After the racially insensitive audio tape about free agent Luol Deng became public last September, the Hawks placed Ferry on an indefinite leave of absence that lasted through the 2014-2015 season.
The Hawks hired the law firm Alston & Bird LLP led by senior partner Bernard Taylor to investigate whether the remarks were racially motivated.
According to a news release released by the Hawks, investigators conducted 19 witness interviews, including interviews of Ferry and several Hawks owners, and reviewed the contents of more than 24,000 emails, including every available work email sent or received by Ferry in his capacity as General Manager.
According to the news release, the investigation "made clear that the offensive language was not Ferry's and none of Ferry's remarks or behavior during the call were motivated by racial or ethnic animus, or by a person's country of origin. To the contrary, Ferry shared his own opinion of Luol, recommended him both personally and professionally and ultimately tried to sign him to the team. The investigation revealed no other negative information on Ferry."
In a statement, Hawks CEO Steve Koonin said, "This season has proved two things. First, Danny Ferry is a tremendous GM. Danny was the principal architect of the Hawks' success in Atlanta. From the hiring of Coach Bud to reinventing the roster, Danny's vision has put us in the tremendous place we are today. Danny acted with integrity and professionalism as he guided the organization through important changes over the last few years. Second, Danny Ferry is not a racist. Danny showed great leadership in stepping aside in the fall so the season could proceed with as few distractions as possible. He has always put the team first despite the great personal difficulties he endured. Now that the team has identified new ownership, the resolution of Danny's contract with existing ownership is appropriate. We wish Danny and his family only the best moving forward."
"While the past year has been incredibly difficult and humbling, it is critical for me to clear my name and for people to realize that I have always built a culture of respect, diversity, and honesty," said Ferry. "Now that the key facts have been made known, I am making the difficult decision to step away from this team and this special group of players. I have seen how gracious and forgiving people can be – especially Luol, who had every right to be hurt and angry after being brought into this situation. I thank him for his forgiveness and support. I also greatly appreciate that our players and coaches have been supportive, along with so many friends, old and new. As the Hawks move to a new chapter, I will continue to support the players and wish them the continued success that they and the fans of Atlanta deserve."
As General Manager, Ferry hired Mike Budenholzer as the team's head coach and reconstructed the team's roster. The team achieved the best record in the Eastern Conference this past season, and Coach Budenholzer was named NBA Coach of the Year.
"Building a successful team takes more than attracting a few stars," Budenholzer said. "It is about finding the right combination of talent and teamwork to become an unbeatable combination. Danny's vision and decision-making shaped the team that fans celebrate on the court today."
Sources told FOX 5 last week that Budenholzer will become the team's president and remain as head coach.
In Budenholzer's second season as coach, the Hawks had the best regular season record in the Eastern Conference with a 60-22 record and made the Eastern Conference finals for the first time in team history.