How Mike Budenholzer changed the culture of the Milwaukee Bucks

MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - JULY 22 (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - JULY 22 (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images) /

Mike Budenholzer has done a tremendous job in his time as head coach of the Milwaukee Bucks. Over his four seasons as head coach, the team has compiled a record of 213-96, good enough for a .689 winning percentage. Budenholzer has found more success in the playoffs in Milwaukee than he did in his first landing spot of Atlanta, as he helped the Bucks secure their first championship in five decades. To do that, he had to change the culture in Milwaukee. Let’s break down how he did it.

How Mike Budenholzer changed the culture of the Milwaukee Bucks

Even though it may not seem like it now, taking over the Bucks wasn’t an easy task for Budenholzer. For many of the years before Budenholzer’s arrival, the Bucks had remained consistently mediocre under a few different coaching regimes.

Mediocrity was okay in Milwaukee because it gave Bucks fans hope. The Bucks teams pre-Budenholzer were never going to win championships and the fans knew it, but the fans didn’t care because having a playoff team meant that they had hope. Hope was okay.

As soon as Budenholzer arrived, mediocrity was no longer the standard in Milwaukee. In his first season as head coach, Budenholzer guided the Bucks to a league-best record of 60-22 in the regular season and got them to their first Eastern Conference Finals appearance since 2001. It was the first time the Bucks had won a playoff series since 2001, following eight consecutive first-round exits in postseason appearances.

Budenholzer followed that up with another great season that was unfortunately halted by the COVID pandemic. The Bucks finished the regular season in the bubble with a final regular season record of 56-17, once again the best regular season record in the NBA. Disastrously, the team fell apart in the playoffs and was gentlemen swept by the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

After two seasons like that, you’d think that fans of a team that has been mostly mediocre since the turn of the century would be thrilled. That was not the case, however, as after the team’s collapse while in the bubble, many fans were calling for Budenholzer to lose his job.

Their justification for it was that the team had underachieved in the playoffs in both of his two seasons as the team’s coach. They also went back to his time in Atlanta to show that he didn’t get it done in the playoffs there either.

What the fans had failed to realize is that the expectations that he had failed to meet were only so high because of Budenholzer. Nobody in their wildest imagination would’ve thought the year before Budenholzer got hired that going to the NBA Finals would be the expectation in just two years. Yet, that’s what Budenholzer built and was being torn down for it.

Much to the dismay of fans amid a “Fire Bud” trend on social media, the Bucks gave their coach another season. However, with that third season came the expectation of either making a deep playoff run or getting the boot. Budenholzer rewarded the team for their belief in him by leading the Bucks to their first championship in 50 years in 2021. It took some changes to the roster and finding the right fits, but it turned out that Budenholzer was the right man for the job all along.

After years of mediocrity, Budenholzer had finally found the recipe to make the Bucks great. Budenholzer’s success is an example of why teams should be patient and not make moves on impulse. The Bucks could have easily moved on from Budenholzer following back-to-back early playoff exits, but they knew that they had a special coach and he proved them right.

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Stay tuned to see how Budenholzer’s journey with the Bucks shapes up in the future.