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The Milwaukee Bucks didn’t spend their time actively searching for a head coach following the dismissal of Jason Kidd and promotion of Joe Prunty. They had a season to focus on and Prunty would be their coach for the duration.
Behind the scenes, though — as any company would do — the team started to catalog information and do its due diligence for a potential search for a full-time coach.
With the end of the season coming last week via a Game 7 loss to the Boston Celtics in the first round of the NBA playoffs, the team’s time to choose a path regarding its coaching situation has come. The process that had been an undercurrent has now taken center stage and is set to get off and running.
According to an ESPN report published on Friday night, San Antonio Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon will interview for the team’s head-coaching position.
The Bucks met with Hammon last year about the team’s general manager opening, despite the fact that she had no front-office experience. She is the NBA’s first female assistant coach and has been with the Spurs since 2014.
According to general manager Jon Horst, who just completed his first season at that position, the interview process for head-coaching candidates will begin as soon as Saturday.
“We have a really thought-out plan and process in place,” Horst said Friday afternoon. “I think if you do that and you do your due diligence and you are intentional about the way that you conduct a search and conduct interviews and the candidates that you bring in to be part of that process — which Joe will be part of — I think you get a great result at the end of it.
“It doesn’t mean that you’re going to be right 100% of the time, but I think I’ve said this before, I think you limit the opportunities to be wrong. I think, quite simply, that’s how you transition.”
Horst didn’t clarify the order or number of interviews that will take place. He did specify that Prunty had earned the right to compete for the job he held for the final 37 games of the regular season and playoffs after being elevated to the top spot on the bench following Kidd’s firing on Jan. 22.
Considering that abrupt shift, along with unexpected back-to-back injuries to Malcolm Brogdon and Matthew Dellavedova in the two weeks following the coaching change, Horst believes Prunty did a good job in keeping the team together.
“Those guys picked up and moved on quickly and kept our team kind of rolling along,” Horst said.
“I think we were 21-16 in the back half of the season with Joe and went to a Game 7 in the first round of the playoffs against a team that I think maybe the league — I don’t think we by any means underestimated them — but I think the league to some extent underestimated them because of injuries. I think we can all clearly see right now that they’re pretty darn good.”
Of course, Prunty’s body of work wasn’t so convincing as to dissuade the Bucks from embarking on a coaching search. The vacant position, currently one of four in the league, is arguably the best available job considering the Bucks are the only playoff team searching for a coach and they have a roster featuring superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo that’s ready-made to reach the playoffs year after year.
There has already been significant interest and outside of Prunty. There are already four former head coaches — David Blatt of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Mike Budenholzer of the Atlanta Hawks, Steve Clifford of the Charlotte Hornets, Monty Williams of the New Orleans Pelicans and current Spurs associate head coach Ettore Messina — who are expected to interview for the job soon.
It’s possible that list could continue to grow during the search. Assistant coaches on teams still in the playoffs could jump into the mix even before their teams are eliminated from the playoffs provided their teams and schedules allow them time to interview. Also, international or college coaches could be considered and brought in for interviews.
The goal for Horst and the Bucks is to get the right person for the position, which means making sure no stone goes unturned even if that means the process takes time.
“We’d like to have someone in place in a timely manner, but we’re not going to rush to a decision,” Horst said. “We’re not going to hire someone just to hire them. You have decisions like the draft, free agency, acclimating to the team, things like that that matter, so we’ll have that as a focus. But at the end of the day, we’ll take as long as we need to to get the right person.”
What the “right person” looks like has a lot to do with finding someone who fits with the established system, culture and environment of the Bucks, Horst says. Undoubtedly, finding a strong tactician — someone who can adapt, be creative and maximize the talents of the players on the roster — is important.
Finding the person who has those on-court coaching skills while also meshing with the organization from top to bottom, including the players, front office and ownership, is critical. That doesn’t mean finding someone who robotically falls into line with what the team’s existing apparatus wants to do.
Rather, Horst is looking for a partner who can use their experience and insight to add the most value to the team and share in building a team that can compete for championships.
“You never want groupthink,” Horst said. “You want different ideas, want different approaches, different perspectives. When I say partner, I truly mean that. (President) Peter (Feigin) is not over here trying to run basketball and I’m not over there trying to run business, but we share in the successes and failures of this team being the top executives of the organization and that coach is going to be in the same boat as us.
“So we have to have a relationship and an environment where we can share ideas, where we can be critical in the right ways, where we can be supportive in the right ways to get to a great result that ultimately drives the entire organization in the direction that we want to go.
“Because if we don’t work together it’s not going to work.”
Matt Velazquez covers the Bucks for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, part of the USA TODAY Network.