The Milwaukee Bucks are in a pretty precarious position as far as 58-win teams go. The team fired head coach Mike Budenholzer on Thursday afternoon and start looking for a replacement now, but that’s not the only big question the franchise faces in the coming months. Two of their best players, Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez, can leave as free agents this offseason. Middleton, Lopez and Jrue Holiday are all in their thirties. The franchise has an unusual ownership structure in which the team’s governorship, and associated decision-making authority, shifts every five years between incumbent owner Wes Edens and new Jimmy Haslam, who has been widely criticized for the work he has done. as owner of the Cleveland Browns.
And yet, the Bucks undoubtedly have one of the most desirable jobs in all of basketball. Giannis Antetokounmpo is just as valuable. Budenholzer won almost 70% of his matches and a championship in Milwaukee. The presence of Antetokounmpo gives his successor the chance to do even more, as long as the rest of the squad is well managed. Virtually every coach in the market will look for the job at Bucks if approached, and as such they should be able to attract almost any candidate they want.
So who will be their next coach? Here are the five most likely candidates as Milwaukee begins its search.
Don’t worry, we’ll get to the big names in a minute. For now, we have to start with the Budenholzer boom, which has become one of the most common sources of NBA head coaches in recent years. Quin Snyder and Taylor Jenkins both provided perennial winners after leaving Budenholzer, and Darvin Ham has the Los Angeles Lakers vying for a championship in his first year as head coach. With that in mind, the Bucks could be open when it comes to hiring a freshman coach, and already have a potential fit on their bench.
Charles Lee, Budenholzer’s assistant head coach, has applied for several jobs over the years and is currently running to take over the Detroit Pistons. At 38, Lee would be one of the NBA’s youngest head coaches, but that doesn’t mean he lacks experience. He has been with Budenholzer since 2014 and was able to keep most of his system in place while making the few necessary adjustments the Bucks would need to get back over the hump. This approach has proven to be a viable formula in the past. It worked pretty well for the next candidate on this list.
The 2018 Raptors were about as similar to the 2023 Bucks as any team looking for a new head coach could realistically be. Like the Bucks, the Raptors were a No. 1 overall seed that had gone stale. They eventually chose Nurse, one of their own assistant coaches, to replace Dwane Casey. The result was an instant championship. When the Bucks don’t think they have to rethink their entire plan to get back to the mountaintop, Nurse has a track record of optimizing an already strong roster.
He has since built a reputation as one of the NBA’s top tactics. While Budenholzer is known for his dogmatic tenacity on drop cover, Nurse will try just about anything on defense. Aggressive blitzes, zones, box-and-ones, triangle-and-twos, if you can think of it, Nurse probably experimented with it at some point. He was the 2020 NBA’s Coach of the Year after earning a No. 2 ranking for the Raptors despite losses to Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green, and is now one of the most in-demand coaches on the market.
But Nurse’s biggest weakness in Toronto was Milwaukee’s biggest mistake under Budenholzer: offense at half the court. Nurse won a championship with Kawhi Leonard looking good at half court, but the Raptors have since become dependent on transition to score their points. Was that on Nurse, or on the roster he was given? The truth is somewhere in between, but if the Bucks pick another candidate, it’s one of the most likely reasons why.
When a championship-caliber job becomes available, we must list all available championship-winning coaches. Vogel was eclipsed on that front by Nurse this off-season, but his track record is longer. He built No. 1 defense in both Indiana and Los Angeles, and while he needed LeBron James to win it all with the latter, he came as close to toppling James in the East as any other coach during his eight-year Finals streak. .
Vogel is not as creative as Nurse defensively. His preference is to play the drop coverage that Budenholzer ran in Milwaukee, but he was perfectly willing to adjust his plan in Los Angeles if circumstances called for it. The 2020 Lakers had one of the most flexible defenses in recent memory, with star Anthony Davis even successfully defending Butler, the wing that has so irked Milwaukee in recent years, for long stretches of the 2020 Finals. as Nurse and Budenholzer, a half-court violation is a weakness of Vogel’s, even with James leading his team. Vogel deserves an interview here, but he’ll probably start the process as an underdog to Nurse.
Who do you hire when you need to fix your half-court offense? Mike D’Antoni. The architect of three No. 1 offenses with the Phoenix Suns and a fourth with the Houston Rockets has not been a head coach since 2020 and has been out of the sport for the past two seasons but has given no indication that he is ready. permanent coaching. If the Bucks believe they can maintain their defensive strength thanks to their roster talent, it makes sense to hire a coach who is fully committed to solving the offense. There is no better offensive coach available than D’Antoni.
At 71, age may be a concern for D’Antoni. Gregg Popovich is the oldest head coach in NBA history at 73, so it’s not clear how long D’Antoni could lead the Bucks. This can be a disadvantage, or it can be seen as a potential positive. The Bucks could hire D’Antoni without committing to a long-term contract, and possibly even persuade Lee to stay on as the waiting coach. With an outdated roster around Antetokounmpo, the possibility of a full reset in the near future is quite real. If D’Antoni is the right coach right now, that could be enough to get him this job.
Who doesn’t survive the playoffs
None of us expected Budenholzer to be fired before the playoffs started. Here we are. The pressure of the all-in NBA often costs coaches their jobs when they lose surprisingly in the postseason. Doc Rivers was fired after his Clippers collapsed in the Orlando bubble. Carlisle was suspended after the Mavericks blown a 2–0 lead over the Clippers a year later. Buses from big names now regularly become available in April and May. This season should be no exception.
We don’t yet know who those coaches will be. Could Philadelphia change anything if Rivers fails to lead the 76ers past the Celtics? What about Michael Malone in Denver as the Nuggets blow their 2-0 lead over Phoenix? Until we know which coaches are available and which are not, it’s impossible to say with any clarity who the best candidates for the Bucks will be. Their next coach may be employed elsewhere at this time.