All indications are Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer wants the Knicks.
And according to a random sampling of NBA scouts and executives, the feeling should be mutual.
“He’d be good there,” said one Western Conference scout. “I’m just looking at the [reported] list of the people they’ve talked to, he would have to be at the top of it.”
Budenholzer interviewed Sunday with Knicks president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry after the Hawks gave permission. Budenholzer, the 2015 NBA Coach of the Year when the Hawks won a franchise record 60 games, joins a list of applicants including Jerry Stackhouse, Mike Woodson, Mark Jackson, David Fizdale and Kenny Smith.
Mills and Perry are expected to head to Europe on Tuesday to meet this week with former Cavaliers coach David Blatt. When they return, they are expected to interview Spurs assistant James Borrego.
So that’s eight. Although some around the league feel Budenholzer is the one.
“He is a good basketball coach. He’s a good guy. One of [Spurs coach Gregg Popovich’s] guys. A little flaky. Pop’s guys usually are,” said one rival executive. “He got this group this year to play hard and they competed all year long. He is a high-level coach.”
One Eastern Conference scout is surprised the Hawks, who owe Budenholzer $13 million for the final two years of his contract, would be willing to let him go.
“I love him as a coach, absolutely,” the scout said. “He is one of the few who has been able to replicate the San Antonio culture in ways of playing. He’s very good.”
In 2014-15, when the Hawks finished 60-22, they sent four players, Paul Millsap, Jeff Teague, Al Horford and Kyle Korver, to the All-Star Game.
“Bud has this way about him,” Korver said as a Hawk about Budenholzer, who was a Spurs assistant from 1996 to 2013. “We really respect both how he teaches the game and the system but also who he is, his willingness to look you in the eye. Bud does a great job and they brought in pieces that fit. They didn’t just bring in random pieces for his system.”
That is key. Unlike past Knicks regimes, Budenholzer crafts systems around players, instead of trying to cram players into a system.
“He is regarded as a very good coach. He put in a totally new program in Atlanta very similar to San Antonio, but not exactly because he never had the playmakers off the dribble that San Antonio did. His is a lot more passing and moving and cutting,” a Western executive said. “He took guys and put them in position to have their best years.”
And that exec sees one primary beneficiary: Kristaps Porzingis when he is healthy following his ACL surgery.
“He would put Porzingis in the best role possible to have success. He would know how to use him. A lot of these guys figure, ‘We’ll just get Porzingis the ball and let him do what he wants,’ ” the exec said. “He would put a system in where maybe Porzingis is a screener and the defense has to help [so] then he can pop to get shots or be like a high-post guy, pass the ball and then get a screen. He used Horford that way.”
Budenholzer seems to check a lot of the boxes. He’s big on defense which Mills and Perry demand. He is very big on development.
“Can he work with young players? Yes. He’s had a couple guys who have gotten better,” an Eastern scout said. “In terms of putting out a team that is going to play hard, be well-coached and prepared, it would be hard to bitch about his coaching.”
What’s the drawback? Control, possibly. Reports say Budenholzer became disenchanted with the Hawks over personnel matters.
“He had control in Atlanta then lost control. So that’s a question. Can he deal within a system where he’s not the final decision-maker?” the rival exec said.
“They probably never should have given him control to pick players and make those decisions. That’s not in his realm,” the Western exec said. “But he was in a perfect situation with new ownership. He had just done a fabulous job, it was a contract year so he could ask for what he wanted. But around the league, people think he is an excellent coach.”
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