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To Unlock Giannis, Mike Budenholzer Will Need to Get the Best Out of Giannis’s Teammates

The new Bucks coach inherits a roster with one of the best players in the game, but can he take a spotty supporting cast to the next level?

Washington Wizards v Atlanta Hawks - Game Three Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images

Nothing beats a good breakfast. It seems Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, and Mike Budenholzer agree. Wednesday’s reported morning feast in Milwaukee between the trio appears to have been the final stage of the Bucks’ coaching search, as Budenholzer reportedly agreed to be the team’s next head coach later that afternoon. The breaking of bread between the three was the final step in the vetting process, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski; Milwaukee wanted to give its two best players the power of stamping the final seal of approval on the Bucks’ next coach.

Bud and the Bucks appeared meant for each other ever since the latter was bounced out of the playoffs after a first-round performance as tragic as Joe Prunty’s sartorial choices; Budenholzer, meanwhile, parted ways with the rebuilding Atlanta Hawks days before. The Bucks reportedly interviewed a number of candidates, including Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon, but they landed on the right choice. Budenholzer, who spent five seasons in Atlanta after almost two decades on Gregg Popovich’s bench, is exactly the type of experienced coach Milwaukee needs to ensure it’ll be a fixture in the top of the East for years to come.

It was clear that Budenholzer wanted to go to a contender, and that he chose the 7-seed Bucks over the 1-seed Raptors (who were also reportedly interested) is telling. The Bucks have Giannis, sure, but perhaps more importantly, they have room to grow. (Budenholzer, of all people, knows the pitfalls of a star-less team that can roll up regular-season wins but stalls out in the playoffs.)

Milwaukee’s depth chart isn’t exactly chock-full of talent, but its pieces—Middleton, Thon Maker, Eric Bledsoe—have potential that went untapped under Prunty’s … interesting half-season after taking over for Jason Kidd. Budenholzer will amend that. And it may not take that long, either. Following a 38-win season to open his Atlanta tenure in 2013-14, Budenholzer helped lift the Hawks to 60 wins, the 1-seed in the East, and a spot in the conference finals the following season. After witnessing the heights that Playoff Al Horford can reach this year, maybe he didn’t necessarily max out his personnel. But he sent four starters to the 2015 All-Star Game and helped his entire starting lineup earn Player of the Month in the same month.

In Milwaukee, the scenario won’t be exactly the same because Bud will be coaching the best player he’s ever had under his tutelage as a head coach (though he was a voice on the bench during the heydey of Tim Duncan). Giannis presents limitless possibilities; getting to figure out how to utilize them is a coaching dream. But the key to this job will be molding a proper roster around his superstar—something his predecessors struggled to do.

Both Bucks head coaches encountered issues this season. During Kidd’s tenure, Milwaukee was top-10 on offense, but bottom-10 on defense. Under Prunty, it improved to a middle-of-the-pack (15th) defense, but stagnated offensively. General manager Jon Horst will be faced with various crucial personnel decisions this offseason, most notbaly with restricted free agent Jabari Parker, who was not at the breakfast meeting with Bud. But even if they decide to walk away from Parker, the former no. 2 overall pick, their options are limited; Milwaukee already has $103.4 million committed next season (against a projected cap of $101 million), with about $30 million alone being spent on John Henson, Tony Snell, and Matthew Dellavedova. It’s kind of on Bud to elevate this team through sheer scheming and player development—both of which he excelled at in Atlanta when he had the talent. DeMarre Carroll, for instance, went from a journeyman to a $58 million player under his watch.

Giannis will take even greater leaps in the years to come regardless of who’s coaching him. But for his team success to match his prodigious talents, Antetokounmpo will need Bud to craft the right context around him.