Milwaukee Bucks Fire Head Coach Mike Budenholzer After First-Round Upset

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The Milwaukee Bucks parted ways with head coach Mike Budenholzer after the top-seeded Bucks were upset in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs by the #8 Miami Heat. Former Toronto Raptors head coach Nick Nurse is the favorite to become the new head coach of the Bucks, and Las Vegas Aces head coach Becky Hammon from the WNBA is also on the short list of potential candidates.

Milwaukee Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer, seen here on the sidelines against the Miami Heat in the first round of the 2023 NBA Playoffs, at the Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee. (Image: USA Today Sports)

The Bucks entered the playoffs as the consensus favorite to win the 2022-23 NBA championship at +265 odds.

During the last four weeks of the regular season, the Bucks had overtaken the Boston Celtics as the betting favorite to win the title. The Bucks held off the Celtics to secure the #1 seed in the east. They were also the betting favorite to win the Eastern Conference and return to the NBA Finals for a second time in the last three seasons.

The Bucks caught an unlucky break when MVP candidate Giannis “Greek Freak” Antetokounmpo sustained a back injury in the opening game of the playoffs, which ultimately led to their collapse against the Heat.

Two-Time Coach of the Year from the Pops Tree

Budenholzer spent 17 seasons as an assistant coach with the San Antonio Spurs under Gregg Popovich. He won four NBA championships as an assistant coach with the Spurs, before he finally earned his first head-coaching job with the Atlanta Hawks in 2013.

Budenholzer won the NBA Coach of the Year with two different teams. He initially won the prestigious honor with the Hawks back in 2014-15 when he won 60 games with a team that didn’t have a legitimate All-Star.

In five seasons with the Hawks, Budenholzer went 213-197 and led them to four playoff appearances. They fired him after a disappointing 2017-18 season in which they missed the playoffs.

Budenholzer was not unemployed for very long before the Bucks snatched him up in the summer of 2018. He won the NBA Coach of the Year in his first season with the Bucks in 2018-19.

Budenholzer led the Bucks to a Central Division crown in five consecutive seasons. He posted a 271-120 record, and won over 69% of his regular-season games during his five-year stint in Milwaukee.

Budenholzer almost lost his job once before in 2021 until he guided the Bucks to their first NBA championship in 50 seasons. Winning the title helped save his job, but it did not provide him with much job security because was fired two years later with two years remaining on his current contract.

Scapegoat After the Bucks Collapse

Budenholzer only became the fourth coach in NBA history to not return to a team after securing the best record in the league. He joins Pat Riley with the Los Angeles Lakers in 1990, Phil Jackson with the Chicago Bulls in 1998, and Mike Brown with the Cleveland Cavs in 2010.

Firing Budenholzer was a huge surprise despite the unsettling first-round upset by the Heat. The Bucks entered the series as the biggest favorite on the board at -1200 odds to knock out the Heat.

The Heat team finished the regular season in seventh place, but needed to survive the Play-In Tournament to secure a playoff seed. The Heat missed a chance to lock up the #7 seed when they lost to the Atlanta Hawks in the first play-in game. They secured the #8 seed with a victory in a second game against the Chicago Bulls.

The Bucks won only one game against the Heat, which was Game 2 in which Antetokounmpo did not suit up. The Heat edged out the Bucks 128-126 in overtime to win Game 5 and clinch the series.

The Bucks were the best team in the east, but they definitely had their share of flaws. The team had a weakness at shooting guard, but general manager Jon Horst decided to stand pat with Grayson Allen instead of trying to bolster their bench with a more experienced and more reliable shooter.

Antetokounmpo missed two games against the Heat due to a back contusion, but was not 100% when he returned. He scored 38 points and hauled down 20 rebounds in Game 5, but he also missed 13 free throws including several in the fourth quarter.

Will Nick Nurse Coach the Bucks?

Renown NBA bettor Haralabos Voulgaris shared his thoughts on Budenholzer’s abrupt dismissal.

Best of luck finding a more innovative and successful coach than Bud,” tweeted Voulgaris. “He’s pioneered so many different strategic adjustments to the game that every successful team has copied.”

“The decision to make this change was very difficult,” said Bucks general manager Jon Horst said in an official statement.

The Toronto Raptors fired Nick Nurse at the end of the season after they went 41-41 and missed the playoffs for a second time in the last three seasons.

Nurse is the most-coveted head coach who is currently available. The Bucks might’ve dismissed Budenholzer so quickly to get a jump on hiring Nurse before other teams offer him a job.

“If they can get Nurse, that would be a pretty nice combo of a new voice + great coach,” added Voulgaris on Twitter.

Nurse won a championship with the Raptors as a rookie head coach in 2018-19.The Raptors struggled after Kawhi Leonard left the next year when he signed with the Los Angeles Clippers in free agency.

In five seasons with the Raptors, Nurse posted a 227-163 record and won 58.2% of his games.

“This is an opportunity for us to refocus and reenergize our efforts as we continue building toward our next championship season,” said Horst.

Other potential candidates to replace Budenholzer include current Bucks assistant coach Charles Lee, Becky Hammon, Frank Vogel, Kenny Atkinson, Mike D’Antoni, and James Borrego. Lee recently interviewed with the Detroit Pistons for their head coaching vacancy.

Best of luck finding a more innovative and successful coach than Bud. All this talk about him failing to make adjustments in the playoffs overlooks the fact that he’s pioneered so many different strategic adjustments to the game that every successful team has copied.

— Haralabos Voulgaris (@haralabob) May 4, 2023

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