Hello. It’s me again, just sitting around waiting for the rain to stop and college football to commence. And in my sitting/waiting, the thought occurred: Could Mike Budenholzer be the first coach in history to be fired for winning too much?
Faithful correspondent Jimmy Shapiro sent along the over/under numbers for NBA teams in 2017-18. (These according to Bovada.) If you’ve been paying attention, it won’t surprise you that the Atlanta Hawks’ over/under is 25 1/2 wins. Only Chicago, at 22, is worse. Brooklyn is at 27 1/2, and when you’ve sunk below the Nets in the eyes of oddsmakers, you’ve done something.
I don’t mean that in a bad way. On the contrary, I mean it in the best way possible. In the course of one summer, new general manager Travis Schlenk has positioned the Hawks to have an excellent chance at winning the 2018 draft lottery. Given that this club won 43 games and made the playoffs as a No. 5 seed last season, that took some serious deconstruction. Credit to Schlenk: He tore down — apologies for this lapse in grammar — real good.
Say the Hawks do finish with the league’s second-worst record. That wouldn’t guarantee they’d pick second in the draft. It would, however, mean that they’d have the second-best chance at picking No. 1, and this — as mentioned last week — is a draft that figures to include two viable No. 1 picks: Michael Porter Jr. of Missouri and Marvin Bagley III, suddenly of Duke.
Schlenk has never deemed what he’s doing as rebuilding — he said he hates the word — but clearly it is, and it absolutely needed to happen. But this process, to borrow Sam Hinkie’s Philly word, would morph from long slog to fast track if the Hawks could hook Porter or Bagley. As it stands, they’re at worst in Position B to make that happen.
Possible snag: Budenholzer.
He’s a good coach. He might be too good for what the Hawks have in mind. He might just turn a lineup of Schroder/Prince/Bazemore/Collins/Dedmon (or Plumlee) into a 35-win team, which would, in the grand scheme, be an awful development. Heck, given the rickety state of the East, 35-47 might just land the Hawks the No. 8 seed, which would mean they’d miss the lottery entirely.
We’ve asked in this space how long the Schlenk/Budenholzer marriage will last. (The former has usurped the latter as franchise-shaper.) If the Hawks get off to a middling, as opposed to terrible, start, does Schlenk call Budenholzer in and say, “Stop winning so darn much”?
I find it intriguing that Budenholzer has made, as best I can tell, no public comment since Schlenk was hired. Budenholzer didn’t attend Schlenk’s introductory media briefing. (The Hawks said he was in Texas for his son’s high school graduation.) The new GM insisted that he and his inherited coach share the same vision, but do they really?
Coaches, see, hate the idea of rebuilding because rebuilding means losing, and losses don’t go on the GM’s record. (Technically speaking, GMs have no statistical record.) They count against the guy who’s sitting on the bench watching the mess that mightn’t have been his idea.
It would be fascinating to know what Budenholzer thinks of an offseason that saw the exits of Dwight Howard, Paul Millsap and Tim Hardaway Jr. For the record, I wouldn’t have kept any of the above. For the record, I really like the path Schlenk has taken. But I do wonder how his coach feels about it.