Hawks, budenholzer both could be making mistakes if they split

Schlenk’s logic could be that in two years, he might be looking for a new coach, anyway. So it could make more sense to hire a younger — and certainly cheaper — coach who can grow with the team. Also, if another team (Phoenix) is willing to give up a first-round pick as compensation for Budenholzer, it potentially expedites the rebuilding process.

That said, Schlenk recognizes Budenholzer is a really good coach. The early bumps that the two had in their relationship after Schlenk arrived eased somewhat late in the season. Schlenk gained respect for how Budenholzer handled the losing and Budenholzer became resigned to the rebuild, at least on some level.

It would be strange to see the Hawks just let Budenholzer walk out the door. He remains one of the NBA’s best coaches. To assume the franchise can find another coach who’s just as good is a massive risk — and that in itself can hurt the rebuild.

If Budenholzer simply wants to get an offer so he can leverage that for a longer contract with the Hawks, that makes sense. But he certainly seems serious about this job search. If he simply wants to have a chance to win next season, pursing the Phoenix job makes little sense.

Yes, the Suns are three years into a rebuild and the Hawks only one. But it’s not as if Phoenix’s win total has been ascending (23, 24 and 21 in the last three years). It has a potential star in guard Devin Booker and the best draft lottery odds to win the No. 1 pick (presumably DeAndre Ayton from Arizona). The Hawks have no star.

Hawks majority owner Tony Ressler is still relatively new but he has shown a willingness to spend money in the right areas: a long overdue practice facility, the acquisition of a G-League team (which will move from Erie to Atlanta in a year) and the renovation of Philips Arena (albeit with significant public dollars).

Phoenix is owned by Robert Sarver, who has been at the forefront of front office dysfunction for several years. In 2016, ESPN ranked him as the worst owner in the NBA. The Suns were ranked 120th out of 122 pro sports franchises. Sarver hired Steve Kerr as general manager, who did a nice job building the team (good). But three years later, Kerr resigned, reportedly in a contract dispute (bad).

As the Journal-Constitution’s Michael Cunningham points out, the Suns are potentially set up nicely for the future with draft picks and salary cap space. So are the Hawks. Budenholzer is from Holbrook, Arizona. But is this really a case of him wanting to go back “home”? He last lived in Holbrook during high school. Holbrook is a three-hour drive from Phoenix, not exactly next door.

Maybe Budenholzer just wants a fresh start. But if that was true, wouldn’t he have left last summer, when he was stripped of his personnel power and Schlenk was hired? He had to know what Schlenk’s plan was in regards to the rebuild, and the likelihood that Paul Millsap would not be re-signed.

Until Budenholzer speaks publicly about a potential exit, we can’t know what’s in his head. Even then, it’s uncertain how forthcoming he’ll be. But this could be the bottom point of the Hawks’ rebuild and it would seem they’re heading in the right direction. If Budenholzer winds up in Phoenix, he assumes a lot he has taken a step forward.

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