How Jon Horst Turned The Bucks Around


Jon Horst inherited a good not great Milwaukee Bucks squad in the Summer of 2017, they were fresh off a 6 game first round loss to the Toronto Raptors. They were coached by a Hall of Fame player who was personal friends with ownership. It was a squad that eeked out a 42 win season and managed to look competitive against a talented Raptors squad. The expectation was that Hammond would continue to guide this team as they made incremental improvements with their core (Jabari, Khris, and Giannis) getting better with age. Hammond then decided to leave for a job in Orlando leaving the Bucks front office in a lurch, they interviewed several candidates, narrowed their list, and then restarted their search and hired Horst. Horst was thrown into a large promotion, where he was expected to put the finishing touches on a contender, not an easy job. It was a month away from his first draft where the Bucks desperately needed some hits to fill out their roster. The Bucks had little cap flexibility thanks to long eight figure deals for role players like Teletovic, Dellavedova, and Henson.

I think the best way to appreciate just how good of a job Horst has done is to power rank his biggest moves. This will focus on the major moves so no 10 day contracts, sorry Isaiah Canaan. I’ll start from his worst move and work my way up to his best.


Honorable Mentions:

  • Pau Gasol signing, it is a vet minimum for a guy solely there for leadership not impactful
  • Any 10 day guy
  • Any one year signing for last year, because no long term impact


Extending Tony Snell for 4 years/46 million with the 4th year being a player option

This is Horst’s worst major move in my opinion, it was too much money for a guy that did not appear to be in high demand elsewhere. The player option is also illogical on a few levels. I don’t want to spend too many words on this move, Snell is a good rotation guy, but this was too many years and too much money.


Signing Ersan for 3 years / 27 million with the 3rd year being a team option

If we had signed Snell for this deal I would have been ecstatic. That said Ersan can contribute a bit this isn’t a huge albatross but the Bucks need all the flexibility they can get this summer.


Before moving on to some more positive moves, I want to explain why the cap space next summer is so crucial. Since the Bucks don’t have a plethora of cap space it becomes essential to resign your own guys and stay under the tax, because if the Bucks enter the tax they lose their full Mid Level Exception, which is an overcap undertax exception at around 8m annually. Right now the hope is that this can be used to sign Brook to a deal. Becoming a tax team is probably inevitable if Giannis signs a supermax, but delaying it one more year could allow the team to add one more valuable piece.


Drafting Donte Divincenzo at 17th overall in 2018

This move is so much of a net neutral to me currently. I think Donte is an NBA rotation player which is a good get at 17, but Kevin Huerter seemed like the obvious pick to me. Donte has been injured a lot, but the jury is still out on his future. Consider this the net even mark for Horst.


Letting Jabari Parker Walk

This might seem obvious now, but it certainly wasn’t last summer. There was a divide amongst Bucks fans, but now it seems painstakingly clear that Jabari had to go. For culture and fit reasons the Bucks have moved on and so has Jabari. Signing Jabari to a deal with guaranteed money next year would have ranked last on this list, in my opinion.


Trading for Mirotic

Mirotic can get hot and could swing a series for the Bucks, this is one move I imagine could move up the list quickly with a good playoff run. Sure it cost us Thon and a bunch of second round picks, but Mirotic is a near starter caliber guy when he is right.


Signing Pat Connaughton on the minimum for two years

Pat isn’t a star by any means, and his acquisition likely gets caught up in a lot of the Bucks greatness this year. But Pat is a bonafide rotation player with good athleticism that has had a career year for the Bucks this year and stepped up when injuries struck.


Drafting DJ Wilson and Sterling Brown at 17 and 46

Drafting two guys with two way tools that are rotation players as second year guys is a huge win. I lump them together because it was a great draft steal. Sterling showed more promise last year, but DJ’s breakout this season has really been a pleasant surprise for Bucks faithful. Sterling has started two playoff games now and looked good in both. DJ is currently out of the rotation as Mirotic works back into game shape, but both could prove pivotal going forward.


Trading a First round pick, John Henson, and Matthew Dellavedova for George Hill

We were all sad to see the longest tenured Buck John Henson leave us, but George Hill has been a revelation for the Bucks off the bench. He has given them consistent backup guard play all year and even closed some games for them. He is a veteran who knows how to win and has played in big playoff games.


All that said Hill isn’t the reason this deal ranks so high, it is the fact that Hill is virtually an expiring contract (1m guaranteed) whereas those other two were owed 20+m, freeing up a ton of cap this summer to extend Middleton and Brogdon. (Bledsoe as well at the time of trade)


Signing Brook Lopez to the Bi-Annual Extension

I don’t know about y’all but I loved watching Brook all year. His ability to pull up from 30 feet has opened to court up so much for Giannis. He’s also been a defensive anchor all year as he has had 31 games with 3 or more blocks this year. He’s been a force defensively, which has been a major part of the Bucks success this season. I could gush about Brook for hours, but I’ll leave it at Brook is the best center the Bucks have had since Bogut’s elbow injury.


Firing Jason Kidd / Hiring Mike Budenholzer

I had to lump these two together, anyone would have looked good after Jason Kidd, but Bud has just been transcendent this year. Nearly everyone on the roster is having career years in terms of impact, this is the best Bucks team in my lifetime. Superlative Superlative Superlative. Bud is just that good, and Horst having the chutzpah to fire Kidd midseason is a major move as well.


Some of these moves had a bigger impact than others, but it all sums to show how Jon Horst turned the Bucks around with some help from a large Greek man. All these moves work together to make a 60 win team, even the worst move on this list, Tony Snell, helped the Bucks a lot this year. The point being, Horst has had a lot of success on the margins and in plain sight. He should be a lock for executive of the year, with the season the Bucks had.


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