Surprise. Another highly valued cog of the San Antonio Spurs organization — assistant coach Mike Budenholzer — will leave the nest for another opportunity.
Budenholzer will join the likes of Oklahoma City Thunder general manager Sam Presti, Orlando Magic's general manager Rob Hennigan and head coach Jacque Vaughn, Atlanta Hawks general manager Danny Ferry, Washington Wizards assistant Don Newman, Brooklyn Nets head coach P.J. Carlesimo, New Orleans head coach Monty Williams and Boston Celtics head coach Doc Rivers as graduates of the San Antonio program. It's a long list and it's still growing. They've each had varying levels of success in their own organizations and Budenholzer, offered a multi-year deal to coach the Hawks Tuesday, will attempt to replicate the culture conducive to winning in Atlanta.
Budenholzer's relationship with Ferry and the roster flexibility — the Hawks have a mere $18.8 million committed in salary next season and thus can calibrate their team in a variety of ways — enticed him enough to leave the green pastures of San Antonio for the uncharted waters in Atlanta.
The future is murky with the likely departure of Josh Smith and potential subtractions of Kyle Korver, Zaza Pachulia and Devin Harris. Atlanta hasn't advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals since the 1969-70 season, when guard Lou Hudson was their leading scorer.
Budenholzer has a lot of work in front of him to create a legitimate contender, and their consistently mediocre finishes underscore the high degree of difficulty doing so, but he will have a ton of creative leeway in formulating his team. Al Horford, whose affordable contract expires after the 2015-16 season, is an excellent lynchpin to build a franchise around. He's reticent, values his teammates and doesn't like the limelight. (Remind you of anyone in particular Spurs fans?) Jeff Teague tallied a career-high in assist percentage this season (assisting on 36.1 percent of his teammates buckets when he's on the floor) while handling the ball more than anyone not named Smith or Lou Williams. There is stuff to build upon.
The hiring has been met with optimism among prominent NBA bloggers and rightly so — plucking off the Spurs tree is usually a good move. The tree has expanded it's branches to each corner of the NBA and it leaves the Spurs with a pronounced vacancy. Budenholzer will be missed, but he can be replaced. San Antonio is a well-oiled machine in that regard; each piece, regardless of value, is interchangeable. This doesn't diminish Budenholzer's role as Gregg Popovich's top assistant, though. The system is just so efficient and roles are so defined that it is very difficult to impede the Spurs from winning basketball games.
And they'll continue to do so. After all, Popovich, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili don't know any other way. Neither does Budenholzer and that will be pretty valuable in Atlanta.