According to multiple sources at The Athletic, Mike Budenholzer may be on his way out of Milwaukee if the Bucks do not make a deep playoff run. After underperforming in the playoffs the past two years, Budenholzer’s job is in jeopardy. Coach Budenholzer has faced scrutiny from Bucks fans and the national media alike due to underperforming in the playoffs. At this point, it seems Milwaukee’s front office has some questions as well.
How Did We Get Here?
Mike Budenholzer was hired to be the coach of the Milwaukee Bucks on May 17, 2018. Budenholzer was an assistant coach with the San Antonio Spurs from 1996 to 2013. Following his departure from San Antonio, Budenholzer accepted the head coaching job for the Atlanta Hawks. After mild success, Budenholzer and the Hawks parted ways after the 2017-2018 season. In his first season in Milwaukee, Mike Budenholzer lead the Bucks to the best record in the NBA and the number one seed in the Eastern Conference. The Bucks made their way to the Eastern Conference Finals before losing in a 4-2 fashion to the Toronto Raptors who later went on to win the NBA Title. The following season, Budenholzer lead the Bucks to another number one seed. However, the Bucks couldn’t reach the Eastern Conference Finals this time around following a 4-1 series loss to the Miami Heat in the semi-finals. Questions began to arise in the national media and it was no different in the Bucks fandom.
Budenholzer’s History of Poor Playoff Performances
Mike Budenholzer is no stranger to underperforming in the playoffs. During his time as the head coach in Atlanta, the playoffs were a huge struggle. In Budenholzer’s first four seasons, he led the Hawks to the playoffs each time. However, in two of those playoff bids, the Hawks could not make it out of the first round. His best effort came in the 2015-2016 season when the Hawks fought to the Eastern Conference Finals. The Hawks lost to the Cleveland Cavaliers in a 4-0 fashion that season. Another thing to note, Budenholzer led teams were swept twice in the playoffs. Unfortunately, when it comes to Mike Budenholzer teams, regular season performances are far better than playoff performances.
Front Office Frustrations
According to Shams Charania and Sam Amick, the Bucks front office was extremely frustrated with Mike Budenholzer following their Eastern Conference Semifinals loss to the Miami Heat. In Charania’s own words:
“Sources say there was a great deal of frustration aimed at Budenholzer that hasn’t been forgotten. The perceived lack of adjustments was a focal point, with Budenholzer himself admitting that coaching mistakes had been made along the way”
This quote is very telling. Milwaukee’s front office has grown tired of the mistakes and mismanagement from Budenholzer, and it has reached a boiling point. Without a deep playoff run and adjustments made, Budenholzer could be on his way out.
What Would a Satisfactory Playoff Run Look Like?
While there is no clear answer here, The Athletic believes that an Eastern Conference Finals bid must be made in order to save Budenholzer’s job. The number one goal will always be to win a championship, but Budenholzer may not have to do that to save head coaching job. However, some speculate that the Bucks may not even have to make the conference finals. With so much talent at the top of the Eastern Conference, it may not matter when you lose, but how you lose. If Milwaukee loses to the Brooklyn Nets in a 4-3 fashion, that may be enough to save Budenholzer’s job. If the Bucks fail to make it out of the second round, however, it may be over for Mike Budenholzer. As a baseline, this postseason will be an Eastern Conference Finals or bust situation. The relationship with the front office and Budenholzer is strained, and execution is the only option.
Milwaukee has the pieces to win an NBA Championship this season. The two-time reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, the best two-way guard in the league in Jrue Holiday, a reliable option in Khris Middleton, and plenty of playmakers on the bench may be enough to win it all. Budenholzer will determine his own fate. Will he make adjustments when the Bucks are being outplayed? Will he stray away from coaching mistakes? Is this the end of the Mike Budenholzer era in Milwaukee? Only time will tell.
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