Three cheers for the Atlanta Hawks, and not just puny “hip, hips,” either. Make these full-throated “hoorays.” A franchise that has chosen wrong so often has finally done it right. It has hired a basketball man of impeccable pedigree and plans to get out of his way.
Danny Ferry has done two tours with the San Antonio Spurs, the gold standard of NBA organizations, and in between he was general manager of the Cleveland Cavaliers, who played for the NBA title in 2007 and won 66 games in 2008-2009. That Ferry has chosen to become GM of the Hawks says he’s sold on an organization that has, to be frank, been the toughest of sells.
Bruce Levenson, one of the Hawks’ many owners, introduced Ferry on Monday by saying, “For every question we asked Danny, he asked 10 of us.” That was a polite way of noting the interviewee was actually the interviewer. At issue wasn’t why the Hawks should hire him — that much was apparent — but why he should deign to work for these owners.
Had Ferry remained unsold on these owners, he’d have taken the Philadelphia job (he’d also had an audience there) or stayed in San Antonio. Of Levenson, Ferry said: “I was struck by his humble approach to the past, especially for a team that has done well.”
Let the record reflect that, of the first thousand adjectives that might attach themselves to Levenson, “humble” isn’t among them. But this ownership just managed to convince a pragmatic man that it’s serious about changing, serious about winning in a way it hasn’t been to date. (Sure enough, Levenson went so far as to acknowledge “missteps” — also a departure.)
Know this about Ferry: He left Cleveland after five good-to-excellent years — yes, having the world’s best player under contract had something to do with it — because he and owner Dan Gilbert no longer shared a vision. In the willingness to do whatever it took to keep LeBron James, Gilbert fired coach Mike Brown. Ferry, whose contract was expiring, chose to walk away. “We were on different pages,” Ferry said, “and I think I’ve given you what I’ll give you [as rationale].”
Burned once, such a man would be doubly sure to ask tens if not hundreds of questions of any prospective employers. “I was in a good spot where I was,” Ferry said. “I would not have made this decision if I didn’t think this was a good opportunity and a good challenge.”
Danny Ferry is the son of Bob Ferry, who in 1959 was the first-round pick of the Hawks, then based in St. Louis, and who would become GM of the Baltimore/Washington Bullets. Danny Ferry had such a golden career as a player — national champ in high school, three Final Fours in college, an NBA crown with the Spurs in 2003 — that if you ask, “Who’s the best coach you ever had?,” he can tick off four Hall of Famers as candidates: Morgan Wootten of DeMatha Catholic, Mike Krzyzewski of Duke, Lenny Wilkens of Cleveland and Gregg Popovich of the Spurs.
And Danny Ferry, basketball lifer, didn’t come here to rubber-stamp the whims of Levenson and the Gearons. “I’m allowed to do everything,” he said, responding to a question about having the Hawks rely more on statistical analysis. “If we take a common-sense approach, I’m very confident the answer [from ownership] is going to be yes.”
There will be time to discuss deeper issues — the state of the Hawks’ Core Four, the status of lame-duck coach Larry Drew, the enduring question of what to do with Josh Smith — in the days ahead, but for now it’s enough to know that the new GM believes he’s inheriting some “really good players” and that he’s committed to “building something even stronger from what’s already there.”
If you’re looking for a Ferry credo, this will do: “We want to be a value-based franchise.”
If you’re seeking an assurance that these owners, who have spent nearly a decade alienating their constituency, are serious about changing, know that Ferry asked Levenson, “Are you willing to do this the right way?” — and was satisfied with the answer.
These owners have gone from wanting to dump the Hawks from wanting to keep them and run them the way the Spurs have been run. Said Ferry: “I would not have come here if I thought [the Hawks being sold] was an issue. Bruce and I were just saying we’d hoped we’d both still be here 12 years from now.”
There was a time — like, say, last week — when the thought of 12 more years of these Hawks under these owners would have induced howls of anguish. But now these owners have seen fit to hire Danny Ferry to run their team, and you have to admit: That’s one heck of a restart.
By Mark Bradley