Hawks coach enjoying time in Africa after hectic summer
ATLANTA (AP) — After a hectic start to the summer, Mike Budenholzer is doing important work in Africa while relishing some quality time with his wife and kids.
The Hawks coach will never say his work is done. That’s not his style.
But Budenholzer is quite pleased with the team he left behind in Atlanta, believing the Hawks are poised to build on their stunning run to the Eastern Conference final.
“We feel like had a very good summer,” Budenholzer said Thursday on a conference call from South Africa, where he is coaching in a historic exhibition game with 20 NBA stars. “Continuity is something that was important to us, and we were able to keep the majority of our team together.”
The Hawks lost free agent forward DeMarre Carroll to Toronto, but they were able to re-sign All-Star Paul Millsap, picked up Tim Hardaway Jr. to provide another shooting threat, and got much bigger by acquiring 6-foot-11 center Tiago Splitter from San Antonio and landing 7-3 prospect Walter “Edy” Tavares. That should help bolster their presence on the boards, the one glaring weakness during a 60-win season.
“As long as we’re getting good players, big is important,” Budenholzer said.
While losing Carroll was a blow, it also showed just how much he developed under the tutelage of Budenholzer and his coaching staff. After bouncing around to four teams in five years and even doing a stint in the D-League, Carroll blossomed during his two years in Atlanta — so much so, the Hawks couldn’t afford to keep him when the Raptors offered a four-year, $60 million deal.
During the offseason, Budenholzer noticed a change in attitude toward the Hawks, who have never been viewed as a prime destination by free agents. Atlanta didn’t have the cap room to make a big splash in the market this summer, but it could pay dividends down the road.
“I think players are starting to appreciate more the emphasis on player development that we had the last two years, that we’re going to make it a priority not just with our young players but with all players at any stage of their careers,” Budenholzer said. “Agents and basketball people have noticed it.”
The Hawks are hoping to get more out of Hardaway than he showed in two disappointing seasons with the New York Knicks, and they see some Carroll-like qualities with another newcomer, Justin Holiday, a 6-6 swingman who had a limited role with the NBA champion Golden State Warriors. He’ll get a chance to fill some of Carroll’s minutes on the wing.
“Holiday is a player who has a lot of potential to emerge and take the next step in his career,” Budenholzer said.
The coach took on the added role as president of basketball operations after the Hawks finally cut ties with general manager Danny Ferry, who was on leave all of last season after making racially charged comments.
With only two years as a head coach under his belt, Budenholzer is now essentially in charge of the entire operation in Atlanta. He hopes to follow the model set by his mentor, San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich.
“It’s been a full summer,” Budenholzer said. “But I watched it for 19 years in the Spurs organization. I think this is something we have a lot of confidence in, a lot of belief in. We’ve gotten a lot of work done this summer, and there’s more work to do going into the season. But we all believe that it’s going to be exciting to build on the momentum we had the last two years.”
First, though, there’s a different part of the world to explore.
Budenholzer and his family already spent three days in Cape Town, including a trip up Table Mountain and a horseback ride on the beach. After Saturday’s exhibition game, part of a Basketball Without Borders project and a first for the NBA in South Africa, the Budenholzers will head to Zimbabwe for a safari.
One thing they didn’t get to: diving with sharks in a protected cage.
“My kids were pretty anxious to do it,” Budenholzer said, sounding relieved. “Me? Not so much.”
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