Three Replacements For Mike Budenholzer as Bucks Head Coach

New Orleans Pelicans v Milwaukee Bucks
New Orleans Pelicans v Milwaukee Bucks / Stacy Revere/GettyImages

Last night, the Milwaukee Bucks became the third No. 1 seed in NBA history to lose in the first round of the playoffs to the No. 8 seed. It was a disaster of a series for Milwaukee, a presumptive title favorite, on multiple fronts. They got unlucky with injuries and the Miami Heat's shooting. Jimmy Butler was insane even for Playoff Jimmy. But Mike Budenholzer deserves most of the blame due to his failure to adjust (a familiar story) and especially for the way he handled the final seconds of regulation and overtime in Game 5.

Here's a quick rundown of the coach's mistakes that cost the Bucks their season. First, with Milwaukee up two and just over two seconds to go in regulation, Budenholzer decided to take Brook Lopez out of the game. If the Bucks were up three this would've been smart. But they were up two and their coach voluntarily took their best rim protector out of the game in exchange for Pat Connaughton. This directly led to the Heat inbouding the ball on a lob to Butler. He needed to make an incredible shot and got away with a push-off but none of it would've happened if Lopez were in! Then, with 0.5 seconds to go in a tie game after that shot, Budenholzer did not call a timeout-- a truly baffling decision because it's not like he could've carried the timeout into overtime.

That particular issue would seal the Bucks' fate in overtime. Down 128-126 with time winding down, Budenholzer just stood by with two timeouts in his pocket as his team dribbled frantically around before Grayson Allen, of all people, ended up with the ball as time was expiring. Fittingly he did not realize time was expiring and attempted to eurostep as the buzzer sounded. The Bucks were eliminated in five games on their home court as the No. 1 overall seed in the entire playoffs and failed to even get a shot off at the buzzer because Budenholzer, for some absolutely inexplicable reason, did not see fit to call a timeout.

The micro and the macro here are adding up for Budenholzer to potentially get fired, even though he won a championship with basically this exact team only two years ago. Even acknowledging the Giannis injury and the Heat shooting a preposterous percentage on contested threes, losing in the playoffs like this is unacceptable. And, unlike in most cases, there is a direct through line to be drawn between why the Bucks lost and Budenholzer failing to do the most obvious thing in the world-- calling a timeout to give his team a chance. And he failed to do it twice!

If the Bucks decide to go in another direction after watching Budenholzer fumble away another playoff series, here are a few options.

Nick Nurse

Nurse is the most popular name being thrown around this morning. He is recently unemployed after parting ways with the Toronto Raptors earlier this month. He is a championship-winning coach and a heralded basketball mind. His one significant downside is that he has Tom Thibodeau brain and will run the guys he trusts into the dirt with 40-minute game after 40-minute game. However, one figures that can be addressed if he's given a team with better depth/talent, and he did manage to win a title with that mindset while coaching Kawhi Leonard AKA the king of load management. A pretty great option for Milwaukee if Nurse is willing to hop back into the rat race right away.

Frank Vogel

Vogel is not a super exciting choice but he did lead the Lakers to a bubble championship. He knows how to curate an elite defense and is especially skilled at building that defense around dominant big men, which suits the Bucks' roster to a T. How well they could function offensively is mostly dependent on the assistants Vogel could bring but broadly speaking he's a veteran coach who, if anything, will not get in his superstar players' ways too much. Considering the median age of the roster and the rapidly-closing window, Vogel should be in the running.

Kenny Atkinson

Atkinson figures to be a popular man again this offseason after he nearly took the Hornets job last year but backed out because they wouldn't let him hire his own assistants. That presumably will not be a problem with the Bucks and there's a lot more high-level talent to work with in Milwaukee than Charlotte. Atkinson being able to create an offensive system around Giannis is a frightening prospect for the rest of the NBA and he (obviously) understands the value in having smart minds around him to cover for his blind spots. The real question is if this is the sort of job Atkinson wants to take on-- his Nets days were all about rebuilding and he was about to sign on to a similar job with the Hornets. Atkinson is untested in the playoff gauntlet but his tactical acumen may be enough to land him the gig anyway.