ATLANTA — Knowing he faces a tight timetable, new Atlanta Hawks general manager Rick Sund is eager to start putting his imprint on a team coming off its first playoff appearance in nine years.
But he’s still mum about the future of coach Mike Woodson.
In a wide-ranging interview conducted at the Hawks’ 19th-floor offices, Sund declined comment on whether he’s made a decision to bring back Woodson or hire someone else.
“It’s too early,” the new GM said. “It wouldn’t be right.”
Sund, who was hired last week as Billy Knight’s replacement, went out to dinner with Woodson in Orlando, Fla., shortly after getting the job. They will meet again in the next few days, and there won’t be any decision made on the Hawks’ fourth-year coach until then.
“We talked a little bit and shared some philosophies and things like that,” Sund said. “Next week at this time, it might be a more appropriate question. But today I can’t answer it.”
Woodson’s contract is up at the end of the month, and a dismal record of 106-222 (.323) would appear to make him a prime candidate for unemployment.
But the Hawks have made steady progress during his four years, going from a franchise-worst 13-69 in his debut to 37-45 this season, good enough for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Woodson’s prospects were further enhanced when Atlanta took the heavily favored Boston Celtics to seven games in the opening round before losing.
“One of the things I liked about Atlanta was they had a game plan,” Sund said. “It’s not always easy to stick with the game plan, to go through the highs and lows of playing the younger players and developing them. Most teams are into that instant gratification. Some of it came to fruition this year and they were able to say, ‘Hey, this team is pointed north.’ That’s a good thing.”
If Sund decides to ditch Woodson, one prominent candidate might be available: Detroit’s Flip Saunders was fired Monday after the Pistons were eliminated in the Eastern Conference finals for the third straight season. Former Dallas coach Avery Johnson also on the market.
If Woodson looks to make a fresh start, he could be a fallback candidate in Detroit, where Saunders assistant Michael Curry is reported to be the leading candidate. Woodson was an assistant on Larry Brown’s staff when the Pistons won the NBA title in 2004.
While deciding Woodson’s fate is the top priority, Sund has plenty of other issues to address. Most notably, Josh Smith and Josh Childress — two cornerstones of Knight’s rebuilding job — are restricted free agents, meaning they can agree to listen to offers but the Hawks have the right to match.
Sund is confident he’ll be able to re-sign both Joshes, believing they’ll want to remain part of an organization that finally showed tangible signs of progress.
“I think they’ve done a pretty decent job here of managing the cap,” Sund said. “They had a lot of money to spend the last couple of years. They could have gone out and signed guys to long-term contracts that might have accelerated the process, but they would have been behind the eight-ball when they were trying to re-sign their own guys.”
While praising the work done by his predecessor, Sund will clearly bring a different public look to the Hawks’ front office. Knight was reticent about taking questions from the media — once telling a local columnist “I don’t talk during the season” — and downright defensive when his moves were questioned.
Sund, on the other hand, gladly agreed to a daylong series of interviews upon arriving in Atlanta.
“Make no mistake: People are going to be shooting bullets at you,” he said. “It bothered me when I was 30, because I wanted to have a long career. Now that I’ve had a long career, it doesn’t bother me as much.”
Sund has worked in NBA front offices for more than 30 years, including stints with Milwaukee, Dallas, Detroit and most recently Seattle. He’s not sure if this will be the last stop in his long career.
“I’m playing the back side,” he quipped. “I know I’m not teeing it up at the first hole anymore. But am I ready for the 19th hole? I don’t think so.”
During the course of the interview, he let it slip that he turned 57 on Wednesday. Not that he was in any position to mark the occasion.
Asked how he would be celebrating his birthday, Sund replied, “Working.”