Posts Tagged ‘Bruce Levenson’

Horford, Hawks know better than to underestimate Nets on playoff stage


VIDEO: Al Horford talks playoffs on Inside Stuff

ATLANTA — Having been there a time or two themselves, the Atlanta Hawks are well aware of the folly involved with taking the Brooklyn Nets lightly.

The sub-500 record, the uneven season and seemingly indifferent attitude about trying to be an elite team, given the highest payroll in the league, will not be a factor in this No. 1 vs No. 8 first-round playoff series against the Eastern Conference juggernaut Hawks and the slipped-in-through-the-backdoor Nets.

So they know better than most the faulty thinking in assuming they will see the same Nets team they swept 4-0 during the regular season.

“Doesn’t mean a thing,” Hawks All-Star forward Paul Millsap said. “Gotta win four games. And then try and win four more. It’s the playoffs.”

All-Star guard Kyle Korver agreed that Hawks’ regular season dominance over the Nets is meaningless the moment the game tips off this afternoon at Philips Arena.

“It’s hard to win any playoff series, no matter who it is,” he said. “We won some games against them this year. But their team has changed a lot over the course of this year. They had guys who were injured or really out of sync or whatever. And I think if you ask them, they probably feel like they’ve played their best basketball over the last 15 games or so of the regular season. They definitely present some challenges for us. They have great size, they’ve got some guys who have had great careers. They are well coached. We have a ton of respect for them.”

The Nets certainly boast personnel that suggests they should be much higher on the playoff food chain in the Eastern Conference than the 8th and final seed. Joe Johnson, a seven-time All-Star and one of the backbone of the Hawks’ turnaround from lottery outfit to playoff time during his time here, has shined in the postseason crucible before. Deron Williams and Brook Lopez have plenty of postseason experience as well.

Any team with those three players in a rhythm at the same time can be dangerous in a playoff setting.

But the Hawks enter this postseason in a different space, with a confidence that has often been absence during their 8-year run, the longest active streak in the Eastern Conference. Having All-Star center Al Horford healthy and back in the mix for an entire season is a huge boost as well.

The Hawks’ first and last, prior to this season’s mercurial run, playoff trips came with the No. 8 seed and underdog tag their fans have grown accustomed to dealing with in these postseason scenarios. Both times, against the eventual champion Boston Celtics eight years ago and against the Indiana Pacers last season, the series stretched to seven games.

Horford was an integral piece of the that series against the Celtics, shining as a rookie in his first postseason appearance. He watched in designer suits last season, unable to come back from a torn pectoral injury that cost him most of the season.

“It’s not just me,” Horford said. “I still think the most important thing is we have another year together as a team in this system. And we have last year’s experience. I know you cannot replace experience, you cannot take anything or any opposing team for granted. You have to respect the other team for doing what it takes to get here. But I am really excited to come out here and see what I can do to help this team win.”

As excited as he is to see the floor today, the rest of the Hawks are just as anxious (not “nervous,” as DeMarre Carroll was quick to point out) to see him back in the playoff mix as the anchor of this crew on both ends of the floor.

“It’s big, his ability to spread the floor,” said All-Star point guard Jeff Teague. “but it’s also him on the defensive end being the anchor. Him being able to get up and down the floor and run and try to get Brook Lopez to try and keep up with him. We just have to play with a lot of pace. Al’s definitely excited to get back on the floor and to be able to play in front of our great fans again in the playoffs.”

Hawks’ ride a decade in the making


VIDEO: The Hawks are officially the best of the best in the NBA

ATLANTA — They didn’t need the big stage, the bright lights and noise of the building dubbed the “Highlight Factory” in another life.

The Atlanta Hawks and Golden State Warriors could have picked any court, indoors or outdoors, anywhere in this city for a Friday night showdown pitting the two best teams in the NBA against each other for the first time this season, and the results would have been the same. The Hawks’ 124-116 win Friday night at a packed Philips Arena was an absolute masterpiece of basketball that was a decade in the making for the home team.

Ten years ago today the Hawks were in the midst of what would be a 13-69 season, a low-point for a franchise that had seen plenty of dark days, far too many to regurgitate for long-suffering Hawks fans who lived through every painful misstep.

Friday night they delivered in ways that not only stirred the emotions of a fan base and city, they  also checked every basketball box on the way to an unbelievable sense of what might be this morning. At 42-9 and the clear class of the Eastern Conference, the Hawks have become the model for downtrodden teams around the league. They are 14-3 against the mighty Western Conference, have won 35 of their last 38 games, own a 25-3 record on their home floor, and remain on pace for a 68-win season. They are also making a mockery of any doubts about their ability to sustain this beautiful, pace and space game being cultivated under the meticulous and watchful eye of Mike Budenholzer.

It’s hoops karma that took years of hits and misses to get right, a gestation period not everyone could stomach, that has birthed a full-blown movement in a city where this wasn’t supposed to be possible.

Make no mistake, from the heart of the city to the suburbs that sprawl in every direction, it’s real.

I’ve been here for every step, sometimes closer to it than in recent years but always watching, and it is as real as the traffic congestion and late-arriving crowds and finicky fans everything else that comes along with professional sports in this complicated and diverse metropolitan area of 6 million people.

Through the haze of a yet another pair of say-it-ain’t-so moments, courtesy of owner Bruce Levenson and exiled general manager Danny Ferry, these Hawks have provided a storyline that overshadows all of the foolishness.

From their All-Stars, the deserving trio Jeff Teague, Al Horford and Paul Millsap, to their equally deserving other stars, Kyle Korver and DeMarre Carroll, to super subs like Dennis Schroder and Mike Scott (all brilliant in their own right at times in the win over the Warriors) the Hawks have stumbled upon the winning formula for capturing the imagination of basketball fans around the globe and most importantly here at home.

“It was amazing,” Teague said of the playoff-like atmosphere. “The crowd was into it. Everybody was into it. Kyle was yelling out. That was a first. It was a good game.”

True to their DNA, seven players scored in double figures as the Hawks bested the one team in the league that can claim a first-class ticket on the rags-to-riches express of the recent past.

“We’ve both been in the playoffs the last few years,” Warriors star Steph Curry said Friday morning, hours before the two best teams in the NBA dazzled the crowd with 48 minutes of the best basketball witnessed in these parts all season. “So it’s not like we’re unknowns. But it’s not the Lakers, it’s not New York or teams that have won championships recently.”


VIDEO: The Hawks pulled away late in the battle of the best Friday night at Philips Arena

That’s what makes this so special for the Hawks — no one saw it coming.

Everybody knows exactly who these two teams are now. Curry and Thompson will be joined at All-Star Weekend in New York by Steve Kerr and his coaching staff. Budenholzer and his staff will coach Teague, Millsap, Horford and the Eastern Conference All-Stars.

They are both legitimate contenders this season, teams with the parts to play deep into the postseason under any circumstance. The similarities, from the sets they run to the style of play in general, are born out of the shared basketball experiences from both Kerr and Budenholzer during their San Antonio days. The locker room vibe and enjoy-the-moment mantra both teams share, however, comes from within.

The Hawks’ unselfish, no-nonsense approach works in a place known for celebrating the flashiest things. Budenholzer’s constant preaching of belief in the system, the process and ultimately one another, has forged a bond between this team and players like nothing we’ve seen from the crew with the second-longest playoff streak in the league behind the reigning world champion San Antonio Spurs.

The fact that both teams embraced the magnitude of Friday night’s game — the first matchup between teams with winning percentages this high this late in a season since 1981 — the way they did, speaks volumes about the approach and foundation laid in both places. It was indeed a measuring stick game for both sides, a chance to prove yet again that what you are seeing is real.

Kerr pointed out the obvious and parallel path for both teams; the cosmic wave they are both riding, the fact that they are getting everyone’s best shot every night, the fun that comes with competing that way every minute of every day, and the responsibility that comes with occupying that real estate at the top of the standings.

It’s foreign territory for the majority of the players on both teams.

You couldn’t tell Friday night.

No one looked uncomfortable in that spotlight, in the moment, certainly not the Hawks.

They rode the emotional wave, battled back from an early deficit and played their game down the stretch to pull away. A lesser might have buckled under the pressure, more talented Hawks teams in the past might not have possessed the mental fortitude to win a game like this one or some of the 41 others they have during this magical season.

“We have confidence in ourselves. We’re not going to back down from any team,” Scott said. “We also want to respect teams. Just like tonight, we respect the (heck) out of Golden State. Great coaching, great players. We played a hard-fought game and came out with the win.”

And they could have done it anywhere in this city that finally has a team it can believe in.


VIDEO: Mike Scott discusses the win over the Warriors and what works for the Hawks

Report: Agreement in place for Hawks to be on market

HANG TIME BIG CITY — After a tumultuous offseason and a brilliant start to the season, the Atlanta Hawks are now officially for sale, according to a report from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution‘s Chris Vivlamore.

This news would seem to provide a path for a clean resolution to what has frequently been a complicated ownership situation. The Hawks are currently collectively owned by several groups, based in Atlanta, Washington, D.C. and New York.

News of the Hawks being for sale first surfaced in September, when majority owner Bruce Levenson announced he would sell his stake in the team after sending a racially insensitive email to GM Danny Ferry two years earlier. The Levenson news came just days before the revelation that Ferry had made a racist statement on a conference call with the ownership group. Ferry took an indefinite leave of absence before the season began, and Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer assumed responsibility for basketball operations.

According to Vivlamore, the groups within the ownership group are now able to sell the entire franchise to whomever the new owner or owners will be. Writes Vivlamore:

The Washington-based group, led by controlling owner Bruce Levenson, announced in September that it would sell its 50.1 stake following the discovery of a racially inflammatory email that rocked the franchise. An independent investigation discovered an e-mail Levenson wrote in 2012 that included racist remarks about the fan base and game operations. Levenson’s partners Ed Peskowitz and Todd Foreman are also stakeholders in the original group known as the Atlanta Spirit.

Agreements are also in place for the Atlanta-based group of Michael Gearon Jr. and Sr., Rutherford Seydel and Beau Turner to sell its stake. The group owned a combined 32.3 percent of the franchise. In addition, the New York-based group, led by Steven Price, has agreed to sell its 17.6 percent stake.

The sale process has been on-going since September as the ownership groups worked on how much of the franchise would be made available of an organization with a tarnished image.

The team will be officially on the market next week, according to a league source. The Hawks have retained investment banking firm Goldman Sachs and Inner Circle Sports to handle the sale process. The firm will gather and vetting prospective buyers.

Despite the uncertainty surrounding the franchise, the Hawks have begun the season 23-8 and are in second place in the Eastern Conference.

The Hawks current ownership group, formerly known as Atlanta Spirit, purchased the Hawks, Atlanta Thrashers and Philips Arena in 2004 from Turner Broadcasting. Within a year, a disagreement over a contract offer to free agent Joe Johnson devolved into a lawsuit between members of the group, with original member Steve Belkin eventually agreeing to sell his share. There were various reports through the years that the group was looking for outside investments, and in 2011 they sold the Thrashers to a group based in Winnipeg.

Also in 2011, they announced that they had reached an agreement to sell majority ownership in the Hawks to real estate developer and pizza magnate Alex Meruelo, who would have become the NBA’s first Hispanic owner. That deal eventually fell through due to reported financial concerns with Meruelo, and Atlanta Spirit announced the Hawks were no longer for sale.

In response to Vivlamore’s report, the Hawks told him in a statement:

Opportunity knocks for Teague, Hawks


VIDEO: The NBA TV crew believes Jeff Teague and the Hawks are poised for big things this season

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Jeff Teague is a man of few words.

He chooses his wisely and knows that two sometimes do the job better than a few. But the Atlanta Hawks’ point guard isn’t shy about his team. Not after what the Hawks did last season, sliding into that eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and then scaring the daylights out of the top-seeded Indiana Pacers in an entertaining seven-game series that served as yet another showcase for Teague.

He’s one of the league’s best young point guards who never seems to find his way into that conversation. With top 10 rankings in several key statistical categories, you could make the case that Teague should be included in any conversations about the top current point guards in the Eastern Conference, at least.

Teague, however, is content to let his play speak for him and keep his focus on the opportunity that awaits the Hawks in a revamped Eastern Conference. With an All-Star in Paul Millsap and a returning All-Star in Al Horford and coach Mike Budenholzer‘s system as their frame, Teague says that team people enjoyed watching last season and during that playoff series against the Pacers is back and ready for more.

I caught up with Teague Monday and pressed him for more than a few words …

NBA.com:  The lasting image of this team for many people is what we saw of you against the Pacers in the playoffs. How is this team any different without any big offseason moves to speak of?

Jeff Teague: It’s definitely different right now because we have everybody healthy. So it’s definitely going to be a little different. Having Al back  and in there to be a rim protector changes things for us. We’re definitely going to be better defensively with Al back in the mix. And just getting more comfortable with the system and having Thabo [Sefolosha] and Kent [Bazemore], who are really active defenders, come over really makes us a different team, a better team. For the offensive part, we’re still going to be exciting.

NBA.com: Is that the biggest change you’ve experienced since you’ve been with the Hawks, going from the previous systems to the one Bud brought here?

Jeff Teague: I just think this is a fun way to play basketball. We enjoy playing with one another. And the fans, if you watch the game it’s enjoyable. You don’t have to see one guy take all the shots or dominate the ball and post it up and do that all night. There’s going to be a lot of movement in this system, a lot of ball movement and plenty of guys touching the ball. It’s a beautiful game when it’s played that way. And it’s enjoyable for everybody, the guys on the floor and the folks in the stands. (more…)

Long road to recovery looms for Hawks, city officials and team’s fans


VIDEO: The GameTime guys discuss what’s next for the Hawks’ front office

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Say this for the city of Atlanta and its NBA franchise: at a time of crisis, the response has been swift and comprehensive.

Team officials, civic leaders, fans, the local media and even the city’s mayor have all rallied to the rescue of a franchise in need of an immediate pick-me-up in the wake of the Bruce Levenson and Danny Ferry dramas.

It’s been impressive. It’s the one time I can remember in a decade of living and working in Atlanta that there was this kind of focus and attention on the well-being of the Hawks.

The fact it took a dumpster fire of epic proportions to bring these people together is what spoils it for me. There are lots of good people who will end up paying dearly for the missteps and mistakes of someone else (Levenson and Ferry in particular).

Ownership — at least controlling interest — will change hands. There are always casualties when that happens.

Jobs will be lost.

Reputations will be tarnished … forever.

The lives of people who aren’t directly involved have been and will continue to be turned upside down.

And when training camp opens in a few weeks, the focus will be on the circus going on around the team instead of the team itself!

Levenson, Ferry, Michael Gearon Jr. and other members of the organization won’t be on the hook come media day. That responsibility will fall upon Atlanta’s players and coaches, who had absolutely nothing to do with the mess that has been made.

So with all due respect to Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed — who insists all involved will be better in the end because of this cratering of a franchise — the city and the Hawks’ fan base, there is no happy ending in sight. Not even with beloved Hawks Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins in the fold in a legitimate decision-making position within the new structure, whatever that might be.

Ferry meeting with local clergy and civic leaders behind closed doors won’t heal the public trust that has been breached by his discriminatory and destructive comments regarding Miami Heat forward Luol Deng.

While the attentions of the rest of the sports world and the 24-hour news cycle shifts to even more drama in the NFL, folks here will be left to sort through the wreckage of an Atlanta Spirit organization that seemed poised for big things in the 2014-15 season. A strong playoff showing without Al Horford in uniform gave Hawks fans plenty of hope to chew on during the offseason.

Even without making a huge splash in free agency, there remained a sense of optimism surrounding the on-court product (Paul Millsap emerged as an All-Star, Jeff Teague showed signs of being an elite-level point guard and coach Mike Budenholzer proved that system basketball works when administered properly).

Now Budenholzer has to assume duties he never signed up for as the day-to-day steward of the Hawks’ basketball operations, while Ferry continues his indefinite leave of absence.

What you have left is a skeptical fan base, the one that has been disrespected at every turn, wondering where it fits into this basketball soap opera. Paying customers who felt the Hawks were relevant have been given reason to question everything about the franchise and how it is run. Potential customers (yes, that’s ultimately what fans are) now have even more reason to ignore the city’s most consistent playoff outfit.

Hawks part-owner and CEO Steve Koonin will have to dig into his deep reservoir of tactics to sell what’s going on right now to the local public. I know this because I live among them. I hear from them regularly about this team at gas stations, grocery stores, school functions and church. The question is always the same: “what’s up with the Hawks?”

A shake of the head is all I can offer now, because I’m honestly not sure.

I’ve watched the relationship between a diverse and vibrant city and what has largely been an equally vibrant team the past seven years, run on parallel tracks … for the most part. The same basic questions Levenson had about the apathy of a certain segment of the fan base is the same question, without the racial or ethnic distinctions, of course, I’ve struggled with the past decade.

I’ve seen lovable losers in other NBA cities get 10 times the love the Hawks receive with the second-longest playoff streak in the league (behind the reigning-champion San Antonio Spurs) as a selling point.

The disconnect has always been about the perception of who and what the Hawks are to the locals and beyond and the reality of who and what they are to the people that matter most: those willing to spend their time and money venturing to Philips Arena to watch games in person.

Fixing that disconnect and repairing that breach requires transparency the Hawks have yet to commit to. Then and only then will I buy this talk of a happy ending for all involved.

Morning shootaround — Sept. 17

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Atlanta mayor wants to keep Hawks in city | Report: Nowitzki to play in EuroBasket | LeBron banner may return to downtown Cleveland | Zeller hopes to start for Celtics

No. 1: Atlanta mayor determined to keep Hawks in city — The Atlanta Hawks are in a state of flux in many ways off the court (which our David Aldridge spelled out excellently in his most recent Morning Tip column) due to recent comments from GM Danny Ferry and an e-mail from owner Bruce Levenson. Major League Baseball’s Atlanta Braves are moving out of the city limits to a new stadium in the suburbs in the coming years and, just three years ago, the National Hockey League’s Atlanta Thrashers moved to Winnipeg. As Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed is determined to not let another team (namely the Hawks) leave the city limits, even if it means the city has to help the team out:

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, who has already seen two professional sports franchises leave the city limits during his administration, is determined not to let a third get away.

Reed said Tuesday that the city will play a role in the sale of the Hawks and that he has committed to keep the NBA franchise in Atlanta even if that means anticipated public assistance.

The controlling interest in the Hawks – which Reed revealed to be 50.1 percent – is at stake after co-owner Bruce Levenson announced last week that he will sell his share in the team after he admitted writing a racially-charged email in 2012. The email was discovered after an independent investigation into racist comments made by general manager Danny Ferry during a conference call with ownership and management in June. Ferry has taken an indefinite leave of absence.

The revelations of the words of Levenson and Ferry have set off a firestorm that has engulfed the Hawks franchise. New ownership is inevitable. So is uncertainty about the Hawks future.

Reed pledged public money to keep the Hawks in Atlanta. He said the city was prepared to spend between $150 and $200 million to keep the Braves. The sale of Turner Field would provide further assistance.

“We also have an interest in making sure that the new buyer wants to keep the team in the city and in the city,” Reed said. “Let me be clear what that means — in the city and in the city. That means that a prospective owner that receives my support, and I believe the support of the Atlanta City Council, will make a long-term commitment to keep the Atlanta Hawks in the city of Atlanta and will make a long-term commitment not to move the franchise.”

Reed, flanked by area civil and human rights leaders and Hawks Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins, said the city’s interest in the sale centers on the fact it owns Philips Arena and its approximate $124 million debt. Reed said he spoke to at least six prospective buyers, all of whom had the financial ability to buy Levenson’s 24 percent stake. However, with fellow Washington-based co-owners Ed Peskowitz and Todd Foreman also intending to sell, the available percentage is now more than half of the franchise.

Reed said that Atlanta-based ownership of Michael Gearon Jr., Michael Gearson Sr. and Rutherford Seydel currently intend to keep their stake in the team.

Reed, who would not reveal those interested in buying the Hawks, said he expects the sale process to move quickly. The NBA has hired an investment banking firm that will vet all potential buyers. Reed said he is scheduled to meet with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver on Sept. 26.

Ensuring a diverse ownership group is important, Reed said. The mayor was in China last week and spoke to a businessman there interested in buying Levenson’s 24 percent share and said that he wanted at least five percent of the stake to be minority ownership.

Still, Reed said, “My sense is some assistance will be needed from the city of Atlanta in one form or another.”


VIDEO: The GameTime crew discusses Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed’s recent comments (more…)

Hawks’ Ferry takes leave of absence, apologizes; scouting reports surface

ferry

Danny Ferry says his focus is to rebuild trust with the community and with fans. (NBAE via Getty Images)

Atlanta Hawks general manager Danny Ferry is taking an immediate and indefinite leave of absence from the team, Hawks CEO Steve Koonin announced Friday.

“This afternoon, Danny Ferry requested, and I have approved, taking an indefinite leave of absence, effective immediately. This has been an incredibly difficult time for him and his family and it is my hope that this time away from the Hawks organization allows him the privacy he needs to listen to the community, to learn about his mistakes, and to begin the long process of personal healing.  As a human being, manager and friend, I wish him well as he undergoes this process.”

(You can read the entire statement here.)

Koonin said coach Mike Buldenholzer has assumed control of the basketball operations department and will report directly to him.

Ferry’s decision was announced shortly after Atlanta television station WSB TV and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution published the Hawks’ controversial scouting report on former free agent Luol Deng. Ferry has said he was reading from that scouting report — and not using his own words — during a conference call earlier this summer when he said that Deng, who is from South Sudan, had “a little African” in him.

On Thursday, AJC beat writer Chris Vivlamore obtained the audio recording of of that June 6 call in which Ferry, majority owner Bruce Levenson, co-owner Michael Gearon Jr. and others took part. Many in the media and outside of it seized on the audio, saying that it did not appear as if Ferry was reading a report.

In the five-page transcript obtained by the Atlanta news outlets Friday, the names of the personnel who wrote separate scouting reports on Deng, as well as portions of the reports, were redacted. The main statement at the center of the controversy is in one of the reports — evidently one obtained from the Cleveland Cavaliers, one of Deng’s former teams — and reads:

“He’s a good guy on the cover but he’s an African. He has a little two-step in him = says what you want to hear but behind closed doors he could be killing you. Con isn’t bad but it’s there. African-like store front looks great but there’s a black market section in the back.”

Since word broke of Ferry’s words during the call, many have called for his firing — co-owner Gearon among them. If Ferry was, indeed, reading from the scouting reports, though, that could make a difference, at least in some people’s minds. Columnist Mark Bradley of the AJC thinks so, and said as much Friday in a piece for the paper’s Web site:

Ferry still should have known better than to have read such sentiments — apparently they came from someone who’d worked with Deng as a Cleveland Cavalier — in a business setting, but they were on paper. (Even the regrettable part about the “store front (with) the black market section in the back.”) That might not be an excuse, but it is a bit of an explanation.

Until the report came to light, the strongest pieces of documentation that existed were the partial transcript of the call, which emerged Wednesday, and the audio tape, which Vivlamore obtained Thursday. Neither seemed to favor Ferry. Hearing the tape, I didn’t believe it sounded as if he was reading. Turned out he was reading almost verbatim.

Shortly after Koonin released his statement, Ferry released his own:

“No words can adequately describe my remorse for the hurt that I have caused many people through the statements I repeated, most importantly Luol Deng.

Luol is a good man who I have known for many years and he has done a tremendous amount of good for his country and around the world. I apologize to Luol and I apologize to all that I have offended. As I have said, while these were not my words, I deeply regret repeating them. Almost all the background information I provided during the lengthy presentation regarding Luol was positive and my personal and professional recommendation during the call was very much in favor of adding Luol to our team but I never should have uttered those offensive remarks and for that I apologize.

My focus moving forward is to tirelessly work to rebuild trust with this community and with our fans. I realize that my words may ring hollow now and my future actions must speak for me. I will maximize my time during this leave to meet with community leaders and further educate myself and others on the extremely sensitive issues surrounding race, diversity, and inclusion. I will find a way to make a positive difference in this area, and further learn from the sensitivity training that I will go through.”

In Koonin’s statement, he also cited problems among the owners of the team, something that both Vivlamore of the AJC and Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports have explored. Levenson already has said he will sell his majority stake in the Hawks after the team unearthed a racially insensitive e-mail he wrote to Ferry and others back in 2012.

From Koonin’s statement on Friday:

“While the issues related to race are deeply troubling, at the heart of this dispute is an unfortunate disagreement amongst owners. That said, we have taken several steps to address what we can do as an organization to be better and stronger, including working with a diversity consultant to examine us and to train us to ensure something like this never happens again, we are committed to hiring a Chief Diversity Officer, and we have and will continue to meet with community leaders in an ongoing way to ensure our values reflect the community in which we play and work.  The process of selling the team, which is to remain in Atlanta, is already underway.”

Also Friday, according to a report by the AJC, Hawks forward Kyle Korver has talked with Deng. He said Deng does not believe Ferry and the Hawks are racist.

Hawks say no more discipline for Ferry

The Atlanta Hawks have no current plans to further discipline general manager Danny Ferry past the internal punishment issued by team CEO Steve Koonin, according to a source involved in the process.

Koonin said Sunday night that the team had punished Ferry for remarks he made during a conference call with Hawks owner concerning free agent Luol Deng in June. Reading from a dossier concerning Deng, Ferry said that Deng “has some African in him, and I don’t mean that in a bad way.”

Subsequent to that disclosure, minority owner Michael Gearon, Jr., who had been on the conference call and taped it, said that Ferry continued the remark about Deng, adding that Deng was “like a guy who would have a nice store out front but sell you counterfeit stuff out of the back.” Gearon says Ferry then described Deng, as Gearon recalled, “as a two-faced liar and a cheat.”

Gearon sent a copy of an e-mail he sent to co-owner Bruce Levenson soon after the meeting to a local Atlanta television station Monday night. In the e-mail, Gearon said he and other unnamed members of the ownership group were “appalled” at what they considered a racial slur, and consulted with an African-American former judge and an employment discrimination lawyer. Both the judge and the lawyer told Gearon that the team could be exposed to legal action or, at the least, would suffer greatly in the court of public opinion if Ferry’s remarks saw the light of day.

“If Ferry’s comments are ever made public, and it’s a safe bet to say they will someday, it could be fatal to the franchise,” Gearon wrote, adding that he believed the team’s diversity within the organization had regressed since Ferry took over.

That e-mail was what set off the team’s internal investigation into its practices, and which led to the subsequent discovery of an e-mail by Levenson two years ago in which Levenson decried the lack of affluent white fans attending Hawks games. That discovery led to Levenson’s announcement over the weekend that he would sell his share of the team. It is believed that Hawks partner Ed Peskowitz, Levenson’s longtime business associate, will also sell his share of the team.

The NBA has said that the Hawks “self-reported” the disclosures.

The source indicated that the Hawks’ punishment of Ferry was more than what was recommended by the investigative body that looked into the team’s business practices. The team has not disclosed its punishment of Ferry, who was hired two years ago by the Hawks.

Atlanta’s ownership structure has been contentious for years. Former co-owner Steve Belkin sued his ex-partners in 2005, after his objections to the trade that sent Boris Diaw to Phoenix for Joe Johnson went unheeded. In 2010, Gearon and Levenson bought out Belkins’s 30 percent share of the Hawks, the then-Atlanta Thrashers of the NHL and Philips Arena, where the Hawks play.

Ironically, according to the source, Ferry was a strong advocate of signing Deng, who would up signing a two-year deal with the Heat. “He wanted to pay him $40 million,” the source said. Lawyers conducting the investigation looked at more than 24,000 pieces of internal communications over the last few years. None of Ferry’s e-mails or other communications raised any red flags, according to the source.

Ferry was “cranky” on the call, the source indicated. “He was Danny,” the source said. But the team, at least for now, is continuing to stand by its beleaguered GM.

Ferry issued a statement late Monday in which he apologized for repeating the words in the dossier.

“I repeated those comments during a telephone conversation reviewing the draft and free agency process,” he said in the statement. “Those words do not reflect my views, or words that I would use to describe an individual and I certainly regret it. I apologize to those I offended and to Luol, who I reached out to Monday morning.”

Deng has told associates that he is confused by the description of him in the report and wants to refrain from making any comments until he has a further understanding of what the report indicated.

Before being traded by the Bulls to the Cavaliers last winter, Deng had a reputation as one of the best teammates on the Chicago team. All-Star center Joakim Noah was visibly shaken when Deng was dealt. Deng and the Bulls could not agree on a contract extension figure, and Chicago subsequently dealt him for center Andrew Bynum in order to increase potential cap room this summer. Chicago wound up signing Lakers free agent big man Pau Gasol.

The latest gut-punch for the Hawks


VIDEO: Hawks owner Levenson to sell team

BARCELONA — You have to wonder how much more can one franchise and its fragile fan base take? How many more gut-punches do the fine folks in the city of Atlanta, always a punch line for jokes naming the worst sports cities, have to endure?

The news of Hawks part-owner Bruce Levenson selling his stake in the franchise amid an investigation by the NBA into comments he made in a 2012 email is the latest blow for a franchise that has had to endure decades of dysfunction.

Where does it end?

Levenson’s apology, however sincere, doesn’t make up for the fact that he’s now lumped his family’s name and the Hawks into the mix with the disgraced former owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, Donald Sterling. This is no doubt a part of the fallout that NBA insiders were worried about when the Sterling mess turned into global news seemingly overnight.

Remember that “slippery slope” that Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban talked about when he wondered how the league would handle other owners who were found to have said or done something to upset the sensibilities of a league that has championed inclusion, tolerance and acceptance?

Well, this is it.

Levenson was quick to speak out against Sterling when that news broke, only to have those words come back and bite him now that he’s the one in the crosshairs.

The truth is, there are people working at the highest levels in teams around the league who need to think long and hard about the way they have conducted their business before uttering a single word about any of the things that have gone on with the Clippers and now the Hawks. That’s not an accusation. It’s merely a fact for anyone trying to do business in Silver’s NBA.

Levenson throwing himself on the mercy of the fans with his statement — released by the Hawks today — comes with financial undertones as well. While his stake in the team won’t fetch anything like the record $2 billion that Steve Ballmer paid to free the Clippers from Sterling — Levenson is said to own less than half the team — he’ll walk away with a hefty sum despite the damage that his e-mail has done.

With the sale, Levenson will end his decade-long tenure as a part-owner of a franchise that has suffered one dysfunctional turn after another, something that he and his partners appeared to clean up recently with the second-longest playoff streak in the league (behind the reigning champion San Antonio Spurs) and the addition of marketing wiz and new part owner/CEO Steve Koonin, who knows Atlanta and the market as well as anyone.

The task for Koonin and the Hawks now is reassuring an already skeptical fan base that the franchise does not operate from the perspective Levenson expressed in that email.

It won’t be easy.

Hawks fans have had to suffer through a lot. The former owners, the Atlanta Spirit partners, took their internal battles to court, suing each other after the Joe Johnson sign-and-trade deal. From former part-owner Steve Belkin to Billy Knight, from Johnson and Josh Smith to Mike Woodson and Larry Drew, someone always has been a scapegoat in Atlanta. The Hawks even fired their longtime vice president of public relations, Arthur Triche, in a failed effort to improve their image. Meanwhile, despite regularly making it into the playoffs, the Hawks have gone through years and years of postseason irrelevance.

Levenson and his original partners got off to a rocky start. It was no secret. There were trust issues, inside and outside of the franchise, from the start.

In the end, that ownership group, or at least a major member of that original group, will exit the premises having breached the public trust. Which leaves the fans, once again, looking for someone that can truly represent the good people of Atlanta.