So the funny thing is, I had initially written this piece years ago. I put this together after Game 5 of the 2021 ECSF after the Bucks blew a lead to the Brooklyn Nets to go down 3-2 in the series. With anger, disappointment, and confusion in my head, I wrote this whole thing about all the changes that needed to happen.
We all know what happened next and thankfully this article never saw the light of day. Until 11:55 pm on Wednesday, April 26, 2023, as the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks were eliminated by the 8-seed Miami Heat. There’s a lot to unpack and we know you have some concerns so let’s get to Panic! At the 4-1-Forum: Early Offseason Edition.
Coach Mike Budenholzer
Let’s get the shocked-face elephant in the room out of the way first and talk about Coach Mike Budenholzer. I think 99% of Bucks fans have come to the point that Mike Budenholzer NEEDS to be replaced. Welcome to the franchise, Jimmy Haslam, hope you’re ready to pay the severance for Bud. Maybe Marc Lasry’s parting gift after spending millions on Alex’s failed US Senate campaign is delivering the news to Budenholzer. I don't know, but man’s gotta go.
Now to Bud’s credit, he did take Milwaukee from underachieving bottom-half playoff team to an Eastern Conference contender...who consistently fell short. He did make the needed adjustments when forced to, which was a reason the Bucks won the title in 2021, You can't take that away from him but you sometimes just need a fresh set of eyes. At this point, Bud is probably good for a team who aspires to become a playoff team. He has shown in Atlanta and Milwaukee that he can do well in the regular season, but continuously gets exposed in the postseason. Sometimes that’s just how it is and you hope you find a replacement that can take them to the next level and maintain it.
About this core and Jon Horst......
After three seasons of underwhelming underachievement, or maybe overachievement considering the players, the core of Giannis/Khris/Brook/Jrue can win you a title but being a perennial contender hasn’t happened. Jon Horst deserves a lot of props since he took over the role. He did work the roster to the point where Giannis signed his super-max deal. He saw that Eric Bledsoe needed to be upgraded and got Jrue Holiday, he hit home runs on signing Pat Connaughton, Brook Lopez, and Bobby Portis, and the PJ Tucker trade. Horst likely isn’t going to lose his job, but he has been underwhelming on his draft picks and can question the trades when he needs to rectify mistakes both the ones he made and his predecessor made.
With a limited salary cap and few assets, Horst will need to get creative and how he goes about it will be interesting to watch. The squad will need to get younger and more athletic as the Bucks simply didn’t have the legs to keep up with the Heat. Running it back again would be malpractice at this point. Hard decisions and hurt feelings will be involved. Players that have been loved and contributed to the highest of highs will potentially need to find new homes. Jon Horst will need to be cold-blooded and harsh.
The mental fragility of the Milwaukee Bucks was exposed in 2019, highlighted again in 2020, and truly took it to a new level this year. Too many times the Bucks would do things well in the first three quarters...and then just go away from it entirely. Too often,
Brooklyn Miami would make a run, and Milwaukee would lose their heads. The ball movement? Gone. Attacking the paint, gone. It just becomes iso hero ball for a roster that falls back on iso hero ball too often.
Milwaukee tried running it back after being two games short of the NBA Finals in 2019, but that didn’t work and they got embarrassed in the bubble. Milwaukee replaced Bledsoe with Jrue Holiday, and added more offensive-minded players like Bobby Portis and Bryn Forbes and the offense still stagnated at the worst moments but did enough thanks to simply having enough talent. But that was two years ago now.
To be honest, I’m writing this out of anger, I’m writing this out of frustration at ANOTHER missed opportunity. For three years the Bucks have been the 1 seed in the East and three times they’ve gone out with their tails tucked in. Too many times we’ve seen unserious behavior from star players. It just leaves a bitter taste in your mouth. But Julie said it best in the group chat, maybe just going full-on “1985 Chicago Bears” is the way to approach fandom. Reflect on the good and happiness this group brought us. Celebrate the wins. In the meantime, sometimes a good spring cleaning is what you need.