Q & A With Hawks GM Rick Sund
by Micah Hart
The Hawks got their busy summer off to a good start last week, hiring longtime NBA executive Rick Sund as the team's new general manager. Though he's been involved with the league for over 30 years, Sund has managed to keep a low profile, preferring to conduct most of his business behind the scenes. As he transitions into his new job with the Hawks (and faces several big decisions right off the bat), Hawks.com took the opportunity to do a little Q&A to get you more familiar with the team's new executive.
Hawks.com: What is your biggest priority coming into your new position?
Rick Sund: My first priority here is to be a good listener over the next couple weeks. This has all happened so quickly, and I want to make sure I take time to talk with the management team, the coaches, the players, and others to get a lay of the land. Once I've done that, then we can start deciding about specific steps we need to take to move forward.
Hawks.com: What has been your impression of the Hawks the last few years?
RS: There are a couple things that I've found really interesting about the Hawks. First of all, I think they did a good job when they decided to rebuild of developing a game plan and sticking to it. That's not easy to do. When I was with the Mavericks, we had to do the same thing - try to build through the draft over a several year period. It's a tough process - there are highs and lows, but generally more lows, and the important thing is to not get too caught up in either swing but stick to your game plan.
What impressed me about the Hawks is that everyone stuck with the game plan
while they accumulated talent, and the record got a little better each year to
the point where this past season you felt like you could actually get rid of
some of that talent in order to get a player like Mike Bibby. That worked out to
be a pretty nice trade as it helped the team play well down the stretch and make
the playoffs. The Hawks playoff run was great for the young guys because it gave
them a taste of what the postseason is like, and more than that, they even
played well, particularly at home, and that got the city fired up - and all
because they had a game plan and they stuck to it.
Hawks.com: The playoff run was exciting, but many fans felt the team underachieved in the regular season. When you look at this team going forward, how much do you weigh the team's postseason run against its regular season performance?
RS: The Hawks were a young team. If you ask any basketball person in the NBA what to expect from a team with young players, if they are ready to blossom, they will say they will probably be better later in the season as the chemistry improves. That's what you saw from the Hawks over the last 20-25 games of this past season.
When the season starts, the first goal for any team is to make the playoffs,
irrespective of record. As your team matures and your standards are raised then
you set your sights higher, say for home court advantage in the playoffs. But
making the playoffs is an impressive feat for any team, and now you take last
season and you say, let's improve on our 37 wins and get into the 40s and get
back to the playoffs. I think last season was a positive sign for the Hawks and
allows us to set some goals for next season that are achievable.
Hawks.com: Do you think this team's core is set, or do you see any glaring issues that need to be settled?
RS: I'll know more in the next few weeks as I watch more film and talk with the coaches and players, but the impressive thing about this club to me is that there are several young players who haven't reached their potential yet. You are going to get a lot of growth from within with this club. Just off the top of your head, you can say Al Horford hasn't reached his potential, Acie Law hasn't reached his full potential, Josh Childress, Marvin Williams, Josh Smith - all those guys have room to grow. These are all part of the team's potential core, and as they grow as players and as the chemistry grows, it will make this a better team. These are positive signs for a general manager coming in, no question about it.
Hawks.com: What do you think of David Andersen, the Hawks draft pick who has been playing in Russia for the last few seasons? Any thoughts of bringing him over for next season?
RS: It's too early to say yet, but he had a really good season for his team over at CSKA Moscow. He's definitely a player myself and our staff will have to watch the film on and explore to see if bringing him over is something we want to do.
Hawks.com: Speaking of Andersen, you drafted several international players during your tenure in Seattle. How important is it to have a firm knowledge of the international prospects out there?
RS: I think the success is doing your homework at all levels. It's important to have good information on players who are in college, and on players that are global as well. It's not just Europe anymore, either - South America produces some good talent as well. You had a rush of a ton of players in the late 90's and early 2000s from Europe, but I don't think you'll see that as much anymore. What seems to be the trend now is to draft foreign players in the second round and then hold their rights while they develop overseas. We definitely have to make sure our staff is competent in gathering information on international players though.
Hawks.com: The Hawks don't have any picks in the upcoming draft. Is that something you are concerned about? Would you like to somehow move back into the draft?
RS: You know, if there was ever a year for the Hawks not to have a draft pick, this is probably the year. They made the playoffs so they aren't missing out on a lottery pick, and there are already so many young players on the roster, it doesn't hurt to avoid adding another young player who will sit on the bench in a developmental role. If you are going to finish paying off the debt for Joe Johnson, this is a good year to do it.
Hawks.com: It seems like there has been a movement in professional sports towards more rigorous use of statistical analysis in evaluating talent. What are your thoughts on that trend?
RS: I think with all the technology available and the internet making so much data available at your fingertips, it's important to use it as a resource. The media seems to focus on it more now, but it's been going on for several years. It's not a new concept. In Seattle, we had a guy who developed a patented software program for us that tracked all the players and teams in the league. It's not a new thing, but it's definitely a resource you need to have.
Hawks.com: Looking back on your tenure in the league, what would you say have been your biggest successes or disappointments?
RS: I think I've been fortunate to work with some very good organizations, and have been in situations where we've sat down with ownership and staff and set goals and gone out and accomplished those goals. At each place I've been (Dallas, Detroit, and Seattle) we set our goal to be an elite team, and we were able to reach that level and compete for a championship, and all of that was because we set up a program for success and then tried to follow it as closely as possible.
Hawks.com: Obviously, Hawks fans want to know what the plan is for the two Joshes.
RS: They are a priority, no question. We want to re-sign them. They are a part of the team's young nucleus, they've gotten better each year, and they each contributed in the playoff run.
Hawks.com: Fairly or not, former GM Billy Knight was often characterized in the media as wanted to build a squad of multidimensional 6-8 players. Is there a particular style of ball or talent you prefer?
RS: I don't think so. I think your talent dictates your style. The coaches who have been successful in the league over the years are the ones who adapt to the talent they have and get the best out of that talent. Pat Riley had Showtime when he was in LA, but had much more defensive-minded teams in New York and Miami. It's not like he came in and said. "This is how I want to play." He adapted to the talent he had to work with. Jerry Sloan is the same way in Utah - he played one way with Stockton and Malone, and now he plays a completely different style with Carlos Boozer and Deron Williams.
I'm not looking to have a particular type of style. I want us to accumulate good basketball players who are capable of playing a number of ways, and then we'll use that talent to the best of their abilities in whichever way will be most successful.
Micah Hart is the Manager of Websites for the Atlanta Hawks