Hawks begin training camp with plenty of turmoil

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ATLANTA (AP) — Growing more and more uncomfortable with a line of questioning that had nothing to do with what's happening on the court for the Atlanta Hawks, coach Mike Budenholzer turned toward one of his handlers Monday and asked, only half-jokingly, "Can we end this soon?"

Not a chance.

When training camp opens Tuesday at the University of Georgia, the Hawks will be under the cloud of a racially charged scandal that forced owner Bruce Levenson to put his share of the team up for sale and led general manager Danny Ferry to take an indefinite leave of absence.

Media day at Philips Arena provided a glimpse of what the Hawks can expect, with a large share of the questions focused on the turmoil off the court.

The issue doesn't figure to go away anytime soon, certainly not while the team is on the market and Ferry's future is up in the air.

"This is a fluid situation," Budenholzer said.

The players seemed willing to accept Ferry back as the general manager, even after he was recorded on a conference call this past summer making derogatory comments about free agent Luol Deng, including a shot at his African roots. An internal investigation of Ferry revealed an email that Levenson sent two years ago, theorizing that whites were reluctant to support the Hawks because of their large African-American fan base.

Team leader Al Horford was among those who met with Ferry.

"He was very remorseful," said Horford, who has been with the Hawks longer than any other player. "He understood what he had done, and he's trying to move forward and make it right."

Levenson announced Sept. 7 that he was selling his share of the team because of the email. His primary partner has also agreed to sell, meaning at least 50.1 percent of the team is available. Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, who met last week with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, said a half-dozen potential buyers have expressed interest in the Hawks though no one has come out publicly.

As for Ferry, Hawks CEO Steve Koonin accepted the general manager's request for a leave but has so far rejected calls from civil rights leaders and others to fire him.

Koonin stuck to that stance Monday.

"Danny is on an indefinite leave of absence," he said. "There's really not much to talk about in that area. We look forward to now playing basketball."

Koonin would not say whether Ferry will ever return to the GM position, making it clear that a new owner would likely have the final say on that issue. In the meantime, he added, all senior staff members will take part in two days of "intensive diversity training" beginning Tuesday.

"Danny could be on a leave of absence for six weeks or forever," Koonin said. "The first thing that he asked for was time to go figure out himself, to heal."

Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins, who spent most of his career with the Hawks and now serves as a vice president and team broadcaster, was reluctant to give Ferry a vote of confidence.

"It's hard for people to forget," said Wilkins, who has expressed interest in having a stake in the team as part of any new ownership group. "I'm disturbed by anybody who makes those type of accusations, who has those type of views."

New York Knicks star Carmelo Anthony said it will be impossible for the Hawks to sign any big-name free agents as long as Ferry is associated with the team. That's quite a fall for the general manager who was largely praised for his efforts to model the Hawks along the lines of the NBA champion San Antonio Spurs, especially when he rid the team of burdensome, big-money contracts held by Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams.

Kyle Korver pointed out how much the culture has changed since he was traded to the Hawks two years ago, not long after Ferry took over as GM.

"I did not want to come to Atlanta," Korver said. "There were a lot of perceptions about the Hawks that were not good. True change starts at the center, at its core, like the guts of the whole thing. And I really believe Danny has done a good job being the general manager of this team, a really good job."

For now, Budenholzer has taken over control of the day-to-day basketball operations, reporting directly to Koonin, though there appear to be few personnel decisions to make during training camp. Twelve players are back from last season's team, which took the top-seeded Indiana Pacers to seven games in the opening round of the playoffs, and they are joined by newcomers Kent Bazemore, Thabo Sefolosha and first-round pick Adreian Payne.

Korver said there was never any thought of a boycott or any other protest by the players, as was the case with the Los Angeles Clippers after former owner Donald Sterling's racist comments came to light.

"I think everyone on our team wants to be here," Korver said. "We're a team with a lot of pieces, and everyone sees where they fit together."


Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

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