ressler! Are you related? Because that might help you!”)
But let’s leave young Nick aside because it’s more about his father.
Tony Ressler is emotionally and financially invested in his team, which is what any fan should want. He and his wife Jami Gertz promote more social causes than any other Atlanta sports executive. He also orchestrated the renovation of State Farm Arena (albeit with public money) and the construction of a much-needed practice facility. But Ressler has acknowledged his lack of patience and blind spots in the past, calling himself “the idiot in the room” over mistakes that included the promotion of former coach Mike Budenholzer to team president.
It seemed that he had learned.
Maybe he hasn’t.
Many viewed the Hawks’ run to the Eastern Conference finals two years ago as an aberration. The Hawks were a franchise on the rise, but not yet at that level. But Ressler saw it as an accurate barometer of where the team was at. He became more and more involved in basketball operations, as is his right. But when high expectations weren’t met last season, he ordered trades. Schlenk became the “big picture” guy. Landry Fields was promoted to general manager, in charge of day-to-day operations. Ressler began to listen to the wrong voices, including his own, and became involved in basketball transactions. He rejected an exchange that he would have sent forward john collins to a Western Conference team because he didn’t want to break the core, a league source said.
Everyone in the front office agreed that the Hawks needed a second scoring option with Young. goal ace the athletic one sam amick reported in his comprehensive analysis on the dysfunction of the Hawks’ front officeSchlenk wasn’t comfortable trading three first-round picks at the same time. Spurs for Dejounte Murrayeven though he liked Murray as a player.
The truth is that anyone who has followed Schlenk in his career knew that this type of exchange did not align with his philosophy. But others in the front office disagreed. Fields rejected any notion that the Hawks were mortgaging the future, saying the athletic, “You have to take some risks. What is the famous Jimmy Johnson quote: “You can’t play with scared money”? If he were to go back, he would make that trade 10 out of 10 times.”
The owner agreed. He actually made the decision. Murray has generally played well, but Fields acknowledges that the chemistry between him and Young isn’t there yet. There is a question as to whether it ever will be. The trade also effectively forced Atlanta to trade a valuable guard. kevin hüter into a salary dump to avoid paying a luxury tax penalty.
The Young-Murray pairing may eventually work. But that is not today’s view. Even Hawks CEO Steve Koonin called Amick’s story “fair” in a radio interview on 92.9 FM.
Today’s view is of a team with an inflated salary cap that is short of three first-round picks and sits just ninth in the Eastern Conference standings.
Today’s sight includes an inexperienced front office and a frustrated head coach trying to get a team back on track.
Today’s vision is of a team fighting just to make the playoffs, effectively putting Fields in a weak position in trade negotiations.
Things worked much better when only the basketball people called the shots.
Ressler declined an interview request from The Athletic.
He released a statement referencing only Fields and new assistant general manager Kyle Korver: “I am very supportive of Landry and Kyle’s leadership and vision for our basketball operations. They are committed to building a highly communicative, player-friendly, and innovative front office that makes collaborative decisions. I believe in them and I will make sure they have the resources they need to make us winners.”
All of that sounds great. But if the rest of the season goes poorly, don’t be surprised if Ressler pushes the restart again and tries to hire a new president of basketball operations, in addition to firing McMillan. It seems to be in his DNA.
The Hawks’ front office is now led by an odd mix: Fields is 34 years old. Korver was a highly respected player but is new to management. There’s also a cap guy who’s a friend of Nick Ressler’s and a professional headhunter who worked for a Bay Area news outlet who’s a friend of Fields’. Meanwhile, three respected members of Schlenk’s personal staff have been laid off.
Fields understands why people may leer at the new front office.
“Even from my seat, I understand that there is not a lot of experience,” he said. The Athletic. “I was born in 1988, I can’t help it. But I take full ownership of our group. Just because someone has all those years of nba experience does not necessarily make them wise. I’m not calling experience. I understand that there are certain things you just don’t know and having people around you who know them will be very helpful. We still have people on board who have a lot of experience.”
He referred to the media focus on the Hawks’ problems as “distractions,” adding: “I think we’re still in good shape, but this is just part of our story this year that we’ll have to work on. But I understand it. There was a transition in the middle of the season and that will always raise questions and stories.
Fields addressed the team after Schlenk resigned, telling the players and staff of his expectations. He said that if anyone had a problem with that, he would try to accommodate them with a trade.
“Some people don’t want to be a part of the change and the transition, and I want to honor them in that process,” she said.
Fields maintains that no player (or agent) has asked to be traded, but that shouldn’t be taken as a sign that the Hawks will be quiet at the trade deadline. The Hawks have been on a downtrend for two years and this won’t be an easy fix. At some point, Ressler must learn that even a billionaire who excels at running a private equity firm is a novice when it comes to running a sports franchise.
(Image: Brett Davis/USA Today)