The Bucks might make a complete mess of this head coaching search yet, but the early results are somewhat promising. They have brought in several candidates that Bucks Twitter had highlighted as potential targets, but for the casual fan who are these people? Some of them are household NBA names who have spent multiple years as NBA head coaches and some are promising assistants whose names are largely new to our fan base. The privilege of coaching Giannis makes the Bucks job one of it not the most appealing head coaching vacancy of the summer. Unlike the Magic, Hornets, and Knicks the Bucks have a clear cut top ten player and some win now talent on the roster. This process of finding a coach will likely drag itself over the next few weeks likely ending sometime in late May. Who will the wheel end on when this process concludes itself? Who are the favorites and who are the longshots? I am going to take a crack at labeling that, but I do believe it is truly possible for any of the candidates to excel in the interview and get the job.
I will only be covering reported candidates, there might be some dark horses that even Woj is unaware of.
Joe Prunty – At this point I consider Prunty’s interview more of a professional courtesy than anything else. I think he had his chance to prove he was the guy here and failed. If he had won four to five more regular season games and taken the Bucks second round series to six or seven games, he would probably have a fair chance at this job, maybe even be the favorite. Of course he did not do any of those things, the Bucks often looked lackadaisical under Prunty and his tactical adjustments against the Celtics were inexplicable more often than not.
Odds of being Bucks Head Coach: a number that is not zero, but is so close to zero that is basically zero.
David Blatt – Blatt probably did not get a fair shake in Cleveland, but has reportedly bad people skills and did not build connections with the players in Cleveland. Lebron is not a coach killer by any means, generally being regarded as easy to work with, it reflects negatively on the coach if he was unable to work with him in any capacity. Blatt has a decorated career in Europe, but if he will not reach Giannis and tries to act like any of those accomplishments mean something to NBA players, well his stint in Milwaukee would likely be his last in the NBA. I believe Blatt is more of a fit for a rebuild where the players are younger and less established, where he can teach them and they do not have expectations for what an NBA coach is. That is not the Milwaukee Bucks.
Odds of being Bucks Head Coach: 1%
Ettore Messina – Messina has a decorated career as head coach in leagues in Europe. As far as I can tell he has won 15 titles as a head coach, 7 in Russia, 4 in Italy, and 4 in the Euroleague (widely considered the second best basketball league in the world). Unlike the much criticized David Blatt, Messina has NBA experience working under Pop in San Antonio since 2014 including a few games as the Head Coach, after the passing of Erin Popovich. Despite this decorated resume, Messina has a reputation as a hot head who can struggle with interpersonal relationships. His X’s and O’s ability might be unrivaled on this list, but I believe the Bucks will be reticent to hire a coach with a personality even somewhat similar to Jason Kidd
Odds of being Bucks Head Coach: 5%
Steve Clifford – Clifford has spent the last five seasons as the coach of the Charlotte Hornets (well technically the were the Bobcats for the first season, but you don’t really care). Well there he earned the reputation as a defensive coach registering a top ten defense in each of his first three seasons. Unfortunately he reached the playoffs only two of his five seasons in Charlotte registering a career record of 196-214. Making the playoffs in the East is not necessarily a high bar, which makes it concerning that he fell short of it multiple times. His high water mark in Charlotte was a 48 win team that lost in 7 to the Miami Heat. This season got terrific performances from Jeremy Lin, Courtney Lee, Marvin Williams, and Nicolas Batum which they were all able to parlay into paydays. Unfortunately the Hornets could only keep two, they chose Williams and Batum who both regressed the next season as the Hornets withered and failed to make the playoffs which would cost Clifford his job. I cannot definitively say the Hornets underachieved, but on some levels it feels that way. Clifford needed a change of scenery either way, because the Hornets just don’t have the talent level to do anything of note in the near future. This name might not be the most controversial on this list, but it would hardly be a glamorous one. It should be noted that Clifford has never coached a top 15 player, with Kemba Walker’s last two seasons being the only thing that resembles top 25 player. I would pay for Cliffords flight if he could bring Cardiac Kemba with him, but barring that he would not be even close to my top choice. I do think there is a world where he shows the Bucks some tactics for what he would do with Giannis, which should be a central interview question either way. Will that be this world? Probably not.
Odds of being Bucks Head Coach: 10%
Becky Hammon – If people skills did not matter, I think it would be crazy to have Hammon over Messina given their comparative resumes, but it does. Add in the fact that Hammon was interviewed by Bucks management last summer, and she starts a bit ahead of the field. All of that said her NBA experience is limited joining the Spurs staff in 2014, it is difficult for me to ascertain how NBA folks will feel about WNBA experience for NBA jobs. On one hand it is all basketball, on the other hand due to differences in size and speed the tactics and methods of coaching are incredibly different. She comes highly recommended from Pop which will always get your foot into the door, but ultimately she has to convince Bucks management that she is better than the rest of the crop and only time will tell if she can.
For more details on Hammon read our piece here:
Odds of being Bucks Head Coach: 15%
Better Chance Than Is Reasonable
Monty Williams – Williams by all reports is a fantastic people person, his players love him. Conversely he was not good at all in his only stint as a head coach previously with the New Orleans Hornets / Pelicans. (Hey that’s kind of funny that we have two head coaches who went through a franchise name change) He made the playoffs in just two of his five seasons, his first season was the 2010-11 Hornets which was Chris Paul’s last season in the Big Easy. Looking at this roster it feels like they should have been a second round squad, instead they were the seventh seed and lost in six games to the Lakers. The next season they were bad enough to win the lottery, got Anthony Davis. The next two seasons they were bad, but not bad enough to add any major talent through the draft. On some levels Williams got unlucky that Jrue Holiday could not stay healthy, on another level they still should have been better. I think the best case scenario for Williams is that he is a league average coach that players like, which screams assistant not head coach. I’d argue that if Williams was anything to be reckoned with tactically he would be on a bench not in a front office. Unfortunately Gery Woelful reported he is a frontrunner for the job, if I was power ranking the candidates he would be last.
Odds of being Bucks Head Coach: 20%
Mike Budenholzer: Budenholzer is the only reported candidate that won an NBA playoff series without Lebron on his team. Budenholzer is 213-197 in his NBA career, and a whopping 189-139 if you remove this last year, where the front office decided to tank. He is the only coach on this list to win 60 games, which is a huge accomplishment. He has a decorated track record of turning guys into plus role players, which the Bucks were missing in this playoff series. He turns career journeyman into solid players and seems to understand the modern NBA. He reached the conference finals with Al Horford as his best player, a guy most would not rank in the top 20 in the NBA. The thought of him coaching Giannis and developing guys like Sterling Brown, Thon Maker, and whoever the Bucks pick this June is drool inducing. He has his flaws for sure, he wanted a big say in Atlanta in roster construction and his defense has similarities to Kidd’s immensely flawed system. Overall though he is the safest pick of any coach who is currently available, maybe not the highest upside, but definitely the most accomplished and the safest. He would be my pick of the guys currently listed as candidates. I am unsure if I would take a guy like Nick Nurse or Chris Finch (who are incredible candidates in their own right) just because they are a bit more risky than the relatively known quantity that is Mike Budenholzer.
For more on why Bud should be the Bucks choice read our piece here
Odds of being Bucks Head Coach: 49%
Junes’s Odds list
Prunty – 0%
Blatt – 1%
Messina – 5%
Clifford – 10%
Hammond – 15%
Williams – 20%
Budenholzer – 49%