MILWAUKEE — The Milwaukee Bucks have reached an agreement with Mike Budenholzer to become the team’s next head coach, according to a person familiar with the search.
The 2015 NBA Coach of the Year will replace Joe Prunty, the former assistant who went 21-16 in the regular season after replacing the fired Jason Kidd in late January.
The person confirmed the agreement with the former Atlanta Hawks coach on Wednesday. The person requested anonymity because the team has not made an official announcement.
The deal was first reported by ESPN.
The Bucks lost to Boston in seven games in the first round of the playoffs.
Budenholzer went 213-197 in five seasons with the Hawks, leading them to a franchise-record 60 wins and the Eastern Conference finals in 2015. He and the Hawks mutually agreed to part ways last month with two years remaining on his contract, allowing Budenholzer to pursue other opportunities.
The one with the Bucks may have been the best available, thanks to All-Star forward Giannis Antetokounmpo and a new arena next season.
“There’s a massive amount of excitement around this team, because of the arena right there, because of this facility, because or our team,” general manager Jon Horst said recently from the Bucks’ training facility located across the street from the new arena.
“I think a coaching hire just adds to the momentum that we have as an organization, particularly if it’s the right person and it helps us win the way that we expect to win.”
The Bucks took a small step forward this season after winning 44 games, two better than last year, when they lost to Toronto in six games in the first round.
Before choosing Budenholzer, the Bucks also considered Spurs assistant Becky Hammon, who would have been the first woman to coach an NBA team, and interviewed former Cavaliers coach David Blatt, former Hornets coach Steve Clifford, and current Spurs vice president and former Pelicans coach Monty Williams.
“Xs and Os matter, you want someone who has a high basketball IQ, a high human IQ, a high character person, someone who’s a great communicator,” Horst said about some of the qualities he was seeking in the next coach.
Budenholzer was a longtime assistant to Gregg Popovich in San Antonio before taking the Atlanta job. The Hawks have been on a downward spiral since his second season and fell to 24-58 this season, worst in the Eastern Conference. They hired former 76ers assistant Lloyd Pierce and have the No. 3 pick in next month’s draft.
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the Bucks negotiated a deal with Budenholzer’s representative on Wednesday, hours after a breakfast meeting with All-Star forward Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton, league sources said.
The Bucks wanted to have the two players – especially Antetokounmpo, the franchise star—to have a sense of the prospective next Bucks coach and encouraged the players to sit-down with Milwaukee’s preferred candidate before the organization extended a formal offer, league sources said.
It is a relatively unprecedented move in a head coaching search, but it clearly reflects the Bucks determination to make Antetokounmpo and Middleton feel a part of the process.
Budenholzer flew to Milwaukee for the Wednesday morning meeting with the Bucks players. Toronto met with Budenholzer on Monday, but never extended an offer, league sources said.
Budenholzer and the Atlanta Hawks parted ways in April, after the two sides could no longer see a path together with the franchise’s rebuilding plans and new management structure.
Before the split, the Hawks gave Budenholzer permission to speak with the Phoenix Suns and New York Knicks for their coaching openings. He pulled out of contention for the Suns job after several conversations with ownership and management.
Considered one of the NBA’s best tacticians. Budenholzer had been the Hawks president of basketball operations — until surrendering front office control with the arrival of GM Travis Schlenk in the spring of 2017.
Budenholzer won his coach of the year award after a 60-victory regular season and a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2016. The Hawks reached the playoffs in four of his first five season. Atlanta dropped to 24-58 this season, with the organization’s mandate to shed salary and gather draft picks and future assets.