The Hawks are projected to finish the season with the third-worst record in the NBA. However, there has never been more reason for optimism than there is right now. What has gone on behind the scenes is setting the franchise up for a level of success they have not seen in the past, and it all starts with majority owner Tony Ressler.
Ressler, along with other investors such as former NBA player Grant Hill, purchased the Atlanta Hawks back in 2015 for $730 million. According to Forbes estimated valuations of NBA franchises — less than five years later — the Hawks are now worth $1.52 billion.
That is not too shabby for a franchise that isn’t winning on the court. Ressler and company have taken the early years of their ownership to build the infrastructure to win for a very long time, and potentially be the hottest ticket in town.
Under Ressler’s direction, the team hired general manager Travis Schlenk, who is taking the steps to organically grow the Hawks into a contender for the first time in decades. Instead of simply signing the best veterans possible in an unattractive free agency destination, Schlenk is building through the draft and using financial flexibility to strengthen the team. He already acquired the Hawks’ first superstar since Dominique Wilkins, and that combined with the newly renovated State Farm Arena, has attendance in decent standing for a team at the bottom of the league. Under new ownership, the Hawks have tapped into the musical talent right in their back yard, putting together one of the best entertainment experiences in the NBA.
The organization has also teamed with Emory Healthcare to build a state of the art practice facility.
Atlanta still has a long way to go. They are only valued 23rd among all NBA franchises but did see a 17% increase last season, which was top 10 in terms of growth.
Ressler and his ownership group are a substantial upgrade from Bruce Levinson and the Atlanta Spirit Group, who were forced to sell the team after racially charged e-mails were exposed. It is unsure if this hurt the value of the franchise at the time of the sale, but there is no place for that in the NBA, and it was a blessing in disguise to oust a bad seed while simultaneously bringing in a passionate ownership group. The Atlanta Spirit Group acquired both the Hawks and Thrashers back in 2004, and the two teams were too much to manage. The Hawks may have had a long streak of playoff appearances, but neither franchise had much success, and the Thrashers were ultimately sold away to Winnipeg years earlier.
There is rightful optimism for the future growth of this franchise as well. Ressler and Co. have put together the foundation for success, and now their young core is close to becoming much more competitive. The Hawks have the most cap space in the NBA this offseason and already went out and traded for a difference-maker in Clint Capela. With a loaded 2021 NBA free agency class looming, there is a chance Atlanta can be contenders within a couple of years. Ressler has mentioned in the past that he is willing to go over the cap to win. The Hawks also plan on having new uniforms next season, which could bode well for future jersey sales as the team emerges as a potential playoff contender.
So Hawks fans, while we have not seen the final results on the court yet, be thankful for the current ownership group and buckle up. They have done everything right along the way to competitiveness. Atlanta is not far from being seen in a different light by future free agents, and the change in ownership is a primary reason for that.