The next Bucks coach

Forbes, of all sources, writes about the vacant Bucks coaching position:

There could be as many as 10 coaching openings this coming off-season in the NBA, and one of the better ones became vacant on Monday when the Milwaukee Bucks fired Jason Kidd.

Despite having one of the game’s top young players in Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Bucks are among the NBA’s biggest underachievers this season. Through 45 games Kidd’s record was a disappointing 23-22, with the Bucks clinging to the eighth and final playoff spot in the East. Their dismal performances under Kidd as they lost seven of their last 11 games outweighed his once-close relationship with co-owner Marc Lasry.

According to industry sources, among the potential coaches Lasry and co-owner Wes Edens could look at to replace Kidd are former Memphis head coach Dave Fizdale; former Knicks and Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy; former New Orleans coach Monty Williams; former Louisville coach Rick Pitino; and current G-League minor-league coach Jerry Stackhouse, who is seen as a future coach in the NBA.

It might not be the plum job as advertised, even with Antetokounmpo’s potential as a future MVP candidate. All candidates will want to investigate who’s in command in terms of determining the roster, as the Bucks are known to have more than one chef in the kitchen. In addition, Lasry and Edens, who purchased the team for $550 million in April, 2014, are not always on the same page, sources told Overall, the Bucks are not viewed as dysfunctional, like some other NBA franchises, but they have a reputation for not being in lock-step. It’s been apparent from their clumsy and protracted GM search of last June and the Kidd firing that they have not followed the Spurs’ model, although that’s one of professional sports’ top-run franchises, with Lasry telling me he closely studied the five-time champs’ inner workings and wanted to emulate them when running the Bucks. Whomever takes the job will likely want to know who’s calling the shots on personnel. In the meantime, Kidd’s interim replacement is his top assistant, Joe Prunty.

For his three-plus seasons coaching Milwaukee, Kidd had a major say in player moves. The Bucks made a bold trade early in the season to shore up their point guard position, acquiring Phoenix’s Eric Bledsoe after the Suns fired Earl Watson three games into the season. But even with Bledsoe they’ve been unable to compete with the top teams in either conference. Their record against Top 10 teams is 7-11, and it’s only 10-15 against teams headed for the playoffs.

This is another bad exit for Kidd. He landed in Milwaukee in 2015 after he tried and failed to unseat then-Brooklyn Nets GM Billy King by adding King’s personnel decision-making  duties to his coaching job. With long-time friend Lasry in his corner, he guided the Bucks to two playoff seasons, including last spring when the team lost to the Toronto Raptors in the first round of the playoffs.

Expectations were high for this season — several experts felt the Bucks could finish in the top four in the East after acquiring Bledsoe — but the Bucks have been plagued by poor overall defense, a suspect interior and an offense that is one of the NBA’s worst in three-point makes and three-point accuracy. While he was a Hall of Famer as a player and the ultimate coach on the court, his coaching had also come under scrutiny after some bad losses. Plus, sources say, his relationship with Lasry soured.

Even with their problems, the Bucks, who will be moving into a new $524 million arena next season, have one major asset for prospective coaches: Antetokounmpo is a immensely talented 23-year-old who stands 6-11, moves like a guard, and is averaging nearly 30 points per game. Now viewed as a Top 10 player, he’s the kind of player a franchise can build around to make a run at a title. He’s already among the team’s all-time leaders in triple-doubles. Maybe the best news for the next coach: He’s signed for the next three seasons, as part of his four-year, $100-million contract he agreed to in 2016. Unlike many brand-consumed stars, he’s a rare bird: He likes playing in one of the NBA’s outposts.

The Ringer adds:

Jason Kidd simply ran out of time. On Monday, the Bucks head coach was fired, the latest casualty of the increased expectations surrounding the franchise. Giannis Antetokounmpo is now a legitimate superstar, but the rest of the team has not kept pace. There was a massive shake-up in their front office over the summer, and they traded for Eric Bledsoe in the first month of the season after a disastrous start. Things haven’t been much better since: Milwaukee is hanging onto the no. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference with a 23–22 record, a far cry from the leap the Bucks seemed poised to take after last season. Outside of a deadline trade that might soon come, the only other change they could make was firing their coach.

Milwaukee has been a one-man team this season. Giannis is leading the Bucks in per-game scoring (28.2), rebounds (10.1), and assists (4.6), and is second on the team in steals (1.5) and blocks (1.3). Their net rating plummets from plus-3.7 with him on the floor to minus-11.6 without him. The final straw came in a 116–94 loss to Philadelphia on Saturday, which Giannis sat out with a sore knee. The Bucks looked helpless, especially in the fourth quarter, when they were outscored by 18 points. Kidd could not come up with any answers.

It hasn’t been for lack of trying. Kidd made several changes to their starting lineup this season, and he has played 14 different players more than 100 minutes. He even dialed back the aggressive defensive schemes that have been his trademark as a head coach, both in Milwaukee and Brooklyn. Kidd loved to blitz pick-and-rolls and force offenses to execute under intense ball pressure, but there were diminishing returns to his unorthodox style. After finishing with the no. 2 defense in his first year as the Bucks head coach, they have not been ranked above no. 19 in the three years since.

Interim head coach Joe Prunty has to figure out some way to stabilize their defense. Milwaukee has the no. 25 defense in the NBA this season, and the underlying numbers suggest that something is fundamentally broken. The Bucks are no. 3 in opponent 3-point field goal percentage (38.1), no. 2 in the percentage of corner 3s (24.1) allowed, and no. 1 in the percentage of shots (32.5) at the rim allowed. Letting opposing teams take the most efficient shots on the floor is a recipe for disaster.

Milwaukee has the personnel to be at least respectable on that side of the ball. The Bucks are one of the longest and most athletic teams in the NBA, with John Henson at center, Giannis and Khris Middleton on the wings, and Bledsoe and Malcolm Brogdon in the backcourt. There aren’t many obvious weak spots for offenses to attack. The easiest solution might be a more conservative style of defense that discourages gambling and protects the rim and 3-point line at all costs. There’s no reason to have so many physically gifted players playing out of position when they should be able to keep their men in front of them.

Prunty has to figure out a new identity quickly. Jabari Parker is expected back from a torn ACL at some point in the next few weeks, and integrating him will require major changes. He’s an elite scorer who averaged 20.1 points on 49 percent shooting in 51 games last season, but he wasn’t much of a defensive player even before the injury. The worst-case scenario is what happened in Cleveland when Isaiah Thomas returned to the lineup. Adding a poor defender to an unstable defensive foundation can cause the whole thing to collapse.

Milwaukee might end up trading for a more traditional defensive anchor like DeAndre Jordan, as it has long been linked to the Clippers center. The problem is that that would probably mean moving future picks and promising young players like Brogdon and Thon Maker. It would be hard for a small-market franchise to give up players on cost-controlled contracts when its payroll is set to explode. Parker will be a restricted free agent this summer. Bledsoe will be a free agent after next season, and Middleton will likely waive his player option for the 2019–20 season and join him on the open market.

Bucks GM Jon Horst, who took over the job this summer, has a lot of big decisions to make. Giannis won’t be a free agent until after the 2020–21 season, but an NBA team lucky enough to have a player of his caliber is always on the clock. Keeping this group together will be incredibly expensive, and Horst needs a better idea of how good they can be before he commits. If he pays Bledsoe, Middleton, and Parker, he will not have any flexibility to build around Giannis going forward. The rest of the league will be watching what he does closely.

Few of the available head-coaching candidates will be willing to join a team midseason, so Prunty is probably safe for now. To have any chance of removing the interim tag, he would need to win at least one playoff series, if not two, which is possible considering how wide open the East is. If Prunty doesn’t keep the job, the obvious candidate is David Fizdale, who built deep relationships with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade as an assistant in Miami and modernized the Memphis offense before losing a power struggle with Marc Gasol. It will be a comprehensive search, and the Bucks will have their pick of candidates. The opportunity to coach a superstar like Giannis doesn’t come around often.

Kidd was hired in 2014 to shepherd a young team along, and both Giannis and Parker blossomed under his direction. However, there is a big difference between developing individual players and maximizing a roster. Firing a coach can be the next step in the growth process of a franchise. The Bulls fired Doug Collins before they hired Phil Jackson. The Warriors fired Mark Jackson before they hired Steve Kerr. Of course, getting rid of the last guy is the easy part. Who the Bucks hire now is the most important decision the franchise has made since it drafted Giannis. Milwaukee doesn’t have much time to get this right.

The Sporting News provides this list:

Sam Cassell

Cassell has plenty of NBA experience as both a player and coach. He played for eight teams over the course of his career, including the Bucks, and he has served as an assistant coach with the Wizards and Clippers. Cassell has shown the ability to relate and connect with his players. For example, he played an instrumental role in getting Paul Pierce to sign with the Wizards during his time in Washington. Don’t be surprised if Milwaukee’s front office gives him a call.

David Fizdale

After being fired by the Grizzlies earlier this season, Fizdale is an obvious choice. He carried the “Grit’N’Grind” style of the old Grizzlies forward and helped push them toward the future with changes to their offensive style. There might be some hesitation with Fizdale given how his relationship with star center Marc Gasol went south, as the Bucks don’t want to give Giannis Antetokounmpo any reason to think about leaving down the road. But Fizdale also has plenty of big-name guys in his corner, so this could be a nice fit.

Tony Bennett

Is Bennett finally ready to make the jump from college to pro? Virginia is once again near the top of the college polls, and Bennett’s stock may never be higher with multiple NBA teams making changes this season. He also has a Wisconsin connection — Bennett played at the University of Wisconsin–Green Bay for his father, Dick, who championed the pack-line defense. Let’s see if he wants to go home.

Mark Jackson

Look, joke about Jackson’s tenure with the Warriors all you want and how he seems to sneak in those little comments when he’s broadcasting a Golden State game for ESPN. But he did help establish a new winning culture for the Warriors and lay the groundwork for Steve Kerr to build upon (Kerr has given Jackson credit specifically for the strength of the defense). He might be ready to take off the headset and return to the sidelines.

Monty Williams

As the head coach in New Orleans, Williams finished 173-221 overall with the Hornets/Pelicans, making two playoff appearances, including a first-round exit in 2015 to the eventual champion Warriors. Williams then joined the Thunder staff but left the bench in the middle of the season after the tragic death of his wife, Ingrid. He has since served as the vice president of basketball operations for the Spurs, but early reports already indicate he could be a frontrunner for the Bucks job.

Jerry Stackhouse

“Stack” spent 19 seasons as a player in the NBA, and he has made a name for himself as a coach in a hurry. The 43-year-old is the head coach of the Raptors 905, the NBA G-League affiliate of the Raptors, and it’s not an opportunity he takes lightly.

“Anybody that knows me knows that I’ve got a lot of pride and I’m confident in what I do,” Stackhouse told last year. “This is what I do. This isn’t a fluke. I’ve been working at this thing for a while. A lot of people just see it now.”

While Stackhouse is a bit behind the curve compared to other candidates, he brings undeniable energy and a desire to improve each day.

Adrian Griffin

Following nearly a decade as a player, Griffin has served as an assistant coach in Milwaukee, Chicago, Orlando and currently Oklahoma City. He has a habit of building relationships with those around him. He’s a guy who has made an impact at every stop but doesn’t need to take credit for individual or team success. Griffin is also a defensive-minded coach, having spent time under Tom Thibodeau with the Bulls, and that’s absolutely something the Bucks could use, as they own the sixth-worst defensive rating in the NBA.

Jim Boylen

Boylen has been coaching for more than three decades now, starting back in 1987 as an assistant with Michigan State and currently serving as the associate head coach for the Bulls. Boylen knows what it takes to win, having been part of title teams with both the Rockets in 1994 and 1995 and the Spurs in 2014. The young Bucks could use some championship experience.

Rex Kalamian

Another coach with plenty of years under his belt, Kalamian has been on the Raptors’ staff since 2015 under head coach Dwane Casey. Kalamian focuses primarily on Toronto’s defense, and to his credit, the Raptors hold the sixth-best defensive rating in the league. Casey has relied on Kalamian and the rest of his assistants throughout the season, and with the Raptors second in the East behind only the Celtics, Kalamian’s resume is looking pretty good.

Desmond Mason

Longshot alert! Mason enjoyed the highest-scoring season of his NBA career with the Bucks in 2004-05 (17.2 points per game) and became known for his high-flying throwdowns above the rim. The former Oklahoma State star expressed interest in coaching the Cowboys in 2016 and even created a checklist for the program. What would his master plan for the Bucks look like?

View image on Twitter

When you compare Mason to the rest of the candidates, though, he isn’t nearly as appealing. Still fun to imagine!

My own preference in such matters is to find someone from a premier organization, as when the Packers hired Mike Holmgren from the 49ers, Wisconsin hired Barry Alvarez from Notre Dame (after Iowa). The NBA’s premier organization is the San Antonio Spurs. Anyone available there?


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