Since the All-Star break, the Milwaukee Bucks have sputtered out and lost their stride after a fast start with interim head coach Joe Prunty.
After an impressive 9-3 run prior to the All-Star break, Prunty and the Bucks have mustered only five wins. They’ve amassed nine losses, some of which came against weak opponents like the Detroit Pistons, LA Clippers and Orlando Magic.
Hovering at the 7 or 8 seed, the Bucks aren’t in immediate danger of losing a playoff spot as the ninth-seeded Pistons are 5.5 games behind. The statistics website 538 still pegs the Bucks with a 97% chance of making the playoffs, but it also ranks the Bucks as the worst projected playoff team.
The team’s slump, however, has only fueled rumors about a coaching change in the offseason.
The New York Times’ Marc Stein reported on Tuesday the top candidates the Bucks will target this summer for head coach include Jeff Van Gundy, Kevin McHale, Rick Pitino, Monty Williams and David Fizdale.
Even if the denials from the Bucks front office are true, Bucks fans should be worried.
There is so much wrong with most of this list that it’s hard to know where to begin. But we must begin somewhere, so let’s begin with the worst of it.
Rick Pitino. No, not some relative of the corrupt, former University of Louisville head basketball coach. It is that very same Rick Pitino.
The same one who was fired this past fall for allegedly being involved in an illegal “pay for play” scheme. The same one who is the only head coach to have a college basketball National Championship vacated from his record along with multiple Final Four wins. The same one who was suspended and whose program was put on probation for a scandal involving prostitutes and high school recruits.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg.
This is the Rick Pitino being linked to the Bucks head coaching job. I don’t care if he is the second coming of Pat Riley, he should not even be considered. You don’t want a head coach that’s mired in off-the-court issues (he is currently in a legal battle with Louisville) distracting the media, fans and organization as a whole. This isn’t rocket science.
I know we are getting close to April Fools, but sadly you can’t even joke about how bad of a hire this would be. He also has already had two unsuccessful stints in the NBA as a head coach. So there’s that too.
Okay, glad I got that off my chest. Now the obvious – or what should have been the obvious – is out of the way and we can go back to talking about basketball again.
Jeff Van Gundy was an excellent head coach. In his nine-year coaching career, he only missed the playoffs once and helped an eighth-seeded New York Knicks secure an NBA Finals berth, albeit in a lockout-shortened season.
Having coached Larry Johnson, Latrell Sprewell and Tracy McGrady, among others, he also has experience coaching star players. With Giannis due to take the reigns from LeBron James anytime now and Jabari Parker trying to get healthy, the Bucks could use such expertise. But there’s a problem: Van Gundy is really good at something else now.
Van Gundy is a really talented on-air NBA analyst for ESPN. Think Jon Gruden, but for basketball. He has been out of coaching for over 10 years now, and the game has changed dramatically in those years. Van Gundy coached Patrick Ewing and Yao Ming; that center archetype doesn’t really exist in the NBA anymore.
Maybe he could still be an excellent head coach, but that is a big gamble to take on a team with a shortening window.
Kevin McHale is in the same boat, but he was never really considered a great head coach. His only success was a Western Conference Finals run in 2015. If you’re going to go with a TV personality as a coach, Van Gundy is the better option. Both are still bad options.
That leaves us with only two viable replacements: Monty Williams, who has experience as a head coach of the New Orleans Pelicans, and David Fizdale, who was just fired from the Memphis Grizzlies earlier this season.
The bright spot for Williams is his varied experience. He has worked with a Giannis-type player in Anthony Davis, worked with numerous stars and egos as both an assistant for team USA and the Oklahoma City Thunder back in the Durant-Westbrook days, and has been the head coach of a smaller market team. You know you would be getting a guy who has been there, both as a player and a coach. He currently serves as the vice president of basketball operations for the San Antonio Spurs, so he may also have an edge in player scouting and development.
Fizdale brings high recommendations. Seemingly the only player in the NBA who was happy to see him go was Marc Gasol, which is important to note considering Gasol was his star player. But when future Hall of Famers Lebron James and Dwayne Wade instantly came to his defense after getting fired, it said a lot about him as a coach.
His gritty, no BS attitude also just seems like it would mesh well with the Milwaukee fan base.
All in all though, the rumors are scary. Besides Williams and Fizdale, who are very faint potential bright spots, these rumors offer up little hope in owning the future. If the Bucks are serious about a head coaching change this offseason, they need to explore other options because (I can’t even believe I have to say this) Rick Pitino does not even come close to cutting it.