Atlanta Hawks: Guide To The Coaching Staff
Not only do the Atlanta Hawks enter the new season with countless new faces on the court, but also with a dramatically changed coaching landscape off of it. Larry Drew has left Atlanta after a total of nine years with the franchise. Drew, who joined the Hawks as an assistant to Mike Woodson in 2004, had been the man in charge in the ATL since the departure of Woodson in 2010. Drew helped lead the team to three consecutive playoff appearances, but never further than the second round.
With that in mind, general manager Danny Ferry opted against renewing Drew’s contract and a new era in Philips Arena began. Other coaching changes included, the departure of player development coach Nick Van Exel, who followed Drew to the Milwaukee Bucks, and lead assistant Lester Conner, leaving for the Denver Nuggets to join up with Brian Shaw. So with these wholesale changes, who are the key men making up the new look coaching staff in Atlanta?
New Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer (Photo Credit: NBA.com)
Mike Budenholzer takes his first head coaching position in the NBA, having served the best possible apprenticeship. Having learned at the side of one of the greats, Gregg Popovich, for almost 18 years, “Coach Bud” has decided to go it alone. In Atlanta, he has found the ideal fit, something that he credits in helping him to reach the decision to leave the comfort and security of the San Antonio Spurs. Hawks GM Danny Ferry hired Budenholzer with first hand experience of his coaching abilities, having played under the Arizona man in San Antonio. When Ferry retired and moved upstairs to the Spurs front office, the pair’s working relationship grew even stronger. Heading into an off-season with two first round draft picks and vast amounts of cap space, Ferry was happy that Bud was the man to help him bring the Hawks to the next level.
Now at the tail end of the offseason, it’s fair to say that Ferry and Budenholzer have made a good start to the rebuilding process in Atlanta. Paul Millsap arrived in an exceptionally good value deal from Utah to combine with Al Horford in an All-Star caliber front court. Dennis Schroeder and Lucas Nogueira were added with the first-round draft picks and look like two men with the undoubted potential to excel in the NBA over the coming years, while the additions of DeMarre Carroll, Elton Brand and Gustavo Ayon should add grit and toughness to the young Hawks core. Retaining talented starting point guard Jeff Teague and sharpshooter Kyle Korver also, overall the Hawks appear to have a very competitive roster with continued flexibility going forward.
The Hawks will be aiming to return to the playoffs for the seventh straight season this year, but more importantly to do so while implementing a style and a system that will make Atlanta a successful and desirable franchise going forward. Aside from any form of X’s and O’s, the key component to the system Budenholzer and Ferry want to put in place is competitiveness. The Hawks roster now contains a group of players, who with no disrespect, would generally not be considered spectacular or flash. With Josh Smith gone, there’ll be less high flying dunks, but also less wild ill-timed 3 pointers in Atlanta this year. Instead, there’s a group of solid all around players who should be there, or there about, every time they step on the floor.
As the season progresses, expect to see the Hawks develop the type of unselfish game plan that has reaped rewards in San Antonio. Budenholzer has said that he wants the team to play with pace, and with constant movement of both the ball and his players. Teague and Horford will find themselves in plenty of pick and roll, modeled on Tony Parker and Tim Duncan, but the key to the Hawks season will be building a strong defensive identity. With Budenholzer already hard at work, he’ll be looking to see early signs of growth during the preseason.
Quin Snyder courtside during his time with the Lakers. (Photo Credit: Keith Allison, Wikimedia Commons)
Snyder was the man with the earliest opportunity to get to know some of the Hawks younger players as he took charge of Atlanta’s Summer League entry in Las Vegas this summer. Snyder arrives in Georgia having gone the route less traveled. After competing for a championship in college with Danny Ferry at Duke, the philosophy and political science graduate took on his first role as an assistant coach with the Los Angeles Clippers in 1992. After a year working with Larry Brown, Snyder was back at his alma mater. He would spend the next six years as an assistant to legendary Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski before getting the opportunity to become head coach for the Missouri Tigers.
Snyder led the Tigers to four consecutive NCAA tournaments during his time in charge, including a trip to the Elite Eight. Snyder truly returned to the NBA consciousness with his next job as the head coach of the D-League’s Austin Toros. During his three years at the helm, the Toros won more games than anyone else, also making a trip to the finals and two to the semifinals.
From there, Doug Collins gave Snyder the chance to work with him in Philadelphia for the 76ers, and a year later he would join forces with Mike Brown with the Los Angeles Lakers. Just as it looked as if the Washington native was ready to settle into NBA life, he departed for Europe. Having come in contact with legendary European coach Ettore Messina during their mutual time spent at the Lakers, Snyder followed Messina to one of Europe’s most storied franchises, CSKA Moscow. Snyder is well respected for his basketball mind around the league, but perhaps more important is his vast experience. If as a first time head coach in the league, Budenholzer needs someone to lean on, who better than a man who has worked alongside legends such as Messina, Collins, Krzyzewski and Larry Brown.
As the sole survivor from the Larry Drew regime, Atkinson is the man who knows the ropes in Atlanta. Highly thought of by front offices around the league, Atkinson got down to the final few contenders for the 76ers job this season. With Brett Brown appointed in Philadelphia, Atkinson will have to make do for another year as an assistant in Atlanta, a job he has proven to be accomplished at. Despite having relative success as a college player at the University of Richmond, Atkinson never made it to the NBA as a player, although he did play professionally in Europe.
As a coach, Atkinson tends to have a particular focus on player development and helping young players to improve. After his first assistant coaching job with Paris Basket Racing, Atkinson returned to the States as head of player development for the Houston Rockets. This was followed by four years as an assistant to Mike D’Antoni for the New York Knicks. Having joined the Hawks last season, Atkinson was well received by the players. As the only coach retained from the previous regime, Atkinson clearly impressed Danny Ferry also.
Jenkins is yet another man joining the Hawks with many San Antonio connections in his past. Most recently, Jenkins served as head coach of the Spurs D-League affiliate, the Austin Toros. In his sole season in charge the Toros finished the season 27-23, before losing to the Santa Cruz Warriors in the semi finals. Before his spell in charge in Austin, Jenkins had spent the 4 years previous as an assistant for the Toros.
In between his work for the D-League affiliate, Jenkins has also worked with the Spurs in other forms. In 2007, Jenkins served as an intern in San Antonio’s basketball operations department, while last year he coached the Spurs Summer League entry. All in all, Jenkins brings experience of winning.
Ham is a former Hawk, having spent one of his eight seasons in the league in Atlanta. Despite coming undrafted out of Texas Tech, Ham enjoyed quite a lengthy NBA career. Generally a backup, Ham earned a reputation as an explosive dunker around the league which culminated in his appearance in the 1997 Dunk Contest. The undoubted highlight of the Michigan man’s career though,came as a member of the title winning Detroit team in 2004. Aside from his time with the Pistons and the Hawks, Ham also played for the Nuggets, Pacers, Wizards and Bucks.
Just like many of his colleagues on the coaching staff in Atlanta, Ham also spent time playing basketball around the world with a year in both Spain and the Philippines. As a coach, Ham started out by spending 3 years as an assistant at the D-League’s Thunderbirds franchise. From here, he got his break, moving to the Lakers in 2011. Now with the Hawks, a primary focus for Ham will be to encourage the grit and toughness that he himself brought as a player.
Thomas joins the Hawks coaching staff with years of experience from around the NBA. Thomas, a shooting guard, had a very successful college career with the Indiana Hoosiers, peaking with their 1981 NCAA championship victory. Thomas then went on to play for a variety of NBA and CBA franchises throughout the 80s. These included the Pacers, Clippers and Timberwolves.
After retiring from professional basketball after a year in Spain, Thomas joined the Toronto Raptors as an assistant in 1996. During his time at both Toronto, and later Indiana, Thomas acted as both a coach and a scout. In the years since, during his time spent with the Knicks and Thunder, his primary focus has been purely scouting draft prospects. After a lengthy break from coaching, the Hawks plan for Thomas to return to the dual role of assistant and scout.
So, there you have it. Those are the man tasked with leading the Hawks forward this year. Not long to wait now, as the Hawks open their preseason schedule against the Heat on Monday. Hopefully this will allow everyone a sneak peek at what Atlanta’s coaching staff has in store for us over the coming months.
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