Mike Budenholzer knows a thing or two about taking over a team at a crossroads and guiding them in the right direction. He did it when he took over as coach of the Atlanta Hawks five years ago and led them to the Eastern Conference finals in 2015, when he was named Coach of the Year and the Hawks won a franchise-record 60 games. Folks in Milwaukee are hoping Budenholzer can have a similar impact on a talented group that includes All-Star forward Giannis Antetokounmpo.
In fact, the Bucks' solid roster and high ceiling on the players in the core group are what attracted to Budenholzer in the first place. After interviewing in Phoenix and New York and popping up on the radar of every team (other than the Hawks, of course) with a head coaching vacancy, the opportunity with the Bucks emerged as the perfect fit. Matt Velazquez of the Journal Sentinel helps explain what made the job so appealing:
What set the Bucks apart?
“A lot of things," Budenholzer said. "Very excited about the roster, excited about the things we can do together. Obviously, Giannis is a special player, but I think the entire roster’s got a lot of great players — Khris Middleton, Eric Bledsoe, you keep going down the list, Jabari (Parker), all the guys. I just think it’s a great opportunity for me, a great fit for me.”
The process of getting integrated with the team already has started. Budenholzer has enjoyed getting to know Horst better through the interview process as well as their shared time together in Chicago. The same goes for Antetokounmpo, whom Budenholzer sat next to during most of the afternoon, including during the day's final game, which included Giannis' younger brother Kostas.
"I think learning our players and putting them in the position to be the best they can be is what I will do over the next couple months," Budenholzer said. "Really, we’ll be learning each other for parts of the season, too.”
As he learns more about the individuals on his roster beyond these first interactions and what he's learned about them as an opposing head coach, Budenholzer expects to continue to hone in on the ways to accelerate the team's growth. The Bucks have made the playoffs two straight years and three of the last four, but they still haven't gotten out of the first round since 2001.
As a franchise, the Bucks believe they have more room to grow and have tapped Budenholzer as the coach to help lead them to a higher level of success. While he might not have the entire plan ironed out yet — he's only been on the job for a day — he knows generally what he wants the Bucks to look like under his tutelage.
“Hopefully a hell of a team," Budenholzer said. "Hopefully really good defensively, playing fast and moving the ball and great spacing and playing together offensively.”
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