This is a crucial off-season for the Milwaukee Bucks. They fired their championship head coach in Mike Budenholzer and lost in the first round to the eight seed Miami Heat in five games. The championship window might be slowly closing with Jrue Holiday, Khris Middleton, and Brook Lopez all on the wrong side of 30. If the Bucks want to win one more title with this group, then getting the right head coach is invaluable.
While the Bucks fandom has been a lukewarm to this idea at best, I think the perfect head coach for this team is someone they are quite familiar with: former Phoenix Suns head coach Monty Williams.
The team itself looks to already be interested in Williams:
Bucks expected among teams to seriously pursue Monty Williams, sources say. Williams, who had $21M left on deal, is currently focusing on family in aftermath of ouster in Phoenix.— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) May 15, 2023
Details on Williams, Suns plans ahead, more in The Bounce at @TheAthletic: https://t.co/GkuyZI70Ef
According to Shams, the Suns want someone who “commands accountability and is creative in their offensive philosophy.” I personally find this laughable considering that before Chris Paul started to regress and the depth of the team was traded for Kevin Durant, the Suns had finished top five in offensive rating the previous two seasons (5th in 2021 and 4th in 2022).
As for the accountability aspect, I can see people pointing to how Williams handled Deandre Ayton this year, but I disagree. Williams benched Ayton in the middle of several games during the series against the Nuggets for his lack of effort. Jock Landale nearly outscored and outrebounded Ayton in both games that the Suns won in the second round. I know there are people who will ask why Ayton wasn’t coming off the bench for a game because of it, but think of the context of what was going on. Despite his lack of effort, Ayton still gave the Suns the best chance to win. If Phoenix had any depth like a Javale McGee or Mason Plumlee, veteran players who are capable to play in those moments, then you bench Ayton for a game or two. Not that I don’t like Landale, he just wasn’t going to be able to slow down Jokic at all.
Now with that all out of the way, let's move on to why the Bucks should hire Williams to be the 16th head coach in franchise history.
The biggest part of this is what the franchise star, Giannis Antetokounmpo, thinks of his future head coach. It seems to me from their past interactions that the two have a good relationship and respect each other. Everyone remembers that Williams came into the Bucks’ locker room after they had won the 2021 NBA championship to congratulate the team. What some may not remember is that it was Antetokounmpo who invited him in.
From the cutting room floor of our @SportsCenter convo: Giannis discusses this moment Suns coach Monty Williams. “I had the people stop the music and stop the champagne… I told him, ‘I feel like there's a good chance we might running back next year.’ More: https://t.co/GizGXOyuPj pic.twitter.com/YjuFhbDES7— Malika Andrews (@malika_andrews) July 23, 2021
Williams later said to The Athletic at the time that he wasn’t expecting to go to the Bucks’ locker room with Giannis. The two time league MVP also said that Williams was a great coach and that he got the best out of this team. In the years since that title, Williams has even called Giannis the best player in the world. While nothing is concrete, I would say the two could get along if Williams is brought into the Bucks’ locker room this time as the home coach.
Lets now focus on Williams’ offensive tactics and why it’s a fit for the Bucks. I think that he is creative enough to be a good offensive coach. Just look at this play during game four of the Western Conference Finals in 2021:
Excellent play design from Monty Williams on the Suns opener last night.— John Leonzo (@John_Leonzo) June 27, 2021
Takes advantage of the Clippers coverage on Booker, and uses it to create for Ayton. pic.twitter.com/UofVp7EjC3
While it may seem simple enough, finding ways to get easy buckets is an underrated art in the NBA. The Bucks need to find a way to get easy baskets besides a three or Giannis running down the floor every play. Take advantage of the players you have and their strengths. Have Giannis and Jrue involved in more pick-and-rolls or get open looks for Middleton off the ball in catch and shoot opportunities. The Bucks were bottom five in pick-and-roll frequency, while teams like the Los Angeles Lakers and Phoenix Suns, teams with good bigs, were in the top half of the league in frequency and points per game.
Those easy shots should also help out the Bucks’ bench squad as well. The Bucks finished 17th in the league in bench scoring this past season at 34.3 points, with Bobby Portis leading the charge at 14.1 a night. The Bucks are going to need more balance to reach the top half of the league in bench scoring moving forward. The Bucks don’t know how much Middleton will be able to regain after an injury-plagued season and how his knee will hold up long-term. If they want to keep him fresh, bench scoring and offensive creativity will be much needed. Something that Williams will provide to the Bucks.
The other aspect that Williams can bring is a refreshed culture to Milwaukee. When Williams came to Phoenix, they were absolutely horrible both in play and in culture. In the nine years before Monty was hired, the Suns had gone through six head coaches with three of them being fired during the season. In those nine seasons, the Suns went a combined 326-478 (.405).
However, with the work Williams and his staff did in player development and culture, they had a record of 26-39 by March 10 before the NBA season was put on pause due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Those 26 wins were more than Phoenix had in their previous four seasons (19 in 2019, 21 in 2018, 24 in 2017 and 23 in 2016). Then in the bubble, the Suns carried that to a perfect 8-0 record and were a Caris LeVert jumper away from making it to the playoffs.
“I think we’ve gained the respect of the league, and that’s huge,” Williams said to Forbes at the time. “It’s huge for us as an organization, it’s huge for us as a team. There was some sentiment before this that we didn’t belong and I think we’ve changed that sentiment. It’s huge for all of our guys who improved this year.”
While the Bucks are in a very different position than that Suns team was, I think the idea of a cultural reset is what general manager Jon Horst is going for with letting Bud go. The Bucks are feeling dejected after losing in five games to Miami in the first round when they have championship aspirations. They need someone who will “rally the troops,” and get this team back on track. There are doubts about this Bucks team and Williams seems to be at his best when he is doubted.