There’s no better time to scorch the earth than the immediate aftermath of an embarrassing playoffs exit.
Bud should be fired. Everyone but Giannis and Thanasis should be traded. Jae Crowder in particular should make sure his passport is valid.
Although these scorched earth perspectives may seem fair, I think they are overreactions that can be chalked up to the heat of the moment. I’ll try to explain why below.
Any playoffs exit has a glass-half-full, glass-half-empty quality. Both sides of this coin have been reviewed adroitly by others on the staff, but I want to emphasize the glass-half-full perspective. Namely:
- Jimmy Butler was a literal supernova.
- The Heat shot 52% from the floor and 45% from behind the arc.
- Giannis hurt his back, which hampered the Bucks both without (and with!) him on the floor.
- The Bucks were in egregiously excellent positions to win Games 4 and 5.
Part of the embarrassment also stems from the discrepancy in seeding. However, the Heat are not your typical Kohl-era-Bucks eight seed. They advanced further in the playoffs than the Bucks last season, losing to the Celtics in Game 7 of the ECF (sound familiar?). They were floored by us in the Bryn Forbes series the season before, but the season before that, they also beat us 4-1 on their way to the Finals.
As much as it pains to admit it, the Miami Heat are a good basketball team. Losing four out of five to them is not the end of the world.
Blaming the opponent and bad luck, however, can only go so far. At a certain point, you have to look in the mirror.
And what do we see? Giannis, hobbled by injury. Khris, playing pretty damn well after an injury-filled season. Jrue, playing like crap, but having to defend said supernova after carrying more of the regular season load. Brook, incredible. And a supporting cast that wasn’t too shabby for the most part. (Jae? Well...)
Bud rightfully received (and he himself concurred with) flak for his timeout shenanigans at the end of Game 5, and there were other tactical adjustments that he could have made to shape the outcome of the series. But in light of the above, I find it hard to blame Bud for the early exit - the first exit in the first round during his tenure (!). And I strongly disagree with canning him when - as most folks acknowledge! - there is no replacement who is clearly better.
Ultimately, I think the underlying tension here has to do with evaluation. Because the playoffs are the direct path to the championship, it is tempting to evaluate players and coaches based on playoff performance: to say that Jrue is a bad playoffs player and that Bud is a bad playoffs coach.
However, the playoffs are marked by small sample sizes of games. Even though the playoffs are more important, I believe that the regular season has more diagnostic value due to the larger sample size. And the fact of the matter is that the Bud-led Bucks have been the best regular season team in the NBA by a country mile. To me, that is the most compelling indicator of the quality of a team, including its players and its coach. Jrue is a good player and Bud is a good coach on the basis of their regular season performance.
Being the best team in the regular season leads to inevitable uproar when the playoffs losses arrive. But that’s because the playoffs is a gauntlet, with four wins against four quality opponents needed to emerge unscathed. Are there players and coaches whose abilities translate better to the playoffs? Probably. But to me, the best way to prepare for the playoffs is to get a good seed and hope for a good roll of the dice. This year, the Bucks were successful for the former but not the latter.
We know that we have a good team because we have been consistently successful, and luck even pushed us over the top one year. That doesn’t mean that we should run it back - apologies for the clickbait title - but it doesn’t mean that we should scorch the earth.