Warriors' Atkinson among five candidates for Bucks HC job originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea
Mike Budenholzer is the latest championship-winning head coach to find himself unemployed.
The Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday made a shocking announcement that they were firing Budenholzer, their coach of the past five years who led them to the NBA’s best overall record this season, following a first-round upset by the No. 8 Miami Heat.
Budenholzer now joins the likes of Tyronn Lue, Nick Nurse and Frank Vogel as coaches who won recent NBA titles only to find themselves eventually ousted from those very same teams. While Budenholzer will likely land on the shortlist for a number of other teams, the search is now on in Milwaukee to determine who gets to inherit a roster featuring Giannis Antetokounmpo for at least the next two seasons.
Here’s a look at five potential replacements for Budenholzer in Milwaukee.
Current Milwaukee assistant Charles Lee is no doubt a favorite to land this job.
At 38, Lee is an up-and-comer bound to land a head coaching job in the near future. He started his coaching career a decade ago when he returned to his alma mater, Bucknell, before making the jump to the NBA in 2014. After four years with the Atlanta Hawks, Lee joined Budenholzer’s staff in 2018 and was promoted to associate head coach this past year.
The three coaches who finished No. 2 through 4 in the Coach of the Year vote – Mark Daigneault, Joe Mazzulla and J.B. Bickerstaff – all rose to their current positions as assistants with the same team, so there’s a convincing precedent to promote Lee.
Lee has already interviewed with a number of teams over the past year including the Los Angeles Lakers, Charlotte Hornets and most recently, has emerged as a frontrunner to take over the Detroit Pistons.
If the Bucks don’t name Lee, it’s only a matter of time until another team does.
Steve Kerr’s right hand man made waves this time last year when he reportedly reached an agreement with the Hornets only to win a championship with the Warriors and decide to stay put in California.
He’s remained a popular name for coaching vacancies and he might be ready to move on this time around.
Atkinson went 118-190 coaching a superstar-less Brooklyn Nets team, but there’s no denying that he could do a lot with a couple years coaching alongside Kerr and with a roster as stacked as the Bucks.
If it feels like Cassel’s been around the league forever, you’re not wrong. He played for 15 seasons, winning three NBA titles, picking up one All-Star nod and nine seasons averaging 17 or more points.
Upon retirement Cassell jumped to the coaches’ corner, spending the first five years of his career with the Washington Wizards. He joined Doc Rivers’ staff with the Clippers in 2013 and followed him to Philadelphia where he’s been for the past three seasons.
No coaches shortlist would be complete without the NBA’s most successful journeyman.
Calling a two-time NBA Coach of the Year a journeyman might be harsh but D’Antoni has made his way around the league for the past two decades without a Finals appearance to show for it.
He has a 672-527 record with five different teams over 16 seasons. His most successful stretches came coaching Steve Nash and James Harden with the Phoenix Suns and Houston Rockets, respectively, where he combined to make four trips to the Western Conference Finals.
Most of D’Antoni’s departures have been of mutual decision and largely the result of sustained success that didn’t translate to championships. At 71, he might not be the ideal candidate to bring the Bucks back over the line but it’s hard to imagine his name doesn’t at least come up in conversation.
The former Raptors coach is another victim of the champions curse that’s plagued all title-winning coaches since 2016 not named Steve Kerr.
Much like Budenholzer, Nurse teamed up with a superstar in Kawhi Leonard and delivered a long-awaited championship for Toronto back in 2019. Even with Leonard departing, Nurse led the Raptors to a 169-139 record over the past four years and made two playoff appearances.
His firing last month was equally as unsurprising as his place on any shortlist around the NBA.