Once the up-and-coming darlings of the NBA, the Milwaukee Bucks are now in a much different position. After a couple of dominant regular seasons, they have collapsed in the playoffs in each of the last two seasons, including a highly surprising second-round exit in the bubble this summer.
At this point, there are major expectations for the club, and a general feeling that they have to prove themselves in the postseason if they want to continue to be taken seriously as a championship contender. Plus, of course, there's the whole Giannis Antetokounmpo situation -- if he doesn't sign his supermax extension before the Dec. 21 deadline he'll become a free agent next summer -- and winning would go a long way toward keeping him in Milwaukee long term.
Given the circumstances, you might rightly assume that the only acceptable outcome this season is a title. But that's not how Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer is approaching things. "To think that a season is championship or bust is certainly not how we've approached it," Budenholzer said on Thursday when speaking to reporters.
The immediate response, especially from Bucks fans, was shock and frustration. You don't have to look too hard to find hundreds of comments on Twitter about how Budenholzer needs to be fired, and it's not surprising why they feel that way. The Bucks have underperformed in two straight playoff runs, and Budenholzer's inability or disinterest in adjusting his style has played a role in that failure. Hearing him come out and temper expectations on Day 1 has to be annoying.
At the same time, this is just coach speak, and Budenholzer isn't dumb. He understands the stakes, and knows the Bucks need to win a title this season, or at the very least make the Finals. If they don't, he's likely going to be out of a job, and Giannis may be gone as well. While fans might be tired of his platitudes in press conferences, his main job is getting the best out of his team, and adding to the pressure they're already feeling but demanding a title in the media isn't going to help matters.
There's a lot of justifiable angst surrounding the Bucks right now, but the most important thing is how they perform on the floor. If they again struggle in the playoffs, and Budenholzer is still making stylistic and strategic errors, that's a lot more concerning than whether or not he publicly admits they need to win it all.