Win a title last season. Get fired this season.
Such is life for an NBA coach.
Mike Budenholzer led the Milwaukee Bucks to the franchise’s first NBA title in 50 years last season. He led the Bucks to the Eastern Conference title, the No.1 seed in the East, and a 58-24 (.707) record this season. But when the Bucks were upset by the Miami Heat in the first round of the playoffs, it was just a matter of time before the pink slip landed on his desk.
“The decision to make this change was very difficult,” Bucks general manager Jon Horst said in a statement. “Bud helped lead our team for five incredible seasons, to the Bucks’ first title in 50 years, and into an era of sustained success. We are grateful for the culture of winning and leadership that Bud helped create in Milwaukee.
“This is an opportunity for us to refocus and reenergize our efforts as we continue building toward our next championship season.”
When will that be?
The Bucks were overwhelming favorites to win the NBA title this season at +240. Next season will likely see the Bucks in a different light. First of all there’s the matter of finding a new coach and his ability to win the player’s trust. Secondly, Milwaukee fans might see a vastly team around star Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Center Brook Lopez signed what turned out to be a bargain for the Bucks when he agreed to a four-year $52 million deal in 2019 when he was 31 years old. He developed an effective three-point shot and emerged as a terrific defender. The Bucks can offer him a max deal starting at $46,900 next season. But Lopez will be 35 next season. Does that fit with a team is looking to “refocus and reenergize?”
Jae Crowder also is a free agent. He’s Milwaukee’s enforcer along with being a terrific defender when the Bucks face the likes of Jimmy Butler and Jason Tatum. Crowder, 32, was not exactly breaking the bank having completed a three-year, $29 million deal.
And then there’s the future.
Giannis is eligible for an extension in September. Forward Khris Middleton is a free agent after next season. Middleton proved his value in the 2022 NBA Finals when his clutch scoring and defense were crucial. He and Giannis are brothers.
But with all respect to Middleton, he’s not one of the Top 5 players on the planet. Giannis is. He has been loyal to Milwaukee and Bucks fans think of him as a member of the family. He already resisted one opportunity to play in a larger market. Will he do so again?
There already have been reports that the Knicks are monitoring the situation in Milwaukee. One of the season Giannis likes Milwaukee is that he’s free from the distractions that are a daily occurrence in larger markets. But now he’s looking at a new coach and possibly a very different roster.
It wasn’t just the Bucks shockingly early ouster that doomed Budenholzer but the manner in which they were defeated. Miami’s Butler was the overwhelmingly dominant player in the season, averaging 37.6 points on 59.7-percent shooting. But Budenholzer never switched the defense.
Giannis, at 6-foot-11, might have given the Bucks a better matchup on the 6-7 Butler. And Giannis wanted a shot at slowing the Heat’s star. It never happened.
“Out of respect, you’ve got to let the coach make the adjustment,” Antetokounmpo said after Game 5. “At the end of the day, I wish I could’ve guarded [Butler] more.”
The elimination of the No.1 seed in the East had a jarring effect on the odds on who advances to the NBA Finals. Boston’s odds improved to -165. The Sixers moved to +275.
The Knicks are +900 and the Miami Heat, who seemingly are incapable of gaining respect, are +1000.
It would be great for a small market team like Milwaukee to remain a contender. For a that to happen, the Bucks have to manage these next few decisions perfectly, starting with the new coach. Regardless of what the Bucks say, Giannis will, and should, be considered in this hire. They need to hear his thoughts on the futures of Lopez, Crowder, and Middleton.
Because if the Bucks don’t do everything they can, and more, to make the Greek Freak happy, fans in Milwaukee will freak out.