ATLANTA - Welcome back?
The NBA schedule makers may have revealed a sense of irony with the start of a Hawks’ four-game homestand this week.
Former head coach Mike Budenholzer leads the Bucks into town on Sunday afternoon and former starting point guard Dennis Schroder and the Thunder come to State Farm Arena on Tuesday night.
Both left the Hawks after last season, some would say unceremoniously, as the franchise has ushered in a new era.
Budenholzer began orchestrating an exit from the Hawks before last season was even over after the franchise had torn down the roster for a rebuild. Days after the final regular-season game, Budenholzer was linked to the head coach job with the Suns. He would also speak to the Knicks before eventually landing with the Bucks, an established up-and-coming team with a superstar in Giannis Antetokounmpo already on the roster.
Some in the organization were angered by the events leading up to Budenholzer’s departure. Some were relieved by the move and a new culture that has been established. Some were appreciative of what the coach did in five seasons at the helm that included a 60-win season, a trip to the Eastern Conference finals and a Coach of the Year award.
Budenholzer had two years and $14 million remaining on his contract when the Hawks elected to allow him to seek employment elsewhere. He compiled a 213-197 record over five seasons as head coach, his first head coaching position after he was an assistant with the Spurs for 17 seasons. Budenholzer brought nearly his entire coaching staff with him to Milwaukee.
In a statement to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution after his move to the Bucks was official, Budenholzer said “I have a tremendous appreciation for my five years with the Hawks organization. I deeply value the players that I have been fortunate enough to coach and the coaches and front office that I have worked with and their relentless efforts towards building a successful team.”
The Hawks signaled they were moving away from Schroder when they obtained point guard Trae Young and a future first-round pick in last year’s draft, sending their No. 3 pick Luka Doncic to the Mavericks for the No. 5 pick.
The Hawks later sent Schroder, their former first-round pick, to the Thunder as part of a three-team trade that netted a bought-out Carmelo Anthony. Schroder spent his first five seasons with the Hawks, a productive on-court tenure that was marked by several disciplinary actions and an arrest.
The Hawks have faced both former coach and player on the road this season. The Bucks hung 144 points on the Hawks in a win in Milwaukee on Jan. 4. The Thunder won by 15 points in Oklahoma City on Nov. 30 in a game Schroder had 18 points and eight assists off the bench.
“The support for me and my family in Atlanta and everybody was great. It was a great five years and if anybody there is still pulling for me, I appreciate it,” Budenholzer told reporters before the Hawks-Bucks game earlier this month.
The Bucks currently have the second-best record in the NBA at 29-12, trailing only the Raptors and ahead of every team in the Western Conference.
Schroder is averaging 15.2 points, 4.4 assists and 3.7 rebounds in 29.4 minutes over 40 games for the Thunder, including 10 starts. The famed golden patch in his hair has been gone for much of the season.
The newly-named State Farm Arena was still Philips Arena when last both Budenholzer and Schroder played in Atlanta following completion of the renovations.
How the Hawks choose to recognize the two remains to be seen. Short tribute videos are typically shown during a timeout to welcome back a former coach or player. Schroder is likely to get such a video. The issue of recognizing Budenholzer is a bit sticky considering his departure.
Plans have not been finalized, but the Hawks may honor previous Coaches of the Year on Sunday as part of their 50 Years in Atlanta series. That would include Lenny Wilkens, Mike Fratello, Hubie Brown and Budenholzer.
This article was written by Chris Vivlamore, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
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