Even GM behind Budenholzer split gives strong endorsement

Hawks GM Travis Schlenk said at a news conference in Atlanta on Thursday the official divorce with Mike Budenholzer was “harmonious” and “was as mutual as a parting can be.’’

“Coach Bud didn’t quit on this group, our players didn’t quit on him,’’ Schlenk said. “He wants to move forward with his career.”

That could be with the Knicks, who interviewed Budenholzer in New York on Sunday while he was still under contract with the Hawks.

Budenholzer’s name is an unexpected addition to the Knicks’ coaching search and his divorce makes for a smoother path. Sources have indicated the 2015 Coach of the Year made a strong impression on Knicks president Steve Mills and GM Scott Perry, who are in Europe talking to David Blatt and scouting lottery pick Luka Doncic.

The Post reported Budenholzer views the Knicks as his ”top choice,” but it’s unclear if more teams get in the mix now that no compensation will be needed. Presumably, a club wouldn’t have to match Budenholzer’s contract — which had two years and more than $13 million left on it. The Bucks could be lurking as they face elimination Thursday against the Celtics and are run by interim coach Joe Prunty. Moving into a new arena and with a proven roster led by Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Bucks appear the better job, but another NBA source said Budenholzer’s preference is the Knicks.

The Post reported Budenholzer was disillusioned with the Hawks’ direction, believing the franchise would be in tank mode for another two seasons after posting a 24-58 record this past season.

An NBA source said Budenholzer regards the Knicks as closer to winning, though the uncertainty of Kristaps Porzingis’ return casts a pall over the franchise.

If the Knicks don’t hire Budenholzer, it would likely be because they aren’t sure he would be satisfied with their version of a rebuild. But the biggest thing Budenholzer has going for him — aside that he’s from Gregg Popovich’s coaching tree — is turning around the career of Tim Hardaway Jr., coaching him two seasons in Atlanta and making him into an all-around player worthy of a $71 million contract. The Hawks didn’t match the contract, but that may not have been Budenholzer’s call.

Schlenk would not go into the specifics of Budenholzer’s desire to move on, nor the Hawks’ willingness. But it’s apparent Atlanta owners are happy to be freed of at least some of his money in a financial settlement.

When the season ended, Schlenk figured Budenholzer would be their coach next season, but then several conversations took place the past two weeks that led to this divorce. Budenholzer, whose run in Atlanta lasted five seasons, including four playoff berths, was also granted permission to talk to the Suns but pulled his name from consideration — perhaps over money.

“We had several conversations and this was best for him and his career and the right time for the Hawks the way we are,’’ Schlenk said. “It wasn’t negative on either side. It’s time for both of us to move forward.’’

Schlenk wouldn’t address the financial settlement, but it is believed his new contract would be deducted from what Atlanta owes him.

The Atlanta GM felt he “didn’t have a bad relationship” with Budenholzer. However, Schlenk didn’t hire him and took his personnel power away from him when hired from Golden State last summer.

“One of the things that’s important is having a coach who will connect and develop our young players,’’ Schlenk said. “This doesn’t change our plan. We’re going to continue to develop our young players and build through our draft and look to gather assets and maintain financial flexibility. It doesn’t change our plan.

“I want to have a great relationship no matter the head coach. We’re going to find the right head coach for the Hawks. That coach will have the same job description as I do and that’s to try to bring a championship to the Atlanta Hawks.”

David Fizdale, a top candidate for the Knicks, may enter the Hawks mix. He’s a former assistant in Atlanta under Mike Woodson, who is a long-shot Knicks choice.

After firing Jeff Hornacek at the Westchester Airport two weeks ago, the Knicks entered the process “open’’ to all candidates, not necessarily looking for the amount of head-coaching experience that Budenholzer brings. Hiring a prospect who checks the boxes of connecting to the players and an ability to communicate well with the front office was a bigger key. But Budenholzer could just fall in their lap.

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