BREAKING: The Milwaukee Bucks dismissed coach Mike Budenholzer, sources tell ESPN. Budenholzer is out after the East’s top-seed suffered a first-round loss to the Miami Heat. pic.twitter.com/wQp0Zk3lxi
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) May 4, 2023
Budenholzer’s coaching resume is unimpeachable. He spent 17 seasons on Gregg Popovich’s staff with the San Antonio Spurs. Budenholzer spent five seasons as head coach of the Atlanta Hawks, highlighted by leading Atlanta to 60 wins while winning Coach of the Year in 2014-15.
After he and the Hawks decided to part ways after the 2017-18 season, he was immediately hired by Milwaukee. He was immediately named Coach of the Year again after leading the Bucks to 60 wins, while Giannis Antetokounmpo won his first of two MVP awards.
The Bucks lost to the eventual champion Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference Finals that season. After a second-round exit to the Miami Heat in the 2020 Bubble, questions about his lack of coaching adjustments came to light. Leading the Bucks to a championship in 2021 did little to quell those concerns with Milwaukee’s leadership, apparently. Milwaukee lost to a lower-seeded Heat team again. Rumors about Budenholzer losing his job swirled in the aftermath.
Who could Milwaukee choose to replace Budenholzer? And where could Budenholzer end up?
Mike Budenholzer Is Out as the Bucks’ Head Coach. Who Could Replace Him?
Who Makes the Decisions in Milwaukee?
Before we can determine who will replace Budenholzer, we need to figure out who is making the decision. Antetokounmpo didn’t seem to endorse major changes in his memorable speech about failure after the Bucks’ playoff exit.
“Michael Jordan played 15 years, won 6 championships. The other 9 years were a failure?"
-Giannis' passionate response to if he considers the Bucks' season a failure pic.twitter.com/G5VtwnGXYq
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) April 27, 2023
Bucks ownership has gone through major changes recently as well. It’s fair to wonder if those changes played a role in the Budenholzer firing. Wes Edens and Dee and Jimmy Haslem are controlling owners after the Haslems purchased Marc Lasry’s portion of the team. Edens and Lasry had a unique arrangement that saw them rotate decision-making power over the franchise every five years. Haslem and Edens confirmed that the arrangement would continue, with Edens beginning his five-year period now.
Milwaukee’s Options to Replace Mike Budenholzer
Nick Nurse is likely the first person Milwaukee will call. His resume is nearly as impressive as Budenholzer’s. He coached the Toronto team that beat Milwaukee in 2018-19 and went on to lead them to a title. He won Coach of the Year the following season.
Nurse is extremely willing to experiment. He notably instructed the Raptors to defend the Warriors with a box-and-one scheme in the 2019 Finals. It slowed the depleted Golden State Warriors and Stephen Curry, and he continued to employ versatile and diverse defensive schemes with a team full of veterans in 2019-2020.
However, there’s a reason Masai Ujiri and the Raptors chose to fire Nurse earlier this offseason. He seemed to lose the locker room over the last couple of seasons as veterans (Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, Kyle Lowry) were replaced by younger players (Scottie Barnes, Gary Trent Jr., Precious Achiuwa). The turmoil ended with Nurse telling Ujiri, “Good luck with those guys” during his exit interview.
The veteran-laden Bucks (assuming they re-sign free agents Brook Lopez and Khris Middleton) should be more willing to embrace Nurse given his reputation, and perhaps his creativity can inject life into the Bucks’ sometimes-stagnant offense.
After winning the 2020 championship with the Los Angeles Lakers, Frank Vogel should be a top candidate for any coaching job. He reportedly was a candidate for the Houston Rockets’ job before they hired Ime Udoka. Vogel started his career strong with the Indiana Pacers and helmed the Paul George-led squad to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2014. He re-established his defensive credentials with the Lakers.
Unfortunately for Vogel, he struggled during the years between 2014-2019. Then-Pacers GM Larry Bird wanted a more creative offensive coach and fired Vogel in 2016. He spent the two following seasons as head coach of the Orlando Magic and never won more than 29 games.
Becky Hammon has long been mentioned in rumors for head coaching positions, most recently for the Raptors’ vacant position. Hammon spent eight seasons as an assistant with the Spurs. She became the head coach of the WNBA’s Las Vegas Aces in 2022, taking over for Bill Laimbeer.
Hammon modernized the Aces’ previously-archaic offense. With Liz Cambage gone, Hammon moved star forward A’ja Wilson to center and encouraged the roster to increase their three-point attempts. Wilson, Kelsey Plum, and Jackie Young thrived, winning awards for MVP, All-Star Game MVP, and Most Improved Player, respectively, as Hammon led the Aces to a WNBA title.
Hammon has the chops to become the first female coach in NBA history. (Hat tip to Nancy Lieberman, who was a G-League head coach and a head coach in BIG3).
Other Candidates to Replace Mike Budenholzer
Horst and the Bucks will contact a number of assistants. Jarron Collins won three titles as an assistant with the Warriors. He’s spent the past two seasons with Willie Green and the New Orleans Pelicans, who have made two straight Play-In appearances despite injuries to Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram.
Golden State’s Kenny Atkinson has been linked to a number of rebuilding teams and was almost hired by the Charlotte Hornets before turning them down. He has a reputation for player development but led the Brooklyn Nets to the playoffs in 2019 and would presumably relish the opportunity to coach a ready-made contender.
Miami’s Chris Quinn is a candidate for the Raptors’ job and has been mentioned for a number of other jobs as well. Milwaukee poaching an assistant from Erik Spoelstra’s staff is perhaps the most intriguing outcome, given their postseason failures against the Heat.
The Last Word
Folks out here firing championship coaches as soon as they don’t win the chip …
— Damian Lillard (@Dame_Lillard) May 4, 2023