Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo will almost certainly finish fourth in Most Valuable Player voting this year, his age-23 season.
The last coach to take over a team with a player who already accomplished so much at such a young age – Del Harris (a familiar name in Milwaukee), who inherited reigning MVP Moses Malone with the Rockets in 1979. It’s just so rare for jobs coaching such a promising player top come open.
“I think I’m in the best place in the league,” new Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said at his introductory press conference today.
Budenholzer had his pick of Milwaukee and Toronto, another highly successful team, especially for one seeking a new coach. But the Bucks offer Antetokounmpo and more modest expectations.
Milwaukee hasn’t won a playoff series in 17 years. Budenholzer was asked today as much about delivering a division title as an NBA title.
Topping the Cavaliers, Pacers, Pistons and Bulls sounds much easier than surpassing the Warriors, Rockets, Celtics and 76ers in coming years.
Not that Budenholzer, who reached the conference finals with the Hawks, is completely ducking big talk.
“We’re lucky to have a Giannis, who will do anything to win, and a Khris Middleton that will do anything to win,” Budenholzer said. “When you have your best players that are true competitors and that are truly unselfish and care more about the team than they do themselves, those are a couple of big, foundational blocks to winning championships and doing things that are special.”
The Bucks held the press conference at their still-under-construction new arena, the media wearing hard hats and orange vests:
But this isn’t a complete rebuild for Budenholzer.
Milwaukee has made the playoffs the last two seasons, including winning 44 games this year. Antetokounmpo is a superstar. Middleton is a borderline All-Star. Eric Bledsoe is a solid starter. Restricted free agent-to-be Jabari Parker is talented. The rotation is somewhat deep.
The Bucks just underachieved under former coach Jason Kidd (and never capitalized before him for more than a decade for other reasons).
Citing the potential of current players, Budenholzer said Milwaukee could become “elite” defensively. The Bucks are full of long and athletic players, and Budenholzer coached sound defenses in Atlanta. There’s only one reason to doubt him: Milwaukee finished just 17th in points allowed per possession this season.
But that’s a feature of this job, not a bug. The Bucks aren’t stuck with an inevitably bad defenders. They just underperformed. Budenholzer can nudge them ahead – and is positioned to receive outsized credit if he does.
“Working with the entire with the entire roster, with the front office, with ownership,” Budenholzer said, “I can’t wait to take us to the next level in Milwaukee.”
That next level isn’t that high, which is why Budenholzer is right.
Milwaukee is a great place for a coach to be.