ATLANTA — Fast and furious is the way Danny Ferry described his first four days on the job as the new general manager of the Atlanta Hawks.
When he finally emerged from the Hawks’ Draft war room late Thursday night, it was plain to see that Ferry has spent more time grinding away at his new job than he has doing much of anything else, and that includes sleeping.
“This was unique,” Ferry said. “I’ve been here a few days and was not part of the initial preparation that they had. I threw myself into what they were doing and really just tried to observe and participate, when appropriate, ask good questions and let the process play out. I thought the scouts that [his predecessor] Rick [Sund] was organizing did a nice job of doing their work and walking into the Draft with their decisions made and ready to go.”
But the first frantic four days of Ferry’s tenure is just the beginning of what promises to be an interesting offseason for a franchise in the midst of a transitional phase. As the rest of the Eastern Conference realigns itself behind the champion Miami Heat, a team built to win now and for the foreseeable future, the Hawks have to try to position themselves among that group of teams giving chase.
They went into Draft night with just six players — their core four of Joe Johnson, Al Horford, Josh Smith and Jeff Teague along with reserves Marvin Williams and Zaza Pachulia — under contract. Adding Vanderbilt shooting guard John Jenkins and Virginia forward Mike Scott gives them eight to work with as Ferry goes about the business of trying to build the Hawks into a legitimate threat to the Heat.
If there were challenges for Ferry in a rushed Draft process — before Monday, his Draft preparations in his old job in San Antonio were focused on the 57th pick overall — the coming weeks of free agency and the trade season could bring all sorts of twists and turns.
Pressing matters for the Hawks include what to do with Smith, whose name is mentioned in more rumors this time of year than a Kardashian. It’s up to Ferry to decide who stays and who goes, how to improve upon a foundation that’s already been in place for five seasons and how best to change the culture of a franchise that has lacked an identifiable one for years.
“Philosophically, we want to be a team that defends, plays unselfishly and can shoot the ball,” Ferry said. “And I think adding Jenkins in particular really helps us with that. Again, Mike Scott, when we were picking, was a good value for us being able to score, rebound and having proved himself at the highest level in college. You want guys with fiber. And clearly Jenkins has that, he’ll come in and compete every game. I talked to him and he said he was going to the gym and shoot just to celebrate. A guy that loves to hoop is always good to have on your team.”
Ferry has reached out to the Hawks’ current players, but hasn’t had the chance to quiz them individually. He hasn’t hired any new staff and hasn’t made it clear who will or will not be retained from Sund’s staff. With just two full days between the Draft and the start of free agency, there is no time to go through the normal process of vetting an entire staff, from assistant general managers to video coordinators and office staff.
By taking the reins when he did, the order of things will have to be a bit different from what Ferry or anyone else might have wanted. That said, he is not inheriting a rehab project that requires a complete overhaul.
There are two All-Stars already in place in (Johnson and Horford) and Smith has been the Hawks’ best (and healthiest) player the past two seasons. Teague showed serious promise last season and both Williams and Pachulia are valuable reserves on a team that has little established depth.
There is much work to be done and precious little time to sit back and contemplate things. Time is of the essence for Ferry and the Hawks at a time when the action, in free agency at least, waits for no one.
Ferry, as you might expect from an experienced executive with his track record, spoke in vague terms about what could be done. There will be no constraints from ownership, no impulsive personnel decisions and no, somewhat surprisingly, mention of a grand plan to build a “championship” team. Talk of that last one this early always finds a way of coming back to bite a GM later.
“It’s a crash course, for sure,” he said. “And we will hopefully make the best decisions possible in the short-term. We want to make the right decisions. Whether it’s a trade or free agency, but especially trades, we’ll look at a lot of things coming up here. The roster between now and the end of the year may be different. Again, it’s the cycle of a year that you build a team. And we’re trying to build a team and I’m trying to build on a program that’s already here, along with that. There’s a lot of work in front of us. I’m looking forward to getting after it.”