Blind resume time.
You’re an NBA head coach who’s had the best record in basketball 3 of the past 6 years. Your team has been considered the odds on favorite to win the championship 2 of the last 3 years. You coach the two-time reigning MVP on a team stacked with shooters who can defend. Your offense is Top 5. Your team is 7th in defensive efficiency.
So why are you on the hot seat?
Welcome to Mike Budenholzer’s world. He’s become the latest coach who pretty much has to get to the finals to save his job.
Seems surprising that the Bucks, who are 3rd in the East and 5-1 against the #1 and #2 seed Sixers and Nets this year, would be on the hot seat, but here we are.
To be honest, this isn’t as strange as it seems. This has been a long time coming. It really dates back to 2019 when the Bucks blew a 3-1 lead against the Raptors and lost their best opportunity to win a championship. I mean let’s be honest. No KD? That Warriors would have had NO answer for Giannis and Brook Lopez. If that happens? Maybe they don’t need to trade all those picks for Jrue? Maybe there’s no drama around Giannis not staying a Buck. Maybe the Bucks have an easier time attracting the stacked class of free agents in 2019.
And let’s face it. Giannis HAS to win or he’s almost certainly forcing his way out of Milwaukee. Don’t think that doesn’t affect the way ownership views Budenholzer. It 100% does.
Since blowing that big lead to the Raptors, Budenholzer’s Bucks have underperformed in the playoffs (2020) and this regular season (2021). This was a team that was the best in basketball for two straight years.
So why are they failing when the lights get bright? You just need to look at coaching DNA.
The big criticism is Budenholzer doesn’t make in-game adjustments. Or game to game adjustments. For example, when the Raptors threw the house at Giannis in 2019, he kept sending Giannis up against a brick wall over and over again and they lost three straight. In 2015 with the Hawks, with the best record in the Conference, he insisted on focusing only on Lebron despite the fact the Cavs had game planned for that exact strategy, adding 3 shooters and a big man in the middle. He got bounced then too.
Yikes. He hasn’t changed one bit since. Not shocking given who he studied under.
The answer to why this happens is PAINFULLY easy to see: Greg Popovich.
Budenholzer spent two decades on the staff of a Pop, whose coaching philosophy is “stay true to yourself”. In other words, don’t change or adapt your game plan even if the other team does. And it’s why in the new era of fluid basketball where the playoffs are almost a different season altogether, Pops and his disciples are starting to struggle.
An anonymous exec described Popovich and his coaching tree as follows:
“My guess is they need to adhere to a principle because that’s how certain coaches are. Principles are everything and they would rather lose than abandon their beliefs. What some consider adaptable and flexible, others consider flaky and inconsistent. It’s almost a badge of honor to have a principle and see it through.”
Pop has a ton of disciples in the NBA, but those who are successful, like Monty Williams in Phoenix and Taylor Jenkins in Memphis, have managed to take what’s great about Popovich’s philosophy and update it to the modern game. Those that haven’t? Insert Jim Boylen and Brett Brown’s names here.
And this is why if Budenholzer doesn’t take Milwaukee deep, despite all of their regular-season success, he’s out.
Maybe that’s not fair, but if you’re Milwaukee and got gifted a once-in-a-generation talent, you can’t afford to waste even a single year of Giannis’ career especially if you know he’ll leave if he can’t truly contend.
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