ATLANTA — Danny Ferry officially stepped down as general manager of the Atlanta Hawks on Monday and said having to watch the team's most successful season from a distance was "bittersweet."
Ferry, 48, spoke publicly Monday for the first time since going on indefinite leave in August following racially inflammatory comments about then-free agent Luol Deng.
"It was hard, but winning makes everything better," Ferry told The Associated Press. "Winning makes everything easier and to see the work that we had been putting in over the few years and the identity of what we were trying to build really take root ... this year was obviously bittersweet and definitely sweet because of the success and how the team played."
Hawks CEO Steve Koonin credited Ferry for helping build the Hawks team that won 60 games and reached its first Eastern Conference finals. In a statement announcing Ferry's exit, Koonin added it was time for the move.
The AP reported Friday Ferry and the Hawks had reached a buyout of the final two years of his contract.
"This season has proved two things," Koonin said. "First, Danny Ferry is a tremendous GM. Danny was the principal architect of the Hawks' success in Atlanta. ... 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."
Koonin added now that the team has identified new ownership, "the resolution of Danny's contract with existing ownership is appropriate."
The Hawks said Monday an investigation by a law firm, Alston & Bird LLP, led by senior partner Bernard Taylor, concluded Ferry's remarks were not racially motivated.
Ferry said he was frustrated he had to wait so long for the results of that investigation to be made public.
"As it relates to the report, that was something that could have been released nine months ago and wasn't and that was a point of frustration for me through this whole thing," Ferry said.
Even so, Ferry stressed it was his mistake that triggered his exit.
"I made a mistake. That's the thing I want to get across," he said. "I made a mistake and I want to take responsibility for that."
Ferry said he does not know his next career move.
The release said the law firm "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."
Ferry signed an $18 million, six-year contract when he was hired from San Antonio in 2012. He hired Mike Budenholzer, a former Spurs assistant, two years ago.
Ferry said he talked with Budenholzer two or three times each week during the season "about basketball and about family."
Asked if he gave advice on decisions regarding the Hawks, Ferry said "I gave my thoughts but he didn't have to listen to them."
Ferry landed in trouble for making inflammatory comments about Deng in a conference call with the Hawks' ownership group. Ferry referred to comments in a scouting report when he described Deng as someone who "has a little African in him."
"He's like a guy who would have a nice store out front," Ferry said, "and sell you counterfeit stuff out of the back."
Deng, who is from South Sudan, signed instead with the Miami Heat.
In the statement released by the Hawks, Ferry said "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."