The Bucks have won more than 71% of their games the last three seasons – by far the NBA’s best regular-season winning percentage. But, after taking a 2-0 lead over the Raptors, Milwaukee dropped four straight in the 2019 Eastern Conference finals. The Bucks got smoked in the second round by the Heat last year. Mike Budenholzer’s coaching in that series – minimal stylistic versatility, keeping Antetokounmpo’s minutes relative low – was extremely underwhelming.
But the next test looms.
sources say Budenholzer is likely gone unless there’s a deep playoff run.
A first-round loss would be the doomsday scenario, and even a second-round loss would seem nearly impossible for him to survive.
With one more season and upwards of $7 million remaining on his contract, he simply must find a way for the Bucks to end this season in a far better place than they did the last.
In the weeks that followed the loss to the Heat, when the Bucks were convincing Giannis Antetokounmpo to sign his supermax extension while dissecting their own demise at the same time, sources say there was a great deal of frustration aimed at Budenholzer that hasn’t been forgotten.
It seems somewhat silly to talk about firing Budenholzer now. Milwaukee (41-24) is riding high after consecutive wins over the Nets.
But the Bucks can’t just choose to stop here. They must enter the playoffs, and that’s where Budenholzer has struggled.
In some ways, Budenholzer would be a victim of his own success. Milwaukee didn’t look elite until Budenholzer arrived and showed the strength of his system in 2018. The Bucks had Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, Eric Bledsoe and Malcolm Brogdon and lost in the first round the prior season. (Brook Lopez was another key 2018 addition.)
That said, Budenholzer has achieved so much regular-season success in part by demolishing weaker teams with a style Milwaukee had become fully adept at. The drawback to that approach showed in the playoffs, when the Bucks would inevitably need to adjust and looked uncomfortable doing so.
To his credit, Budenholzer has taken a different approach this season. Milwaukee is switching more defensively. On offense, someone more often camps out near the basket ready to receive a pass and dunk. Ideally, the Bucks will still be able to play the way they dominated the previous couple years and switch styles when necessary.
Milwaukee’s postseason problems weren’t all on Budenholzer, either. Antetokounmpo hasn’t been ready for every deep–playoff and clutch-situation test. Bledsoe faltered in key moments. Middleton had some duds.
Multiple Bucks must perform better in the playoffs. Budenholzer is definitely one, though.
Charania and Amick report Budenholzer isn’t necessarily safe if losing in the Eastern Conference finals or NBA Finals, but that Milwaukee would assess Budenholzer through a more-nuanced lens. The Bucks should do that even with an earlier loss. The Nets, Milwaukee’s most likely second-round foe, are historically talented. It seems possible the Bucks could lose to Brooklyn and Budenholzer would still be the best coach for them going forward.
But how it should work and how it will work sometimes differ, especially with coaches.
Multiple years of postseason disapointment have clearly left Budenholzer with less margin for error.