Coaches have been fired for a lot less than two consecutive fourth quarters, double-digit lead collapses as the No. 1 seed.
But if — and, more likely, when — we write about the firing of coach Mike Budenholzer in Milwaukee, the final nail in the coffin will be this comment from Giannis Antetokounmpo postgame:
“Double-team him more, try to make him pass the ball. Maybe switch the matchup for a little bit, give Jrue a break. I don’t think as a team we made the right [adjustment] or we didn’t make as many adjustments as we could have against [Jimmy Butler].”
When the star player calls out the coach for a lack of adjustments the writing is on the wall (even if Antetokounmpo’s preferred adjustment — him guarding Butler — was no panacea, but the Bucks needed to try something different). That is the sense from sources NBC Sports spoke to around the league (and has been reported in multiple places), Budenholzer is likely on his way out the door as Bucks coach.
Even though he led Milwaukee to its first title in 50 years just a couple of years ago, the groundwork is there for a change. That includes things like holding on to timeouts late in Game 5 — which surprised even the Heat — to Budenholzer sticking with single-covering Butler, usually with Jrue Holiday, rather than doubling him (something the Bucks did just seven times all series). Then there is Antetokounmpo saying “For me, I think this has been the worst postseason ever.”
The decision to move on is easier for GM Jon Horst and ownership to make when they have a coach in waiting on the bench in assistant Charles Lee — a guy at the top of the list of assistants getting interviewed for other jobs. It’s a change to a guy the players love without bringing in an outside voice.
Changing coaches is the most obvious step in returning to the Finals, but it is just a first step. There needs to be some soul-searching by the Bucks, and the next steps are much more challenging.
The Bucks are caught in a paradox: This is an elite roster but much of its core is old — Brook Lopez is 35, Jrue Holiday will turn 33 in June, Khris Middleton is 31 — and about to get very expensive:
• Lopez is a free agent and will get offers befitting a Defensive Player of the Year candidate.
• Middleton has a $40.4 million player option he could opt out of to get the security of multiple years (even if it means taking a slight haircut next season).
• Holiday is extension eligible this fall.
• This September, Antetokounmpo becomes extension eligible as well, with two seasons left on his deal. However, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst said it’s unlikely Antetokounmpo will extend this fall, rather he will wait to see how things play out before committing to Milwaukee longer.
The paradox is this: To keep Antetokounmpo happy likely means re-signing Lopez and Middleton (and extending Holiday), but that puts this team deep into the luxury tax and makes it difficult to add the quality young, athletic, versatile players they need (especially under a more restrictive CBA).
It’s a paradox other contending teams have found themselves in — going back to the Shaq/Kobe Lakers — an aging core that can contend right now but has a questionable shelf life. How much longer can the Bucks contend with this group — or did the Heat show that maybe they can’t right now and it’s time for a major change? How would that sit with in-his-prime Antetokounmpo?
Those questions may not be keeping Budenholzer up at night much longer. Changing coaches might be the most obvious, easy change Milwaukee can make.