A little more than a week after their shocking first-round playoff defeat to the Miami Heat that ruined a season in which they possessed the best record in the NBA, the Milwaukee Bucks have decided to part ways with head coach Mike Budenholzer.
The Bucks fired Budenholzer only two years after the coach led them to their first NBA championship in the last half-century under his direction. This development comes exactly three weeks after the NBA put the finishing touches on Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam’s acquisition of a 25% share in the organization.
“The decision to make this change was very difficult,” Jon Horst, the general manager of the Bucks, said in a statement released on Thursday announcing the move. “Bud was an integral part of our team’s leadership for five fantastic seasons, culminating in the Bucks winning their first championship in half a century and ushering in an era of continued success. We are thankful that Bud was able to contribute to the establishment of a winning and leadership culture in Milwaukee.
“As we continue to construct the foundation for our next championship season, this presents us with an opportunity to refocus and reenergize our efforts.”
The Bucks had the most combined regular-season and playoff victories of any club during Budenholzer’s career and had the best regular-season record in the league in three of his five seasons on the job. During Budenholzer’s tenure, the Bucks also had the best record in the league in three of those seasons. In Milwaukee, he finished with a history of 271-120 during the regular season and 39-26 in the postseason.
Budenholzer’s Milwaukee Bucks climbed heights the organization hadn’t seen since Wilt Chamberlain donned a Milwaukee jersey in the early 1970s. This was made possible by Giannis Antetokounmpo, who has won the NBA MVP award twice.
However, with the notable exception of that championship season in 2021, the Bucks could not replicate their success during the regular season in the postseason.
Even though they possessed the top playoff seed in the league for three consecutive years, the Bucks could never make it to the NBA Championship Series. After taking a 2-0 series lead over Toronto in the 2019 Eastern Conference finals, they lost the next four games in a row. The Miami Heat eliminated them with a score of 4-1 in the second round of the Walt Disney World playoff bubble for the East semifinals in 2020.
This Year’s elimination from the playoffs was especially heartbreaking.
The Bucks’ most recent two games ended in fourth-quarter losses, and their most recent game was a 4-1 defeat at the hands of the eighth-seeded Heat. They were the only No. 1 seed unable to win more than one playoff game, and they were just the sixth No. 1 seed ever to lose to an opponent with a lower rank in the initial round.
“There’s a ton of disappointment when your season ends, no matter how it happens,” Budenholzer remarked after the game’s conclusion. “It’s a challenging sensation. It’s a painful sensation to have.”
The fourth game of the series was played in Miami, and Milwaukee had a 12-point lead going into the game’s last six minutes. However, the Bucks were defeated by the Heat 119-114, and Jimmy Butler scored 56 points for the Heat. They had a 16-point lead going into the fourth quarter of Game 5 at their home court, but Butler scored the tying shot with half a second remaining in regulation, which led to them losing 128-126 in overtime.
Budenholzer, who is 53, said that the Bucks should have called a timeout after Butler’s basket that tied the game. This would have allowed the Bucks to hit a buzzer-beating shot, which would have prevented the game from going into overtime. When they got the ball back while trailing by two points in the closing seconds of overtime, the Bucks chose not to call a timeout. As a result, they could not attempt a shot before the game ended, and they lost by two points.
After the game, Antetokounmpo stated that the Bucks needed to adjust how they defended Butler, who scored 37.6 points on average throughout the series.
Antetokounmpo, playing with a bruise on his lower back, said he would have loved more chances to defend Butler. Butler was the player who scored the most points for the Bucks.
The Bucks have entered a crucial offseason, and the decision to fire Budenholzer comes at this time. Brook Lopez is now a free agent and was one of the finalists for the defensive player of the Year award in the NBA this past season. Khris Middleton, a three-time All-Star, has the option to play for the Boston Celtics for one more season at a salary of $40.4 million, but he may opt out of that deal and become a free agency instead.
During the playoffs, injuries befell many of Budenholzer’s teams, which was an unfortunate turn of events.
Last Year, Middleton suffered a sprain to his left medial collateral ligament in Game 2 of an opening-round series against the Chicago Bulls. As a result, he was sidelined for the remainder of the playoffs, during which the Boston Celtics eliminated the Milwaukee Bucks in seven games.
Antetokounmpo had a sprained ankle in Game 4 of the Bucks’ series against the Miami Heat in 2020 and was out for the remainder of that series; however, the Bucks were already down 3-0 when he was injured. Antetokounmpo left the first game of this Year’s Heat series early because of a back injury, ultimately leading to him missing Games 2 and 3. Antetokounmpo could not participate in the last two games of the Eastern Conference finals against the Atlanta Hawks because of a hyperextended knee. Despite this, the Bucks could still win the championship in 2021.
It is important to note that the Bucks profited from the ailments of their opponents throughout their drive to the championship in 2021.
During that season’s second-round series against the Milwaukee Bucks, the Brooklyn Nets were without James Harden for the whole of the first three games, while Kyrie Irving sat out the last three games of the series. Due to a bone injury in his right foot, Atlanta’s Trae Young was sidelined for the first two games of the 2021 Eastern Conference Finals.
After spending five seasons in Atlanta, during which time he compiled a record of 213-197, Budenholzer left for Milwaukee. Between 1996 and 2013, he worked as an assistant coach for the San Antonio Spurs. Throughout his tenure with the team, he was a member of Gregg Popovich’s staff through four championship seasons (1999, 2003, 2005, and 2007).