It’s that time again. After firing head coach Mike Budenholzer after five successful seasons, the Bucks are looking for the seventeenth coach in franchise history.
The only other openings are with the rebuilding Pistons and the middling Raptors, which means that just like it was in 2018, the Bucks’ vacancy is the most attractive open position. Since that team was an up-and-comer led by a young All-Star looking to make a run deeper than the first round for the first time since 2001, and this team is led by a two-time MVP regarded as the best player on earth, won a title two years ago, and is hungry for another, the gig is even more attractive than it was in 2018.
Unlike when Bud took over for Jason Kidd after years of shortcomings, the next Bucks head coach will have a tough act to follow. However, Bud’s successor will come into a situation with a strong organizational culture already in place, something that didn’t really exist in Milwaukee prior to Bud coming in and building one.
Two things are for sure, though: the pressure on whoever gets the job will be immense, and after GM Jon Horst got it right in 2018 by hiring Bud, it’s even more imperative he gets it right again.
Yesterday, we looked at recent NBA coaches (both current and former) who might be in the running. Today, we’re looking at assistant coaches who will be looking to land their first NBA head coaching position.
As of writing, we’ve yet to even hear who the Bucks are interviewing or even considering, these are the candidates garnering the most speculation and discussion among fans, oddsmakers, and analysts. We’ll be sure to update you if any of these or other candidates land interviews with the club in the coming weeks.
Charles Lee (age 38), current Bucks associate head coach (2018– )
Milwaukee’s associate head coach last season, Lee has been a mainstay among the head coaching circuit rumors and interviews over the past few years, and he’s the youngest name on this list. Since joining Bud’s staff back in 2014, he seems likely the be the next in line of several former Bud assistants to move up to the top chair on a team’s bench, but will that be the Bucks’? Should it be the Bucks’?
Aside from running the show during some preseason action last fall while Bud recovered from ankle surgery, there’s really no body of work to judge from. Recent Bud proteges Darvin Ham and Taylor Jenkins have enjoyed success with their new clubs, but how similar are the Lakers’ and Grizzlies’ schemes to the one the Bucks employed since 2018? With such different rosters, it’s not easy to say, but if Lee inherits a similar roster to his predecessor, it’s an open question as to how much things will change.
To be clear, Lee’s mentor had a system that worked in the regular and postseason, in spite of a couple big disappointments in 2020 and 2023. Would Lee put his own spin on the drop zone and maybe draw up some new offensive sets, or would it be more of the same? In any case, other teams want to find out too: Toronto plans to interview him if they haven’t already, and Detroit has reportedly advanced him to their second round alongside Jarron Collins and Kevin Ollie. If the Bucks want to promote him, time is running out.
Chris Quinn (age 39), current Heat assistant (2014– )
Another name who’s often in discussions for promotions to head coach, Quinn is a former NBA backup point guard that played parts of six seasons in the league, mostly with Miami under both Pat Riley and Erik Spoelstra. That’s where he’s been employed as an assistant since 2014, moving up the chairs to ostensibly Spo’s lead assistant and he subbed in for his boss twice last season. The second-youngest name on this list, he or Dan Craig surprisingly figure to be only the second Spo assistant to rise up in the ranks (David Fizdale is the other).
Obviously, Spoelstra is one of the best two or three coaches in the league, and probably in league history. While Fizdale—no, I’m not going to say fizzled—washed out pretty quickly, Quinn comes from a different era of hEaT cUlTuRe that emphasizes skill development, conditioning, and toughness, rather than those star-driven years prior to 2014. I don’t doubt that he could end up a good NBA head coach and that some of his mentor’s genius rubbed off, but it’s debatable whether the Bucks can afford to take the risk that it didn’t. He interviewed with the Pistons and Woj reports the Raptors will bring him in too.
Adrian Griffin (age 48), current Raptors assistant (2018– )
After a twelve-year playing career, the NBA journeyman actually got his feet wet as Milwaukee assistant upon retiring, way back from 2008–10 on Scott Skiles’ staff. Since then, Griffin has had long stints with Chicago and Toronto, where he’s been employed the last five seasons, as well as stops in Orlando and OKC. He’s also helped develop his son AJ, a 2022 first-round pick who just finished a nice rookie year in Atlanta. As Nick Nurse’s lead assistant, he was of course a part of that 2019 championship squad, and since then—if not before—Griffin has been frequently mentioned as a head coaching candidate. He also recently completed a PhD in organizational leadership from Concordia University Chicago.
While a head coach getting fired sometimes means the rest of the bench heads out the door too, the Raptors aren’t letting him get away. He’ll interview for the top gig and reportedly want to keep him in some capacity even if he doesn’t land it. It’s worth noting that he was part of what went wrong in Toronto this year to the same extent Lee was a part of what went wrong in Milwaukee (which didn’t go as wrong), which makes judging assistants and their potential contributions even more nebulous.
Dan Craig (age 42), current Clippers associate head coach (2020— )
A former Heat assistant from 2016 until 2020, spare a season coaching their G League affiliate, Craig has been Tyronn Lue’s top lieutenant with the Clippers since the latter took over for Doc Rivers. He also had a number of roles on Miami’s staff from 2004–2015 both on and off the bench, so unlike Quinn, he got some experience working with those star-laden title teams in 2006, 2012, and 2013.
As someone present for the Riley era with Shaq and Dwyane Wade, the Heatles era, and the more recent era that Quinn partook in, he has perhaps the most comprehensive experience of anyone on this list. The caveat I said about Quinn above applies too, though. If Tyronn Lue happens to move on from the Clippers as rumored—though Lue has publicly denied this—Quinn would be a natural choice to move up in LA.
Jordy Fernández (age 40), current Kings associate head coach (2022– )
A hot name recently, Fernández has been in the NBA since 2009, first with the Cavs and then as head coach of their G League team, followed by a six-year stint on Michael Malone’s staff in Denver. When Mike Brown, the coach in Cleveland who first hired Fernández, landed the Sacramento job last summer, he tabbed the Spaniard to head up the staff beneath him. He took on head coaching duties for a few games last December with Brown ejected or in the health and safety protocols.
Fernández reportedly is well-liked by players, and like Griffin is well-educated: he’s close to a PhD in sports psychology from an institution in his home country. He’s worked with major stars in LeBron James and Nikola Jokic, so he’ll know how to relate to Giannis, but his player development work in Cleveland stands out, with their front office giving Fernández credit for tutoring Kyrie Irving, Matthew Dellavedova, and others new to the league. Player development isn’t a huge deal for the Bucks, but it certainly never hurts. His teams were always among the league’s most dynamic and high-scoring offenses, so if he takes any of that know-how with him from Brown and Malone, he might do well with a contender like Milwaukee. Toronto reportedly has interviewed him.
Jarron Collins (age 44), current Pelicans assistant (2021– )
Also a former player, Collins spent ten years in the league as a center, primarily as a backup and with Utah. After retiring, he did some scouting for the Clippers before Steve Kerr hired him upon taking the head coaching job in Golden State. He started as a player development coach and then moved onto the bench after a year, meaning he was present for all three rings through 2018. After he and the Dubs mutually agreed to part ways, he’s spent the last two seasons on Willie Green’s staff in New Orleans.
Collins is another guy who seems to have a strong reputation in development, which is likely why he moved onto the second round in Detroit alongside Lee, per Woj. Though the Warriors were almost fully formed by the time he and Kerr arrived, he probably had a lot to do with players like Draymond Green and Kevon Looney becoming the forces they are today. Blessed with such a stacked roster for years, Collins and his boss probably didn’t have to do all that much in order for plays to look good when Steph Curry and Kevin Durant are running the show, so who knows how he is as a strategic mind.
Sam Cassell (age 53), current Sixers assistant (2020– )
Setting aside the obvious nostalgia of welcoming back a member of the original Big Three, Cassell is a legit candidate for any head coaching gig. Sam I Am played more seasons of his fifteen-year career—which he started with back-to-back rings in Houston and ended with another in Boston—with Milwaukee than any of his other seven teams.
After retiring in 2009, Cassell has made a nice career for himself as a coach, like several former NBA All-Star point guards. He spent several seasons on Washington’s staff under Flip Saunders and Randy Wittman before joining Doc Rivers in LA in 2014. He followed Rivers to Philly as the Clippers moved from the Lob City era into the Always-Injured era, so he’s been associated with playoff teams for over a decade now, despite his teams never getting out of the second round.
John Wall gives Cassell credit for helping mold him into an All-Star point guard all those years ago on the Wizards, and with Jrue Holiday’s playoff performances and decision-making becoming a real problem, maybe some of that wisdom could benefit the Bucks. Sadly, the purple jerseys were only for this past season, so we wouldn’t see Cassell coaching a Bucks team clad in those lovely threads.
David Adelman (age 41), current Nuggets assistant (2017– )
Longtime hoops fans will recognize the last name, as he’s the son of Hall of Fame coach Rick Adelman, notably of the Drexler-era Blazers and Webber/Stojakvoic-era Kings. The younger Adelman coached ten years of high school ball before joining the elder’s staff for several years during his final coaching stint in Minnesota, staying on for one more year after his pops retired. He then landed in Orlando for a season under Frank Vogel before linking up with Michael Malone in Denver, where he’s been ever since. There he’s something of a top-of-bench assistant, filling in for his boss when Malone was in the health and safety protocols for a couple games back in January.
Jokic gave a nice endorsement of Adelman after that brief stint, saying “I really think that DA’s a guy who’s gonna be next head coach… He knows the answers. He reads, reacts.” Always good to have an MVP candidate’s backing. The Raptors are interviewing him this week.
This list is by no means exhaustive, and it’s anyone’s guess if the next Bucks head coach comes from this group. Given how much risk is involved in taking on an unproven, first-time head coach, it might be advisable for a title contender like the Bucks to go with someone more experienced. There are plenty of other candidates around the league, so we might get some out-of-box thinking from Horst in the coming weeks.
Anyone else you think should be considered? Let me know in the comments.