Hawks GM Danny Ferry Steps Down In Buyout Deal

NBA: Atlanta Hawks-Mike Budenholzer Press Conference

Courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

JUNE 30th, 6:46pm: The Hawks formally announced the promotions of Budenholzer and Wilcox, according to Vivlamore (on Twitter).

JUNE 25th, 10:38am: New owner Tony Ressler confirmed to Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (on Twitter) that he has a “handshake agreement” with Mike Budenholzer to be president/head coach and Wes Wilcox to be GM.

JUNE 22nd, 11:03am: Ferry has stepped down, the team formally announced via press release.

“This season has proved two things,” Hawks CEO Steve Koonin said in the team’s statement.  “First, Danny Ferry is a tremendous GM. Danny was the principal architect of the Hawks’ success in Atlanta.  From the hiring of Coach Bud to reinventing the roster, Danny’s vision has put us in the tremendous place we are today. Danny acted with integrity and professionalism as he guided the organization through important changes over the last few years. Second, Danny Ferry is not a racist. Danny showed great leadership in stepping aside in the fall so the season could proceed with as few distractions as possible. He has always put the team first despite the great personal difficulties he endured. Now that the team has identified new ownership, the resolution of Danny’s contract with existing ownership is appropriate. We wish Danny and his family only the best moving forward.”

Budenholzer, who’s also quoted in the statement, lauded Ferry’s roster building, and Ferry spoke as well.

“While the past year has been incredibly difficult and humbling, it is critical for me to clear my name and for people to realize that I have always built a culture of respect, diversity, and honesty,” Ferry said. “Now that the key facts have been made known, I am making the difficult decision to step away from this team and this special group of players.  I have seen how gracious and forgiving people can be – especially Luol, who had every right to be hurt and angry after being brought into this situation.  I thank him for his forgiveness and support. I also greatly appreciate that our players and coaches have been supportive, along with so many friends, old and new.  As the Hawks move to a new chapter, I will continue to support the players and wish them the continued success that they and the fans of Atlanta deserve.”

JUNE 20th, 5:05pm: A law firm commissioned by the Hawks to investigate the comments Ferry made in reference to Deng last year found no wrongdoing on the part of the GM, according to a letter the firm sent to Ferry that multiple Atlanta-area media members obtained, including Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“We reported the results of our work to the Hawks. In summary, the facts indicated that you repeated comments that were not your own about Mr. Deng from a scouting report during the call, and there was no evidence to indicate that during the call you acted in a manner motivated by negative bias toward Mr. Deng, his race or his country of origin,” the letter read in part. “In fact, you strongly recommended Luol Deng and attempted to sign him for the team. Based on the materials reviewed within the scope of the investigation, we did not uncover facts indicating that your repetition of words contained within a scouting report was improperly motivated by race, ethnicity, or country of origin.”

Co-owner Todd Foreman also sent a letter to Ferry stating that “at the heart of this dispute was the unfortunate disagreement amongst owners,” Vivlamore reports. Michael Gearon Jr., a rival of Levenson’s, called for Ferry to be fired after his comments about Deng last year.

2:48pm: Ferry will receive “substantially more” through the buyout deal than his contract called for him to make over the remainder of its term, Vivlamore writes in a full story.

JUNE 19th, 1:20pm: The Hawks board of managers approved the buyout deal with Ferry today, Vivlamore reports, adding that an official announcement is forthcoming in a few days (Twitter link).

3:11pm: The league is expected to approve the new owners on June 24th, according to Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today. Ferry had hoped that ties to Grant Hill and Jesse Itzler, partners in Ressler’s group, would save his job, but over time, he realized that wouldn’t happen, Zillgitt reports, adding that Ferry indeed wants to return to NBA work.

JUNE 18th, 1:11pm: Hawks officials and Ferry have reached a buyout agreement that will give Ferry more than what the three years remaining on his contract called for him to make, reports Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN.com. The current owners will assume responsibility for the cost of the buyout, Arnovitz adds. The team’s board of managers will hold a conference call to Friday to approve the buyout terms, according to Arnovitz.

10:45am: No one has told either Budenholzer or Wilcox just yet about any potential changes to their roles, Vivlamore tweets.

9:58am: The Hawks plan to work out deals that install coach and acting GM Mike Budenholzer as president and coach, promote assistant GM Wes Wilcox to GM, and allow the team to part ways with GM Danny Ferry, who’s been on a leave of absence since September, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports. The plan appears to emanate from the team’s incoming ownership, led by Tony Ressler, who, league sources told Wojnarowski, will make contract negotiations with Budenholzer and Wilcox their first priority upon receiving league approval for their purchase of the franchise. Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported in mid-May that the approval process was expected to be finished on a timetable that would finalize the sale sometime between now and early next month.

Higher-ups around the league have lent their support to Ferry, with most believing that he’ll again find work in a team’s front office, Wojnarowski writes. Ferry’s racially insensitive remarks while reading a scouting report about Luol Deng last year led him to take his leave of absence in September, shortly after controlling owner Bruce Levenson said he planned to sell the team amid the revelation of his own racially charged emails. Budenholzer took control of the front office around that time, though as Vivlamore told us, Atlanta’s player personnel decisions continued to be made in a collaborative manner, with Wilcox and others heavily involved.

Budenholzer won the league’s Coach of the Year award and finished third in Executive of the Year voting after the Hawks won 60 games this past season, though some votes that went to Budenholzer were meant as nods to Ferry, multiple executives told Ken Berger of CBSSports.com. Some executives, who vote on the award rather than media members, were displeased that the Hawks chose to nominate Budenholzer for the honor instead of Ferry, Hoops Rumors reported. Some of them spoke of abstaining from the vote, though all 30 voters ultimately cast their ballots. The Hawks made the vast majority of the moves that brought their roster together before Ferry went on leave.

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