Examining the known candidates for Bucks head coach job
FOX Sports Wisconsin
The Milwaukee Bucks are still in need of a new head coach and with the NBA draft a month-and-a-half away, one has to figure a hiring has to take place sometime in the next four weeks. The Bucks reportedly want to talk to 10 candidates, then whittle the list down to three or four. Two candidates have already been hired. Milwaukee never had a chance to talk with David Fizdale, who was hired quickly by the Knicks. James Borrego had talked about setting up an interview with Milwaukee, but he took the job in Charlotte. There have been reports of eight coaching candidates thus far (and perhaps Borrego and Fizdale would have completed a round of 10). Certainly there could be other possibles we don't know about, or someone like Dwane Casey, the Coach of the Year this season who was fired Friday by Toronto. But for now, here's a look at the eight known candidates (listed alphabetically):
One of the most successful coaches in European basketball history. The four-time Israeli League Coach of the Year, Blatt has a career .591 winning percentage in EuroLeague play. Blatt was hired by Cleveland in 2014 and led the Cavaliers to a 53-29 record and to the NBA Finals, where they lost in six games to Golden State. The next season, he was fired after 41 games -- despite a 30-11 record -- as he and LeBron James reportedly did not get along. Blatt has coached in Turkey the past two seasons and this year led his team to a EuroCup championship. Blatt said he was going to talk with the Knicks (before they hired Fizdale, obviously) and has a desire to return to the NBA. "… it's a different game overseas [than in the United States]. Almost everything is different," said Blatt, when asked what he had learned from his time in the NBA. "I want to try to return to the NBA, because I feel like I hadn't realized my potential there."
Getty ImagesJason Miller
When we last looked Bucks head coaching candidates, Budenholzer wasn't mentioned because at the time he was still with Atlanta. However, the Hawks and Budenholzer agreed to part ways after a tough season in which Atlanta finished with a 24-58 record. In his previous four years with the team, the Hawks made the playoffs each season. Budenholzer won Coach of the Year after leading Atlanta to 60 victories and an eventual appearance in the Eastern Conference finals in 2014-15. Budenholzer reportedly talked with the Knicks and Phoenix, but withdrew his name from consideration from the Suns gig. Like many on the Bucks candidates list, Budenholzer comes from the Greg Popovich coaching tree, having spent 18 seasons with San Antonio as an assistant. If you're wondering about his system, Budenholzer tries to mold his offense and defense around his personnel, rather than coming in to a team with set looks. Budenholzer reportedly is the early favorite for the Milwaukee job.
USA TODAY SportsRaj Mehta
A longtime NBA player as well as coach, Cleamons reportedly had an informal conversation about the head coaching job with Bucks general manager Jon Horst. Cleamons has coached at a variety of levels and knows winning -- he was an assistant for Phil Jackson in Chicago during some of the Michael Jordan years and with the Lakers from 1999-2004, which included three NBA championships with Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal. Cleamons has also coached in college, in a women's pro basketball leagues and in China. Last year he was an assistant for Yehiva University in Los Angeles. Known as a strong defensive player during his NBA career, Cleamons will turn 69 in September. He'd certainly be a surprising choice, but he has a winning pedigree and has co-existed with bigger superstars than Giannis Antetokounmpo.
A longtime college and NBA assistant, as well as head coach for Division II Adelphi (1995-99), Clifford got his first head coaching job with Charlotte in 2013. He lasted five years before being let go after the end of the 2017-18 season after the Hornets finished 36-46 and missed the playoffs for the third time under Clifford. Charlotte had two winning seasons under Clifford, winning 43 games in 2013-14 and 48 in 2015-16, but both times exited the playoffs in the first round. He also missed 21 games this past season due to an issue with sleep deprivation. On the flip side, some might say Clifford made the most of the talent given to him by management -- as partly evidenced by the firing of general manager Rich Cho in February.
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Pau Gasol wrote Friday that it isn't even a question if Hammon is qualified and there should be no concerns about a woman coaching in the NBA. Hammon has also had the backing of LeBron James and, of course, Greg Popovich, who hired her to be an assistant with the Spurs. As we've noted before, Hammon does have head coaching experience -- she coached the Spurs' summer league entry for two seasons (winning the league's title in 2015) and Popovich had her lead the team in a preseason game this past October (a 122-100 win over Denver). The fact she interviewed for the Bucks' GM job last year is interesting (and perhaps awkward) and there could be some blowback from Neanderthals who don't want a woman as a head coach. Of course, there also could be some blowback if she's passed over.
Hey, guess what, it's another Spurs assistant. Messina, however, has a history of being a head coach in Europe, where he won four EuroLeague championships (and twice was Coach of the Year), and four Italian League titles. Unlike Blatt, who went straight from Europe to the NBA, Messina has some experience in the U.S., having been with San Antonio since 2014 after serving as a consultant with the Lakers for one season. Messina served as head coach for the Spurs on two occasions when Popovich had to leave the team -- in March 2016 dues to a family emergency and in this year's first-round playoff series after Popovich's wife died. Messina preaches "floor balance" and creating gaps by keeping the defense moving.
At the beginning of the offseason, Horst said that Prunty "has earned the right to be part of this process. He will be." After taking over for Jason Kidd, Prunty led the Bucks to a 21-16 record and then fell in seven games to Boston in the first round of the playoffs (a series loss which might not look as bad after the Celtics beat Philadelphia in five games in their ensuing series). However, as we stated back in January, Prunty is associated with Kidd -- having also worked with him with the Nets -- and it's likely any consideration by Horst and Milwaukee is pro forma.
USA TODAY SportsWinslow Townson
Guess which team currently employs Williams? Yup, San Antonio, where he is the vice president of basketball operations. Williams served as head coach of New Orleans from 2010-15, much of which was spent during a rebuild, but he did lead the Pelicans to 46 wins in 2010-11 and 45 in 2014-15 -- although he was surprisingly fired after the latter. Williams was an assistant for Oklahoma City in 2016 when he wife died in a car accident. He took time off from coaching after that but is looking to get back on the sidelines. Williams comes with the label of being a defensive-minded coach.