Tony Ressler

Ressler Wants Hawks To Be Top-Tier Free Agent Destination

Although Atlanta is one of the NBA’s largest markets, the Hawks haven’t typically been the sort of franchise stars flock to, like those based in Los Angles, New York, and Miami. Team owner Tony Ressler is hoping to change that, as Chris Kirschner of The Athletic writes.

Since assuming control of the team, Ressler has renovated State Farm Arena, built a state-of-the-art practice facility, purchased a G League franchise, and – most recently – invested huge money in several important members of the team that made a run to the Eastern Conference Finals earlier this year.

Trae Young, John Collins, Clint Capela, and Kevin Huerter have all received lucrative long-term deals in the last three months, and Ressler says he’ll have no issue with paying the luxury tax going forward as long as Atlanta continues to contend.

“How could we not be a true free agent destination?” Ressler rhetorically asked Kirschner. “We think, I would argue, our facilities are as good as any, our city is as good as any, our roster is as good as any, our investment, our dollars, our commitment to spend is as good as any. It makes no sense that historically this team has not been a top-tier free agent destination. And I think you have to earn that, and make clear that it’s a franchise committed to winning in every sense of the way.

“… One of the true objectives or genuine objectives of this ownership is to make sure that we win on a tie for great players, if we have to. That we attract great players, that we keep great players, and that players, frankly, look at Atlanta as a really great place to play. I think that takes a lot of work. Hopefully we’re pretty close.”

The Hawks operated as an over-the-cap team this offseason, but had significant cap space available for a few summers before that. In most cases, Atlanta opted to use that space to accommodate salary dumps and accumulate assets, but the club forayed into free agency in 2020, signing veterans like Danilo Gallinari, Bogdan Bogdanovic, and Rajon Rondo. Those players aren’t superstars, but Gallinari and Bogdanovic especially were a couple of the top available players on the open market.

The Hawks don’t project to have cap space again anytime soon, but if Ressler’s plan is successful, a higher caliber of player may be interested in joining the team on mid-level or minimum-salary money. That could be a factor in helping to push Atlanta over the top, though Ressler told Kirschner he believes that – even without further upgrades – the current roster is capable of winning a title.

“We expect to be contenders, man,” Ressler said. “We expect to be really good. We hope to be really good, and we’re going to see how it plays out.”

GM Believes Hawks Have Become Free Agent Destination

President of basketball operations Travis Schlenk believes the Hawks are now a destination for top free agents and All-Star level players seeking a trade, Chris Kirschner of The Athletic writes.

“I think last year kind of put us back on the NBA map as far as a destination,” he said. “Those who want to get traded, they want to go somewhere they think they can win. And I think now that perception of us is out there, because we do have a young core that did show success in the playoffs. So the hope would be when a star player does ask to be traded, we’ll be one of the destinations he’ll be open to coming to.”

Acquiring a second star to pair with Trae Young could be somewhat difficult, though Schlenk sees it as a possibility.

“I still think when you look at the depth of our roster and the young talent that we have, we don’t have draft assets like we have in the past anymore, but we now have guys under contract that you could match some of the bigger salaries,” he said.

The Hawks have one spot open on the 15-man roster, but Schlenk doesn’t plan to fill it right away. The team is close to the luxury tax, so when a 15th player is added, it will likely be on a non-guaranteed deal.

However, if Atlanta is in title contention again, owner Tony Ressler won’t mind paying the tax, according to Schlenk.

“Certainly, Tony is willing to pay the tax if we are going to be a contender,” Schlenk said. “I’m probably more conscious of it than Tony is, to be honest with you. It’s my job to manage his money. He’s got a lot more of it than I do, so I worry about it more than he does.”

Another order of business that the Hawks would like to take care of before the start of next season is reaching an extension agreement with Kevin Huerter, according to Sarah Spencer of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He’s one of the NBA players eligible for a rookie scale extension.

The talks should heat up next week, Spencer adds.

Tony Ressler: Hawks Hoping For “Fair Agreement” With John Collins

Following a surprise trip to the Eastern Conference finals, the Hawks face a few financial decisions that will shape the future of the franchise. Team owner Tony Ressler provided some insight into Atlanta’s mindset during an end-of-season news conference, writes Chris Kirschner of The Athletic.

Trae Young appears to be a lock for a full max extension that will pay him at least $168MM over five years, beginning with the 2022/23 season. Kirschner notes that Young’s contract will likely include language that would increase the value if he earns All-NBA or MVP honors.

The more difficult decision involves John Collins, a restricted free agent who turned down a $90MM extension last offseason. Kirschner identifies the Spurs as a “perfect fit” for Collins and points to the Heat and Mavericks as other potential suitors, which could result in a contract that will be difficult for Atlanta to match.

“Our job is to come to a fair agreement with John. That’s our objective. There should be no question,” Ressler said. “He’s a really good player and maybe more importantly, a really good person. So the idea of having both is important to this franchise. That’s my view. The idea of being smart for both of us, to come to a reasonable place, that’s the objective, and there should be no confusion. I think as (general manager) Travis (Schlenk) said, which I think is amazing, a lot of players that don’t agree to a contract going into this season, play in a certain way. John played as an amazing teammate trying to win games and doing whatever he could do to win games. John’s a really good guy and a really good teammate. I hope he is an Atlanta Hawk.”

Ressler touched on a few other subjects during the session with the media:

On whether the Hawks should now be considered title contenders:

“I personally think if we were completely healthy, I think we could have done more. I’m just going to say that. Come on, (Bogdan Bogdanovic) for a good chunk of the series was on one leg. Trae could not walk. … These are young men in their early 20s that could barely walk and were asked to play on one of the most difficult stages in the NBA. That’s pretty remarkable. Some of them had terrible injuries and they still tried to play, and some still played. … I think we have enough. I think we have some extraordinary talent that could be even better with each season. I absolutely believe we have enough to win a championship is the simple answer. But, hey, our job is to always try to be better.”

On his willingness to pay the luxury tax:

“What we are trying to achieve is literally keeping our best players, as you could imagine, trying to make clear that we’re going to have to spend a lot more than we have this season. We fully expect that. I’m not sure we’re going to be able to keep every single player that we want to keep. Pretty good bet, pretty good assumption we will not. But I do think we have several years that we should be able to build some real stability. If the question is are we scared of the tax, are we scared of going into the tax? I’m scared of paying the tax and not being a good team, yes, that I’m scared of, but if we have to go into the tax to be a great team for a period of time, so be it.”

On Atlanta’s fans embracing the team:

“I don’t want to make jokes about this, but four or five years ago, you could come to a playoff game and you could see more jerseys of a visiting player. Those days are over. When you see our fan base, when you see the jerseys they’re wearing, when you see the cheering going on, it’s very clear it’s for this team, this city and this franchise. We couldn’t be more proud of that.”

Multiple Hawks Players Reportedly Wanted Coaching Change

There was hope entering the season in Atlanta that the previously-existent friction between Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce and star guard Trae Young would be a thing of the past, but it reemerged as the season progressed, according to Chris Kirschner, Sam Amick, and David Aldridge of The Athletic. And the Athletic trio suggests that Young wasn’t the only Hawks player frustrated by Pierce’s coaching style.

Sources tell The Athletic that several members of the Hawks were “eager to hear a new voice,” and that multiple players recently shared their desire for a change with team management. By the time Pierce was let go on Monday, player support for him was dwindling, per Kirschner, Amick, and Aldridge.

As the trio details, there wasn’t a single moment this season that resulted in Pierce losing the locker room, but it happened over time due to a number of small moments that added up.

“There’s no telling when he lost it,” a source close to the team told The Athletic. “He didn’t have support from many people. It came down to him not being able to manage egos. That’s what did him in, especially these young guys. It’s tough.”

The Athletic’s report, which is worth checking out in full if you’re a subscriber, includes many other interesting tidbits on the Hawks’ coaching change. Here are a few highlights:

  • Pierce’s job security was already tenuous by the end of the 2019/20 season, but a number of factors – including the abrupt hiatus and Pierce’s strong voice during the social justice movement – helped save his job for the time being, according to The Athletic’s report.
  • Multiple Hawks players felt last season as if they weren’t having their concerns heard when they approached Pierce about them, and started going to assistant coach Chris Jent with those concerns instead, per The Athletic. Players once again felt unheard this season when they asked Pierce about adjusting the late-game offense to make it more free-flowing.
  • Sources tell The Athletic that Cam Reddish was among the players who bristled at Pierce’s coaching style and felt as if he was being “picked on” behind the scenes. According to Kirschner, Amick, and Aldridge, some Hawks players believe Reddish’s ceiling is as high as anyone’s on the roster and thought Pierce’s approach was stunting his development.
  • The Hawks’ fourth-quarter struggles this season bothered team owner Tony Ressler, who “grew incensed” when the club kept losing winnable games by blowing late leads, per The Athletic’s trio. GM Travis Schlenk has said the decision to fire Pierce was his and his front office’s, but at the very least, Ressler had to sign off on it.

Hawks Notes: Pierce, McMillan, Schlenk, Bogdanovic

Addressing reporters on Monday night following the announcement of Lloyd Pierce‘s dismissal, general manager Travis Schlenk didn’t offer a ton of specific details for why the Hawks made a head coaching change, simply stating that the team was underachieving relative to its expectations, as Sarah K. Spencer of The Atlanta-Journal Constitution writes.

“As we said at the beginning of the season, our goal was to have progress this year, to move forward,” Schlenk said. “And we just felt like that wasn’t happening as quickly as we wanted it to. … We felt like for the organization, it was the best thing for us to do moving forward.”

Hawks owner Tony Ressler has admitted to pressing for the team’s big spending spree during 2020’s free agency period and badly wants to get back to the postseason. However, Schlenk said that he and his basketball operations staff made the decision to move on from Pierce, with Ressler’s approval.

“Certainly Tony signs off on all major moves we make on the basketball side or on the business side, as far as that goes, but this wasn’t a decision that Tony made,” Schlenk said, according to Spencer. “… I don’t think it’s any secret that Tony is very passionate and wants the organization to be successful. He’s willing to give us all the resources that we need to be able to do that. Up to this point in my tenure here, he’s been extremely supportive of any decision I feel like we needed to make, and this was the same situation here.”

Here’s more on the Hawks:

  • Nate McMillan will be the Hawks’ interim head coach and is the first candidate named by Chris Kirschner of The Athletic in his list of possible permanent coaching options for Atlanta. Schlenk was noncommittal on Monday when asked about the possibility of McMillan holding the job permanently, stating that the Hawks will cross that bridge when they get there, per Spencer.
  • Pierce’s firing raises some bigger questions about the Hawks’ decision-making, according to John Hollinger of The Athletic, who suggests the clock has begun ticking on Schlenk and the front office, especially if the team’s 2020 free agent additions don’t start providing more value soon. While injuries to Bogdan Bogdanovic, Kris Dunn, and De’Andre Hunter this season have been unlucky, the signings of Danilo Gallinari and Rajon Rondo look like “clear failures,” Hollinger contends.
  • Schlenk shared some good news during his Tuesday morning appearance on 92.9 The Game in Atlanta, announcing that Bogdanovic will play on Tuesday on a minutes restriction (Twitter link via Mike Conti). Bogdanovic has been out since January 9 due to a knee injury.
  • A pair of veteran NBA coaches – Rick Carlisle and Gregg Popovich – expressed disappointment in the Hawks’ decision to fire Pierce, as Dwain Price of Mavs.com and Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press relay.

Hawks Owner Ressler Pressed For Free Agent Spree

Majority owner Tony Ressler instructed the Hawks’ front office to pursue numerous free agents last month, leading to the team’s big spending spree, as Chris Kirschner of The Athletic details.

Following a three-year rebuild, Ressler told GM Travis Schlenk in a meeting prior to free agency to use all of the team’s cap space to fortify a young roster with quality veterans. The meeting also included coach Lloyd Pierce, assistant GM Landry Fields, and assistant coach and former Pacers head coach Nate McMillan.

“I said this to Travis: What’s the point of having all of this cap space if you don’t use it? That’s like looking at a fancy toy that you could never get your hands on. … We used every bit of that cap space,” Ressler said. “He did exactly what he was supposed to do, and I’m here with great confidence.”

The front office provided Ressler with a list of veteran players who would be good fits with their returning players, and the Hawks ended up getting several of their top targets, according to Kirschner.

The Hawks added Bogdan Bogdanovic, Danilo GallinariRajon Rondo and Kris Dunn in free agency. Bogdanovic received the biggest deal, a four-year, $72MM offer sheet the Kings didn’t match. Gallinari (three-year, $61MM contract) was acquired in a sign-and-trade with Oklahoma City, while Rondo and Dunn signed two-year deals.

Ressler told Schlenk to flaunt the team’s ability to sign multiple free agents.

“I think Travis wanted everyone to know he had the most cap space in the NBA, and he (darn) well expected to use it. I think that was the message he sent when free agency began,” he said. “I didn’t know if he was going to be able to use it, but to his credit and really the entire basketball ops’ credit, they used it.”

Ressler drew the line on Monday when the team didn’t reach a rookie scale extension agreement with one of those quality young players, John Collins. However, Ressler does expect major improvement after spending all that capital.

“The objective is not, emphatically, to be the eighth seed in the playoffs and pound our chest and say, ‘Mission accomplished,’” Ressler said. “There’s a plan here, and this is clearly one step in the plan, which is to get appreciably better off a shortened 20-win season.”

And-Ones: Adebayo, Olympics, NBA Foundation, Tsai

Although he didn’t make the final 12-man squad that took part in the 2019 World Cup, Heat center Bam Adebayo participated in Team USA’s training camp leading up to that event and received consideration to represent the U.S. in the international competition.

With the Tokyo Olympics on tap for the summer of 2021, however, another national program is hoping to recruit Adebayo away from USA Basketball, according to Colin Udoh of ESPN, who says Nigeria wants to add the big man to its Olympic roster. Adebayo’s father is Nigerian, Udoh notes.

“Having Bam in our national team is a possibility that we are considering as a federation ahead of the 2020 Olympics and beyond,” Nigeria Basketball Federation president Musa Kida said in a statement to ESPN. “We are excited about how far he has gone and what he can achieve in his career with D’Tigers if he chooses to play for Nigeria.”

Nigeria has already earned an Olympic berth and – assuming next season’s schedule allows for it – is expected to feature NBA players such as Josh Okogie, Al-Farouq Aminu, Chimezie Metu, and potentially Spencer Dinwiddie. It remains to be seen if the team will be able to land Adebayo, but he has said in the past that he’d consider Nigeria if asked. He also may be more open to the idea after being cut from last year’s Team USA roster.

Here are more odds and ends from around the basketball world:

  • The NBA and NBPA issued a joint press release today announcing the board of directors for the NBA Foundation, a new organization dedicated to driving “economic empowerment for Black communities through employment and career advancement.” In addition to Harrison Barnes and Tobias Harris, whose involvement was previously reported, the NBA Foundation’s board of directors will be made up of Adam Silver, Michele Roberts, and four team owners (Gayle Benson, Tony Ressler, Larry Tanenbaum, and Michael Jordan).
  • As we relayed earlier today, China’s CCTV has lifted its year-long ban on NBA broadcasts, citing the league’s role in fighting COVID-19 in China as a primary reason for that decision. NetsDaily suggests Nets owner Joe Tsai may have played a key part in that effort, having sent a $3.7MM donation to China in February to help fight the pandemic.
  • In an Insider-only article for ESPN.com, Bobby Marks lists the trade assets held by all 30 teams, including moveable players, surplus draft picks, and trade exceptions.

Multiple NBA Teams Commit To Paying Arena Workers During Hiatus

Some of the first comments Mavericks owner Mark Cuban made on Wednesday night after the NBA announced that it had suspended the 2019/20 season were focused on the team’s part-time, seasonal, and hourly employees, such as security guards and concession workers at the American Airlines Center. Cuban made it clear that the Mavs plan to take care of those employees.

“I reached out to the folks at the arena and our folks at the Mavs to find out what it would cost to support, financially support, people who aren’t going to be able to come to work,” Cuban told reporters, per Mark Medina of USA Today. “They get paid by the hour, and this was their source of income. So, we’ll do some things there. We may ask them to go do some volunteer work in exchange, but we’ve already started the process of having a program in place. I don’t have any details to give, but it’s certainly something that’s important to me.”

Since then, a handful of other teams have followed Cuban’s lead. Hawks owner Tony Ressler had been preparing for this possibility and had planned all along to compensate the team’s full-time and part-time employees who will have their jobs disrupted by the NBA’s hiatus, writes Sarah K. Spencer of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“We have a pretty clear set of priorities in this kind of remarkable time that we’re living through,” Ressler said. “Protecting our fans, protecting our employees, and protecting the reputation of our league, all of which is important, but let there be no confusion, that means taking care of all of our employees, our full-time, our part-time.”

After Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie tweeted about taking care of non-salaried arena staff, team owner Joe Tsai responded that the Nets are working on a plan for those workers.

Cavaliers forward Kevin Love pledged $100K of his own money to aid arena employees displaced by the NBA’s stoppage, telling ESPN’s Dave McMenamin that he hopes “others will step up” as well. The Cavs announced (via Twitter) shortly thereafter that they’d be compensating all of their arena and event staff members as if every game and event at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse is still taking place.

While only a handful of teams have addressed the issue so far, I’d be surprised if that list doesn’t continue to grow in the coming days. Team owners and players will be affected financially by the suspension, but their losses likely won’t be as damaging in the short term as they would be for the lower-level employees who had been relying on the hourly wages earned at NBA events.

Southeast Notes: Hawks, I. Thomas, Herro, Magic

Hawks owner Tony Ressler has no regrets about trading Luka Doncic for Trae Young and would make the same decision again, relays Chris Kirschner of The Athletic. Atlanta shook up the 2018 draft by agreeing to a deal that enabled Dallas to move up to No. 3 and select the eventual Rookie of the Year. The Hawks received Young, who also looks like a star after a slow start, along with a 2019 pick that was used to add Cam Reddish.

“I have to be honest, but I didn’t think Luka would be this good,” said Ressler, who admitted to being nervous about the gamble. “I didn’t think Trae was going to be this good. They are both better than I expected. I think they’re both really special players and have a shot to be for a really long time if they stay focused. I think this trade is going to have a nice, long history of discussion. I wouldn’t completely, again, declare success or whether we won it or lost it today because I do think both teams have someone they can really help build around for years and years to come.”

The Hawks are in the third step of the plan that Ressler developed to build a title contender after purchasing the team in 2015. Step one was a $200MM renovation to State Farm Arena. Next came a new management team with Travis Schlenk as general manager and Lloyd Pierce, who had experienced rebuilding with the Sixers, as head coach.

“The third step, we don’t know when and we want to do it intelligently, but is spending the money that it will take to add greatness to what we hope is existing greatness,” Ressler explained. “That is how you become a contender.”

There’s more from the Southeast Division:

  • Isaiah Thomas had a promising debut with the Wizards Saturday night, writes Chase Hughes of NBC Sports Washington. After missing his first four shots, Thomas finished with 16 points, five assists and three rebounds in 20 minutes. The performance offered hope that he can become productive again after two injury-plagued seasons.
  • Years of early-morning workouts with his father helped prepare rookie Tyler Herro for the Heat culture, notes Lori Nickel of The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. When Herro was taken with the 13th pick in this year’s draft, he was ready for Miami’s emphasis on fitness and hard work. “We say it all the time: We’re not for everyone. You have to be the right kind of player,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “So, for a young player you’re checking to see if there’s any kind of entitlement. And there’s zero with that kid. He has a whole lot to his game, because you can tell he’s put in a lot of hours and sweat equity behind the scenes when no one was watching. He’s extremely driven, very ambitious. We love that.”
  • Even though the Magic are coming off a playoff season, outside shooting remains an area of concern, according to Josh Robbins of The Athletic.

Southeast Notes: Connelly, Heat, Ressler

Now that the Nuggets’ season is over after a thrilling seven-game series loss to Portland, the Wizards are ramping up their efforts to hire Denver’s current president of basketball operations Tim Connelly to the same position in Washington, per Ben Standig of NBC Sports Washington.

While there were questions as to why the Wizards would wait until the Nuggets’ season was over to pursue Connelly, Standig notes that Connelly wasn’t expected to fully explore a move until the Nuggets’ playoff run ended, despite reportedly having interest in running the Wizards.

The Nuggets appear to have an extremely bright future, but Connelly is from Baltimore and began his front office career in Washington in 1996 when he was hired as intern before working his way up to director of player personnel under then-general manager and Wizards’ legend Wes Unseld.

The Nuggets have been in a similar situation as this before. Back in 2013, Nuggets’ GM Masai Ujiri took the same position with the Raptors after team owner Stan Kroenke acquiesced to Ujiri’s desire to return to Toronto. It will interesting to see if a similar situation will arise with Connelly and the Wizards.

There’s more from the Southeast Division this evening:

  • While it remains highly unlikely that either Hassan Whiteside or Goran Dragic opt out of their contract with the Heat, Ira Winderman of the Sun-Sentinel relays that even if they did, Miami would still need to use the stretch provision on veteran forward Ryan Anderson just to get close to having enough cap space to sign a max-salary free agent. The more likely scenario is a trade of Dragic, but not Whiteside, after both opt in, especially considering the unlikelihood of a free agent wanting to sign with Miami if Whiteside and Dragic are both gone.
  • In another Q&A session for the Sun-Sentinel (link), Winderman agrees with one of his readers that the Heat probably mistimed their rebuild by beginning a little too early. Rather, they should have followed the lead of other Eastern Conference contenders and waited for LeBron James to leave the East before going into rebuild mode.
  • Despite a overwhelming consensus that this year’s draft crop is lacking in overall talent, Hawks’ owner Tony Ressler is not using that as an excuse, telling Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “If we can’t make two top-10 picks work for us, it’s our fault. Our job is to make them work and I think we will.”