Longest Offseason Since 2016 Awaits Shell-Shocked Bucks


When Jimmy Butler curled to the goal and rose up to catch the perfectly-placed lob at the rim with 2.1 seconds to go in Game 5 last Wednesday against the Milwaukee Bucks, an already-defeated fanbase in Fiserv Forum knew what was about to happen.

Butler’s shot fell through the net in perfect unison with his body falling toward the court.

“What a play call,” Brendan Haywood said while on the call for NBA TV. But there were still 0.5 seconds left, and Milwaukee had a timeout. The Bucks inbounded the ball to their star Giannis Antetokounmpo, who dribbled toward mid-court as time expired. With a chance to win the game, the Bucks had been caught with the ball glued to their hands.

Haywood’s attention then turned toward head coach Mike Budenholzer and the Bucks bench. “Why would you not call a timeout? Haywood asked, echoing the exact thoughts of Bucks fans everywhere. The horrible moment was caught in a flux for the Milwaukee faithful though.

The Bucks had a chance to win, but maybe winning only meant prolonging the inevitable. The Bucks simply hadn’t been up to par for the majority of the series. Still, it’s hard to see the top team in the league be eliminated at home because they did something as silly as not calling a timeout or get a shot up before expiration.

In an interview on “The Dan LeBatard Show with Stugotz”, Miami Heat guard Max Strus said his head coach, Erik Spoelstra, had been stunned by the Bucks’ decision not to use their timeout at the end of regulation.

“Honestly, we were all questioning it,” Strus said .”At the end of [regulation], Spo came in the huddle, he was like, ‘They didn’t call a timeout! What are we doing? They didn’t call a timeout!’ And we were like, we didn’t even know they had a timeout. We just figured they didn’t, the guys on the court. But yeah, we were kind of questioning what was going on. But thankfully they didn’t use it.”

The Bucks had a timeout remaining.

With a chance to win the game, the Bucks had once again been caught with the ball glued to their hands.

The Miami Heat had become the sixth No. 8 seed to ever defeat a No. 1 seed in the NBA playoffs, and they had done it in five games. For the second time in four years, a Bucks squad with the best record in the NBA had bowed out to an underseeded Heat team in five games. And for the first time since Budenholzer took over as head coach in 2018-2019, the Bucks had failed to win a playoff series.

Now the Bucks are faced with a problem. Certainly this is not a bad team. Nor is Budenholzer a bad coach (Milwaukee has consistently been one of the league’s best teams during his tenure). So, why did this happen?

When Eric Nehm of The Athletic asked Antetokounmpo whether he viewed this season as a failure, the MVP finalist answered agitatedly, saying: “It’s not a failure; it’s steps to success.” There’s always steps to it. Michael Jordan played 15 years, won six championships. The other nine years was a failure? That’s what you’re telling me?”

“It’s a wrong question; there’s no failure in sports,” Antetokounmpo emphasized.

Perhaps it hadn’t been a failure, but it certainly hadn’t ended in the desired fashion. Far from it.

The Bucks season had stopped prematurely. The last time the Bucks were embarrassed by Miami in 2020, the front office had made substantive changes. They traded Eric Bledsoe and a package of accompanying picks and players to New Orleans for Jrue Holiday. Now, the 2021 NBA Champion Holiday is under the magnifying glass after Butler averaged 37.6 points per game in the series, with Holiday serving as one of his primary defenders.


“On your head,” Butler taunted Holiday at the end of the game Wednesday.

Where does the Buck stop?

Does it stop with Budenholzer? His head-scratching failure to call a timeout on two different occasions may have prematurely ended the season. However, with the recent news of his brother’s passing in a car accident before Game 4, it’s hard to cast an incredible amount of blame on the head coach, who clearly was dealing with a much more tragic issue.

Still, the complaints about Budenholzer’s coaching are not limited to the series. For years, fans have commented on how he fails to adjust mid-game, or his stubbornness about playing Brook Lopez in drop coverage regardless of the opponent.

Does it stop with Holiday? His only consistent feature in the series versus Miami was his inconsistency. That has been a trait that Holiday has unfortunately possessed throughout his three postseasons with Milwaukee.

Does it stop with the bench? Not many players off the bench were able to contribute consistently. Pat Connaughton offered up a stelar 22-point performance for the Bucks in their win in Game 2, but he fizzled out quickly, scoring just 8.7 points per contest in the final three games. Then there is Bobby Portis, who became less impactful by the game, scoring 21 points in Game 1 before progressively doing less until he hadn’t scored a single point in Game 5 as his minutes dwindled.

Does it stop with Jae Crowder? He was theoretically touted to replicate P.J. Tucker’s defensive dominance from their championship run two years ago. Crowder scored just seven points in the three games he played in during the series but more importantly was a traffic cone on defense.

The Bucks parted ways with a barrage of second-round picks and role players to acquire Crowder, and now in an interview with the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Crowder remarked, “I’m very confused as to why I was brought here. I don’t know my purpose here and why I was brought here.”

No matter what combination of people or things blame may be cast onto, one thing is for certain: the Bucks will have a lot of decisions to make this offseason.

Middleton has a $40 million player option, but there are a handful of unrestricted free agents the Bucks will have to make decisions on. Lopez, for example, seems like one that they will clearly look to retain, but what will be the asking price for a 35-year-old who just finished as the runner-up for defensive player of the year?

What about Crowder? Will Milwaukee admit that he may not have been a perfect fit and let him walk, or will they consider it a work in progress? Then there’s Joe Ingles and Wesley Matthews as well, two veterans whose contracts expire this summer.

The Bucks can’t shake this off as a result of one uncontrollable factor like they did last season with Middleton’s absence in their loss to the Celtics in the 2022 conference semifinals. They have to look in the mirror and decide what changes come next, because change is needed if Milwaukee wants to hang another banner and continue to compete for championships.

They have to decide — for better or worse — where the Buck stops.

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About Ben McCormick

Ben McCormick is a sports writer from North Carolina. He has run independent blogs and begun writing for The Lead in 2023. He writes for The Daily Tar Heel as well, where he has worked since September of 2022.

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