04 May, 2023
After losing to the Miami Heat in the first round of the playoffs, the Milwaukee Bucks dismissed coach Mike Budenholzer. The Bucks were the top seed in the East.
“The decision to make this change was very difficult,” Bucks general manager Jon Horst said in a statement Thursday. “Bud helped lead our team for five incredible seasons, to the Bucks’ first title in 50 years, and into an era of sustained success. We are grateful for the culture of winning and leadership that Bud helped create in Milwaukee.
“This is an opportunity for us to refocus and reenergize our efforts as we continue building toward our next championship season.”
The Bucks finished the 2022–23 season with 58 victories under Budenholzer, earning the No. 1 overall seed in the NBA. However, they were defeated in the first round by the No. 8 seed Heat in five games, making them just the sixth 1-seed in NBA history to fall to an 8-seed.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Budenholzer is only the fourth coach in the past 50 seasons to lead his team to the best record in the NBA and not return the following season, joining Pat Riley (1989–1990 Los Angeles Lakers), Mike Brown (2009–10 Cleveland Cavaliers), and Phil Jackson (1997).
When the Bucks blew double-digit leads in Games 4 and 5, Budenholzer’s judgment during the Heat series was questioned. On the final possessions of the fourth quarter and overtime in Game 5, Milwaukee had two chances to win the game, but Budenholzer decided not to use his final timeouts in either scenario.
After Game 5, Budenholzer admitted that he should have used a timeout to advance the ball at the end of the fourth quarter. However, he did not use a timeout before the Bucks’ final possession in overtime, and as a result, their season was over before it began.
Jimmy Butler of the Heat put on one of the best playoff performances of all time, averaging 37.6 points on 59.7% shooting, but Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Bucks criticized his team for not making any modifications to attempt to slow Butler down, stating he wished he had more practice guarding Butler.
After Game 5, Antetokounmpo remarked, “Out of respect, you’ve got to let the coach make the adjustment.” At the end of the day, I wished I had been able to protect Butler better.
The Bucks underwent a transformation under Budenholzer, becoming a regular contender and winning the franchise’s first title in 50 years in the NBA Finals in 2021.
Under Budenholzer’s leadership, Milwaukee had the best record in the league throughout that time period, going 271-120 (.693) during the regular season. In three different seasons (2018-19, 2019-20, and 2022-23), the Bucks had the best record in the NBA, but none of those years saw them go to the Finals. When the Heat were heavy favorites, they lost two playoff series to them—this season and in the 2020 Orlando bubble, both in five games.
After the Bucks’ 2020 playoff defeat to Miami, rumors concerning Budenholzer’s employment situation circulated, but the team bounced back to claim a title the following year. After the 2021 season, he agreed to a three-year contract extension that would last through the 2024–2025 season.
Prior to leading Milwaukee, Budenholzer led the Atlanta Hawks for five seasons, going 213-197 (.520) in the regular season but ending 17-22 (.436) in the postseason.
In recent years, Budenholzer’s assistant coaches in Milwaukee have developed into fascinating contenders to lead clubs as head coaches, notably Darvin Ham, who was selected from the Bucks’ staff to lead the Lakers in 2022. Finalists for the Detroit Pistons coaching job include current Bucks assistant Charles Lee.