Budenholzer, the longtime San Antonio assistant, was named the Hawks’ coach Tuesday, one day after the Spurs completed a four-game sweep of Memphis in the Western Conference finals.
“It’s been a pretty amazing 48 hours, I’ll be very honest with you,” Budenholzer said Wednesday as he was introduced by Hawks general manager Danny Ferry. “It’s exciting for my family, exciting for me.
“The opportunity to come here with the Atlanta Hawks, when you couple that with coming to the NBA finals, I’m living a dream.”
Budenholzer, 43, spent 19 years with the Spurs, including 17 seasons as an assistant. He was the top assistant for coach Gregg Popovich the past six years, but he may be a new name to many fans outside of San Antonio.
“I’m definitely not a sexy hire,” Budenholzer said. “Thankfully, that wasn’t on Danny’s shopping list.”
Similarly, the Spurs are viewed by some as lacking the flash of such other high-profile teams as Miami. The accusations of boring play didn’t stop the Spurs from winning NBA titles in 1999, 2003, 2005 and 2007 as Budenholzer coached under Popovich.
Budenholzer said he’ll bring the emphasis for strong defense and ball movement to Atlanta. And he said the Spurs’ system is catching on with other teams.
“I think the league and the NBA, whether it’s fundamentals or the style of playing, is moving toward the style that we’re playing. I look forward to bringing to Atlanta the ball movement and people movement and people sharing and participating and a little bit less of the one on one,” he said.
“It’s something you have to believe in and you have to sell. I think in the initial stages it may be a little difficult, but in the long run players, coaches, fans and everyone will enjoy it and see the benefits.”
Budenholzer said the Hawks’ ownership, Ferry and roster flexibility combined to make Atlanta “a perfect fit for me.”
Center Al Horford is the lone starter with a guaranteed contract for next season. The only other players with guaranteed contracts are guard Lou Williams, who is recovering from a season-ending knee injury, and rookie guard John Jenkins. Point guard Jeff Teague can become a restricted free agent.
Budenholzer said Teague “is someone I feel strongly about and he’s part of why I’m excited to get this opportunity. He’s a heck of a player. There are a lot of decisions that need to be made on a lot of different fronts, including Jeff. I look forward to working with Danny on that.”
Longtime starting forward Josh Smith tops Atlanta’s long list of unrestricted free agents.
Budenholzer said he’ll build around Horford and the financial flexibility Ferry began to create by trading Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams before the 2012-13 season.
Pending decisions on Teague and others, the Hawks could have about $40 million under the cap to spend in free agency.
“We want to build it and so as a coach that is exciting,” he said. “That is why to me, that roster element in making the decision was strong.”
Budenholzer said he and Ferry will work out how much time he will have for the Hawks while he completes his drive for a fifth NBA championship ring with the Spurs.
“Danny and I are talking and working on that,” Budenholzer said before adding he wants to “be sure I finish right with San Antonio. He and I both want Pop to still call us when this is said and done.”
Budenholzer said he’ll bring lessons learned under Popovich, including a strong defensive philosophy.
Ferry came to the Hawks last year after two years as vice president of basketball operations for the Spurs. After his close view of Budenholzer’s role with the Spurs, Ferry now is looking for the coach to bring at least part of San Antonio’s winning system to Atlanta.
“Part of what’s exciting about this for me is he has a great understanding of the league,” Ferry said. “He’s been part of San Antonio. He wasn’t just in San Antonio like some of us were, he’s been there for the duration. He’s seen how it evolved. He’s seen how it has grown. Mike, (general manager) R.C. (Buford) and Pop were the ones who were there the whole time.”
Ferry said Hawks players will buy into Budenholzer’s ability to clearly communicate his plans.
“I think Mike will certainly help us be more mentally tough by implementing clarity on a way to play that guys can and will believe in,” Ferry said. “They’ll buy in and they’ll play hard.”
Budenholzer replaces Larry Drew, who was 128-102 in three seasons.
“I’d also like to acknowledge my appreciation and respect for the job Larry Drew did here the last three years,” Ferry said. “I enjoyed working with him. We talked again yesterday about things and I wish him great luck and success.”