Mike Budenholzer got destroyed so thoroughly that he might find himself out of a job. That is a sentiment I did not expect to be expressing anytime soon, and as of the start of these playoffs, I thought Budenholzer and his Milwaukee Bucks were in pole position in the quest for this year’s NBA Title.
Then Jimmy Butler turned the Bucks from deer worth fearing to a blood-streaked heap on the side of the highway. Budenholzer’s team is the first ever one seed to lose to an eight seed in five games. As much as the NBA is sad to see Giannis Antetokounmpo, one of the league’s most marketable stars, leave the playoffs, it’s probably rubbing its hands together with a “play-in team” advancing to the second round of the playoffs.
The beating was so thorough that many are considering it a fireable offense, and the Photoshop Industrial Complex is having a field day placing Giannis in new jerseys — in Portland with Lillard! In Dallas with Luka! In San Antonio with Pop.
Budenholzer’s time could be running out. Not only is this loss viewed as unforgivable, but the commentary will remind Pistons fans of the Flip Saunders era. A good guy, a good coach, but built for the regular season and unable to make adjustments in the playoffs.
Speaking of the Pistons, they have a head coaching vacancy. Up to this point, the team has been associated with some of the top young assistants in the league including Milwaukee’s own Charles Lee.
Does a potential Budenholzer firing change the calculus for Detroit?
Even if you accept that Coach Bud can’t get a team over the peak (leaving aside he’s already won a title), that’s not where the Pistons find themselves. They are nowhere close to the peak of anything. They are not even at Basecamp 1. Heck, they are still on their couch and haven’t packed up for the trip up the mountain yet.
A top regular season coach would be a great thing to have as the team looks to form an effective offense and defense around building blocks like Cade Cunningham, Jaden Ivey, Jalen Duren and whomever they select in this year’s NBA Draft.
There is also the Bucks side of the equation. If they feel the need to move on from Budenholzer, would they look for the sort of continuity that could lead them to hire Lee for their opening? Lee has been listed as among the front-runners for the Pistons opening so the interest seems real.
Would you rather have Lee or Budenholzer if you could pick the next Detroit head coach? Or neither?
A young rebuilding team targeting a top young assistant on an ascendant path makes perfect sense. But something has been gnawing at me. In The Athletic piece by James Edwards III that listed Lee, Jarron Collins and Kevin Ollie as early favorites for the Pistons job, he said the team was ready to take it slow. Why?
As general manager Troy Weaver mentioned in his end-of-season news conference, the Pistons are still in no rush to fill the vacancy, per team sources. The organization will do, at least, another round of interviews with different candidates, per team sources, and could also sit back and wait to see if any head coaches currently in the playoffs become available.
When the piece came out, I couldn’t fathom a team firing its coach because of a first-round exit. Then again, I couldn’t have fathomed the Bucks dropping this series to the Heat. But here we are. And apparently, the Pistons were factoring in an outcome like this.
For now, Bud is still employed by the Milwaukee Bucks. He’s still in charge of the No. 1 seed in the East with the fourth-ranked defense and 12th-ranked offense. He’s still one of the smartest coaches in the NBA. But if he were available, would you want him?