With an ugly Eastern Conference Finals defeat at the hands of the Toronto Raptors still looming in the background, Milwaukee Bucks general manager Jon Horst had plenty of work to do prior to the NBA’s 2019-20 season.
Restricted by limited cap space and the myriad of challenges that befall small-market franchises, the 36-year-old pulled off a series of miracles that he believed would keep the Bucks in championship contention.
Yes, Malcolm Brogdon’s defection to the Indiana Pacers was brutal, but Horst was able to re-sign All-Star Khris Middleton to a massive 5-year, $178 million deal and surround Giannis with complementary pieces like Wes Matthews, Kyle Korver and Robin Lopez, while George Hill and Brook Lopez returned to the fold as free agents. By all accounts, the Bucks deserved a round of applause for their offseason and were an early favorite to make the NBA Finals.
“I like the things we’ve done,” Horst told The Athletic prior to the season. “We love the group that we have right now. We feel very confident in the group we have right now. It’s a great place to be and to have a team that we think can be a top team in the conference, one of the best teams in the NBA.”
Fast forward to today and presumptive MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo is against the ropes.
“It’s not happening. That’s not happening,” he told Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports when asked if he’d be demanding a trade after the Bucks got curb stomped in the playoffs yet again. “Some see a wall and go in [another direction]. I plow through it. We just have to get better as a team, individually and get right back at it next season.”
Slight problem: There might not be anything to get right back to.
Considering it took all of five games for the Miami Heat to dismember the Bucks—and “dismember” is being gracious—heads are gonna roll. The roster Horst constructed was littered with holes, questions arose about The Greek Freak’s shortcomings and ability to lead a team and coach Mike Budenholzer sounds like a guy who’s about to be out of a job.
“It’s such a great group,” he told reporters after his team’s Game 5 loss on Tuesday. “We had high expectations starting the season, throughout the season, coming here. You always want to realize those expectations, but the relationships, the character of this group. I think it’d be great if we could have both, but I think if you’re going to choose one, I’d like to be with guys that are high character and stand for something.”
And I think his players would like to be with a coach who knows how to make adjustments in the playoffs instead of sticking to schemes and lineups that clearly ain’t working. Bud caught all types of hell for relying on Matthews and Marvin Williams (who retired within hours of the Bucks being eliminated) to carry him to the promised land against the Heat while burying Robin Lopez and Ersan Ilyasova on the bench and restricting Antetokounmpo’s and Middleton’s minutes.
I think it’s safe to say that those choices ended in catastrophe.
The NBA bubble created an atmosphere unlike any we’ve ever seen in professional sports and clearly it factored into the Bucks struggles. But in a league that demands immediate results, Horst better fix this mess before Antetokounmpo leaves for greener pastures.