Attention! Calling all Hawks fans! It is time for us to collectively do our part in supporting this Atlanta Hawks team as they continue to work hard on each level to improve and put a product on the floor we can enjoy and be proud of. For many years Hawks fans, including myself, have complained at the poor job the Hawks ownership and front office staff have done when it comes to catering to the fans while also putting an exciting and productive product on the floor. Well, now the Hawks organization is giving us little to whine about as they are doing things the right way over the past couple seasons starting with the general manager down to the players on the team.
When a team is attempting to change its fortune usually change comes from the top, down. Of course, there is not going to be change in ownership, but a change in the way ownership approaches building a championship contender is just as imperative. When the Atlanta Spirit LLC bought the Atlanta Hawks in 2004, they were a group of nine owners coming into the situation on totally different pages. This became openly apparent when ex-Atlanta Spirit LLC group member Steve Belkin had conflicts with the other eight members over whether or not to include Boris Diaw in a trade for Joe Johnson who was a member of the Phoenix Suns at the time. This led to an embarrassing legal battle where the Hawks ownership where fighting amongst themselves. Belkin’s ownership share was eventually bought out by the other members. During that era, the Hawks general manager was Billy Knight who, to his credit, did help build a team that would make the playoffs after a nine season playoff drought, but was not given full personnel control by the owners. Knight’s main source of criticism stems from some questionable draft selections including in 2005 when Knight decided to take Marvin Williams with the second pick in the draft despite Chris Paul and Deron Williams being available. After having his hands tied when it came to making certain personnel decisions including whether or not to retain then head coach Mike Woodson, Billy Knight resigned. In came one of the worst general managers in the NBA, Rick Sund, who, outside of a couple key role players off the bench, contributed nothing to the roster via free agency and other than Jeff Teague, he continued in the Hawks history of questionable draft selections. The team during the Sund era, though not championship quality, was competitive and exciting largely due to players brought in during the Knight era, hence the name “Highlight Factory” given to Phillips Arena. The fans attempted to show up, but at the time the Hawks marketing and promotions staff did not understand how to cater to the fans. I remember going to a meaningful Hawks game where the Hawks wanted to have a white out where everyone in the Arena wore white Atlanta Hawks t-shirts. Upon entering the Arena the Hawks staff were selling the white out t-shirts for $5 to anyone wanting to participate. Not that $5 was too steep a price but considering other franchises were inducing team spirit by giving away team t-shirts to its fans showed how much the Hawks as an organization appreciated it’s fans. In August 2011, the Hawks were close to being sold to Alex Meruelo a California-based businessman. Due to the NBA lockout the deal fell through. If there was ever going to be change at the tip top of the franchise that was the opportunity. Since there will not be change of ownership, the next best thing is change in the way ownership runs its business.
The first thing the Atlanta Spirit LLC and it’s now seven member group, due to the buyout of Steve Belkin and the death of Bud Seretean, did was hire Danny Ferry as President of Basketball Operations and general manager. With Ferry the Atlanta Spirit group hired a general manager with total power when it comes to basketball and personnel decisions; power not given to Knight or Sund. Ferry immediately made quality moves with the team by finding away to get rid of both Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams along with their oversized contracts while still remaining competitive despite many basketball experts projecting the Hawks to finish near the bottom of the Eastern conference.
After the ownership changed philosophies pertaining building a championship contending team by hiring a general manager and getting out the way, the general manager must then hire a head coach who shares similar, winning ideals. Someone who comes from winning tradition with a winning system. In comes Mike Budenholzer, who has four NBA championship rings as assistant coach of the San Antonio Spurs under coach Popovich. Budenholzer brings with him a system conducive to winning by being efficient on both ends of the floor. The next step is to gather players capable of excelling in coach Bud’s system.
In order to have players in uniform capable of excelling in Budenholzer’s system, roster moves had to be made to change the culture of the team. In the off-season the Hawks decided to allow guys like Josh Smith and Ivan Johnson leave while acquiring more professional players such as Paul Millsap and DeMarre Carroll. Ferry also drafted Dennis Schröder, a young and exciting talent, with the Hawk’s first round pick in this year’s draft. No, Ferry was not able to land Chris Paul or Dwight Howard this off-season but they were long shots anyhow. Ferry was able to bring in solid players to help the team compete now while not being handcuffed by bad contracts in the future free agent market. Next off-season and the off-season after, the Hawks will be in favorable financial situation to land a big name player via free agency.
Now that the Atlanta Hawks have begun change from the way ownership approaches building a championship contender to the type of players put on the team, it’s time to change the culture of the fans. How is this done? By catering and reaching out to the people. During the a Hawks home opener Friday night, tickets could be bought for as low as $10. The Hawks promotion staff did an excellent job of calling for a white out and placing white Atlanta Hawks t-shirts on every seat in the Arena. Although the Hawks home opener was announced as a sellout, Phillips Arena was half full at best while maybe 10 patrons elected to wear the white t-shirt provided by organization to support the “white out”. Come on Hawks fans! It’s time for us to change the way we show support to this team. We constantly complain about a lack of a superstar player on the roster but what superstar wants to come play in a half empty Arena with lackluster fans?
Therefore, I’m issuing a challenge to all Atlanta Hawks fans. I challenge you to give this team an opportunity to show they have changed. I challenge you to support the team by coming down to Phillips Arena, displaying team spirit, and sharing your enjoyment with friends and family. I challenge you to be the much needed 12th man by being loud and raunchy at games, giving our team a boost while demoralizing the road squad. I challenge all Hawk fans to wear your Hawks gear and be proud to express your love for the Hawks. The Hawks are currently on a three game west coast road trip where they play the Los Angeles Lakers tonight, the Sacramento Kings Tuesday night, and the Denver NuggetsThursday night. When they return home Saturday, November 9, to face the Orlando Magic, I beseech all Hawks fans to show up and fly high with YOUR ATLANTA HAWKS! Rise up ATL!
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