Hawks co-owner Bruce Levenson was the point man for the team’s recruitment of general manager Danny Ferry. He said he took the lead because he had a previous relationship with Ferry back when Ferry was Cleveland’s general manager.
My impression is that the Hawks are more likely to make major moves with Ferry in charge rather than Rick Sund, who would have been more a caretaker if he’d stayed on as GM. Levenson said he’s not sure of Ferry’s plans because the two didn’t talk much about the current roster before he was hired, instead focusing on building a long-term program.
But Levenson said he believes the Hawks will benefit from an outsider’s fresh perspective because the owners are close to the current players.
“It will be interesting to see what direction he goes,” Levenson said.
Here are some excerpts from Levenson’s session with reporters yesterday:
From Levenson’s opening remarks at the press conference.
“We had hurdles to overcome to get Danny to come here. Not just because of some of the missteps that we’ve made but also because he and his family were in a great position in San Antonio. He turned down other opportunities to leave and teams were knocking at his door.
“We had dozens of meetings–Rick, my partners, Michael [Gearon Jr.] and Ed [Peskowitz]. For every question we asked [Ferry], he asked 10 of us. Danny challenged us to make sure of our commitment. To make sure my heart is in this. To make sure we all invest of our time and our money to build an enduring, championship organization.
“He wanted commitments from us to increase our investments in our facilities, in our sports medicine and science, in analytics and, most importantly, in our player development. We said yes, yes and yes.”
Q. It sounds as if you kind of had to sell Danny on the job. What concerns did he have and what did you tell him to alleviate those concerns?
A. “Above everything else, he was concerned would ownership make the commitment that needs to be made to create the enduring championship organization that he only wants to be a part of. He had a laundry list of things that he wanted to talk about, some of which I spoke of up there, others I’m not going to get into. There is literally a laundry list of things that he was not come here if we didn’t agree to that.”
Q. You mentioned facilities as one of them. Also, basketball operations–
A. “Analytitcs. There is a new wave of analytics sweeping over us. There is new investments in sports medicine and sports science that need to be made. There’s a whole litany that can be done from a player-development standpoint, such as an affiliation with a D-League team. These are just some of the things that we have talked about and he has shown me why they are all important, why they are all part of building something enduring here.”
Q. He was concerned about having autonomy if he took the Philadelphia job. Did you ensure him complete control of basketball operations and decisions?
Q. That was an important consideration for him?
A. I think that was a given probably from the first sentence. From his end, and mine as well.
A. You have no cap space, and not much room under the luxury tax, the exact amount won’t be known until the league audit. If it comes down to it will you spend into the tax? I know you did this year because of circumstances but do you anticipate being a tax payer going forward?
“The answer is, yes we have in the past and if it makes sense, I am sure we will in the future. Those are going to be Danny’s decisions. They really are. It’s interesting, Michael, we spent 100 hours talking to each other. I’m not exaggerating. And I can’t recall a single minute we spent discussing this current roster—sign this player, trade for that player. We didn’t have any discussions whatsoever along those lines.
“Our discussions were, ‘How are we going to build something long-term?’ My kids find this hard to believe because they keep asking me: ‘Well, what are we going to do about this player? What about that player?’ I tell them we haven’t had those conversations. There is a much, bigger long-term picture here that Danny and I spent all of our time focused on.”
Q. How would you describe Danny’s team-building philosophy?
“We had some really interesting conversations about that. He brings a focus to the draft that is, if you look at San Antonio’s and Cleveland’s success in that regard, it’s really a broad focus that shows a really deep understanding of everything from the analytics to the team chemistry to the psychology of a player. How you look at a player and look at if this player has a chance to be developed in a real player-development program.
“We talked about one example—I don’t want to go into the [name of the] player—it was a player they thought they could take a chance on, an area of deficiency in his game they felt confident they could improve. This player was undervalued because of that. That sort of ability to capture that kind of value is going to be really, really important with the new collective bargaining agreement.”
Q. San Antonio has had a lot of success with finding undervalued players–
A. “It’s not been luck. There really has been a devotion to a process. Investment in things you can’t look at and say, ‘Oh, that’s going to give you ‘x’ return on your investment. But it’s something, taken collectively, has produced the sort of home runs they’ve been able to produce in player development over a long period of time. In the new collective bargaining agreement, having an edge like that is going to be the diffence between winning and losing.
Q. You said you talked to Rick three months ago and decided to make a long-term hire. What about the timing picking up Drew’s contract before having a GM in place. What was the thinking there?
A. We had already begun talking to Danny. Rick and I had that dinner three or four months ago, and the next morning I called the Spurs and asked can I talk to Danny. I did start talking to Danny that day. We picked up Larry’s contract subsequent to that. We were far from coming to terms with Danny at that point. I did discuss the wisdom of what we did there [with Ferry].
Q. He was fine with that?
A. “He was fine with it, yes.”
Q. You tried to sell the team last year. Are there still plans to sell the team by you or any of your partners?
Q. Was that a question Danny had for you?
“We have one of the smallest ownership groups in the NBA. I would love to find strategic investors to bring into the group, not so much for their money but for other things they might bring to the table. That may happen at some point. But, no, we are not selling the team. We are very much in control of the team. We will be in control of the team for the long haul, for a long time.
Q. Normally it’s Michael [Gearon Jr.] here. Where is he?
“He’s out of the country on a long-planned family vacation.”
Q. Is this your most important free-agent signing?
“When we got here, we were told there was no way this city could attract quality free agents. We were able to bring Joe Johnson in here. That was a seminal moment for this franchise. Danny, I think, is another seminal moment. He has five kids ages 5 to 15. It’s a big deal for him to take his kids and bring him to this city. . . . This was a terrific outcome for us and I know it’s going to be a terrific outcome for Danny.”
Q. Some teams have proprietary analytic systems. Is that something you could build here and bring in people experienced in that area?
Q. Do you know what Danny’s plans are for the basketball staff?
“This is a great time for him to get to know the staff, evaluate the staff and make decisions going forward.”
Q. Are the other staff members on expiring contracts like Rick?
“Some are, some are not.”
Q. You lost in the first round and some wonder has this team gone as far as it can go. With new management in place, if you are looking to make a dramatic move, is this the time to do it?
“Danny and I never once spoke about the current team. That was frustrating because my sons wanted to know. That’s not what this is about. We didn’t talk about the current team. We talked about building an enduring championship organization going forward and what that would look like in terms of investment on our part, in terms of commitment in our part of our money and time and our heart. We talked about the new CBA and it’s impact on teams’ flexibility and ability to continue to build and change. We talked about the relationship between the business side and the basketball side and the importance that they pull in same direction. . . . He will go talk to Rick, Larry and the players and then come back with his thoughts on what we need to do going forward.
“Personally I replay every moment of that series against Boston, from the shot that Willie [Green] missed that he hits 63.7 percent of the time from that spot. From Josh [Smith] getting injured in that game, to Al [Horford] coming back, to Zaza [Pachulia] not being there to other things that I can’t talk about that happened but that others have made apologies for. That [series] was a killer for me. It makes the decision that much harder. If we’d gotten blown out by a very good Boston team in four games, it would be much easier answers to your questions.”
Q. I think a lot of people agree the injuries and the thing you can’t talk about affected that series. But do you also look beyond that and say, ‘Are we good enough to beat Miami?’
“I think it’s a lot more important how Rick and Larry and Danny and, probably most importantly, how the players think about that, Michael. Rick was very smart. He waited a couple weeks to do his exit interviews with the players we have under contract. To a man, they would say yes to that question. I think that’s important. It’s not the only thing, but it would not be good if they didn’t feel that way.
Q. In your opening remarks, you talked about hurdles you had to overcome to overcome to recruit Danny and the missteps you’ve made over the years. Danny mentioned your humility. What were some of those things you talked about?
A. “He asked me about all the things you guys have been writing about over the years. That was a really healthy conversation because it was an outsiders’ perspective asking about everything from the lawsuit to the failed sale. It was a time, for me, for reflection. It really was. To understand how someone in Danny’s position would look at it and be able to talk through, not just my side of the story, but the impact that I thought it had on our organization. I don’t need to go over them all with you. You guys know what those things would be.
“Danny did his homework. I think he read everything that had ever been written about this organization. He looked at interviews that had been conducted. He, rightfully so, had questions about all of that stuff. In some cases I think I had explanations for them, in other cases I think we made mistakes. The challenge is not to make those mistakes in the future.”
Q. If you hadn’t hired Danny, would Rick still be GM?
“Rick has been beyond fantastic throughout this and I’ve been transparent. Our plan was, he was ready to stay in that GM role for another season if that’s what it took for us to find the right person. I said to Rick this is not going to be easy finding the kind of person we are looking for. It may take a while. Rick was great about that.”
Michael Cunningham, Hawks beat