MILWAUKEE – The Milwaukee Bucks officially introduced Mike Budenholzer as the 16th coach of the team on Monday afternoon at the Wisconsin Sports and Entertainment Center. Budenholzer had spent the past five seasons as the coach of the Atlanta Hawks, with his role doubling as President of Basketball Operations in the first four of those seasons.
The hiring of Budenholzer concluded a search that officially started when the Bucks lost Game 7 of the first round of the 2018 NBA Playoffs to the Boston Celtics back on April 29th. Milwaukee reportedly interviewed a number of candidates including Spurs’ assistants Becky Hammon, Ettore Messina, and James Borrego, former Charlotte Hornets coach Steve Clifford, and former Cleveland Cavaliers coach David Blatt before hiring Budenholzer.
Five takeaways from Budenholzer’s introductory press conference
Defense, defense, defense
One area where the Bucks drastically underachieved was on the defensive end of the floor. The team is comprised of mostly long, athletic players, and the defensive side of the ball should have been a place where Milwaukee thrived. Instead, the Bucks finished 17th in defensive rating this past season despite the talented roster they held.
“The thing that probably stands out to me first is the potential on the defensive side of the ball. I would say that’s been always something that’s prioritized,” Budenholzer said about his time in Atlanta and San Antonio. “We want to be great on both sides of the ball. Whether it be the last five years in Atlanta as a head coach, I think San Antonio at the end of the day has always been great defensively. With the individual talents we have here in Milwaukee and how we can get them – one of the words I used in the interview process is how can we unlock this talent defensively – I just think there is so much to work with.”
Budenholzer is correct in this thinking. All-star forward Giannis Antetokounmpo has the potential to be one of the best defensive players in the NBA, and while his teammates aren’t exactly that caliber, there’s little doubt they should be better than they have been.
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day
Much was made of the accurate report from ESPN’s Zach Lowe stating that Budenholzer shared breakfast with Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton the morning prior to Milwaukee hiring him.
Budenholzer reaffirmed that when he was asked about it at his introductory press conference on Monday.
“It was a great opportunity to sit and visit with both Khris and Giannis. Just kind of talk basketball, talk a little bit about families, life,” Budenholzer said. “I think it was such a smart and important part of the process. I think how important both players are to us in the short term and the long term. As a coach, you’re only as good as your players and I think to connect with them on a lot of different levels. It was important that morning, it’s important going forward. It’s important to connect with our entire roster.”
No word on where they ate, or what they had, but it seems as if that breakfast sold Budenholzer on the job, no matter who picked up the check.
Antetokounmpo is the most important player on Milwaukee’s roster, and probably is the most important in the franchise since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar donned a uniform that read Milwaukee across the chest. That’s no secret.
It’s also not a secret that Antetokounmpo still has quite a way to go in order to become the player that many believe he can be. Antetokounmpo has yet to turn 24, but he has also yet to win a playoff series, or see his team finish higher than sixth place in the Eastern Conference.
Antetokounmpo just finished the first year of a four-year contract that runs until the summer of 2021. He’s openly spoken about being loyal and wanting to play his entire career out in Milwaukee, but until he signs his next contract, that needs to be taken with a grain of salt. In today’s NBA stars move from team to team more frequently than they have ever before. In the past five seasons we’ve seen LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, Paul George, Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade, and many others either change teams in free agency or force their way out of their current situation via trade.
Not saying that will happen, but Budenholzer getting the most out of Antetokounmpo will ensure that it doesn’t. The relationship between those two will be key for the success of the Bucks today, tomorrow, and years from now.
San Antonio background
Almost every franchise in the NBA envies the success of the San Antonio Spurs. That’s no secret as San Antonio has been the model of consistency for the past three decades, missing the playoffs only once since 1989, including making the postseason every year since 1998.
The Bucks are trying to emulate the Spurs, and that was no secret during the interviewing process. Milwaukee reportedly interviewed three members of the (then) Spurs staff and one front office member in Monty Williams.
While they didn’t hire directly from San Antonio, Budenholzer does have almost as much experience under Spurs coach Gregg Popovich as the four direct ties combined. He was an assistant in San Antonio from 1996 until he accepted the head coaching position with the Atlanta Hawks in 2013. This hire is as close to hiring directly from the Spurs as it gets without actually doing so.
Wisconsin Sports and Entertainment Center
The press conference was held in the soon-to-be home of the Bucks, the Wisconsin Sports and Entertainment Center.
The arena is still waiting on a permanent name, it’s also waiting to be finished. In one of the stranger experiences of this writer’s career, all media and team personnel, with the exception of Budenholzer and Horst, were dressed complete with a hard hat, reflective vest, safety goggles, and work gloves while inside the arena.
It was an oddity to say the least, and truthfully the press conference probably would have been much better served taking place in the team’s practice facility right down the street. The Bucks wanted to show off the brand-new arena, but the media having to wear protective gear for one of the bigger moments in the history of the franchise seems incredibly silly.
On the bright side, there was cake. And who doesn’t love cake.