After throwing off a week’s cloak of silence/inaction surely imposed on him by his ham-handed employers, Danny Ferry has made a series of smart moves. On Sept. 12, he released a longer statement that sounded heartfelt in its remorse, as opposed to that three-paragraph burst released by the Atlanta Hawks at 7:07 a.m. three days earlier. He also announced he was taking a leave of absence, which gave a heated matter time to breathe if not cool.
Ferry has since apologized to many offended parties, and both Luol Deng, about whom the regrettable words were read/said, and Magic Johnson, who’d tweeted that Ferry should step down as general manager, have expressed their forgiveness. As noted by esteemed colleague Chris Vivlamore, many other NBA voices sound willing to write off Ferry’s characterization of Deng as a mistake.
Three weeks ago, there seemed little chance that Ferry could remain the Hawks’ general manager. With time and distance and Ferry’s aggressive attempts at fence-mending — apparently he flew to Los Angeles to speak with Johnson — we can shorten those odds. I’d say he has a 15 percent chance of keeping his job.
The complicating factor — with these Hawks, there are always complications — is that Bruce Levenson’s stake in the team is being sold in light of his unearthed email. According to Mayor Kasim Reed, Levenson’s D.C.-based partners Ed Peskowitz and Todd Foreman are also selling. Levenson’s share alone wouldn’t have amounted to majority control. The three shares together will.
Meaning: The Hawks are about to get a new controlling owner, and if you’ve just spent millions to buy a majority share in an NBA team, do you really want your general manager to be a guy who’s known, fairly or unfairly, for saying/reading the words: “He’s got some African in him”?
Probably not. But maybe Ferry could persuade the new owner, same as he persuaded Deng and Johnson. That’s provided the new owner affords that chance. The sale could be a long time coming. (You’ll recall that L.A. businessman Alex Meruelo tried to buy the team in 2011 — the Hawks even staged a meet-Meruelo press conference at Philips Arena — and that fell through. Same ol’ Hawks.)
The team held its media day Monday, and the topic was — big shock — Danny Ferry. Coach Mike Budenholzer is acting as GM while Ferry’s out, but that can’t last forever. Assuming the Hawks aren’t sold in the next couple of months, the organization, such as it is, will have to decide whether to take Ferry back, and the Atlanta-based segment of ownership headed by Michael Gearon Jr. has already declared that it wants Ferry gone.
But wait. Steve Koonin, the new and thus far unimpressive CEO, is considered a Levenson man and therefore an enemy of the Gearon camp. Would he give the Gearon side what it wants, or would he stand by Ferry, who was Levenson’s prize hire? (Even if the Hawks’ disjointed PR response did Ferry no favors, it’s worth noting that they haven’t fired him.)
A month ago, Ferry was regarded as the best thing the Hawks had going for them. He’d remade the team in the Spurs’ image and hired Budenholzer, who could be the NBA’s next great coach. He’d built a competitive team without overspending to do it, and he’d positioned the Hawks to have the financial wherewithal to land any big-name free agent at any time. To date they hadn’t, and that was before the franchise had to defend itself against charges of racism.
After the AJC’s Vivlamore obtained a tape of the infamous phone call, Carmelo Anthony — who was discussed as a potential target in free agency before the talk turned to Deng — told Tim Bontemps of the New York Post: “Nobody would want to go there now. At the end of the day … it puts Atlanta back even further, from that standpoint.”
At the end of the day, that’s still where we are. For as much as Ferry can say he’s sorry and as much as people insist they believe him, it will be very hard for him to remain in a job that requires him to attract free agents. I’m not discounting Ferry’s powers of persuasion — indeed, that’s why I say he has a 15 percent chance, as opposed to zero — but his task remains daunting.