Owners in the National Basketball Association don’t tend to be as ruthless as those in the NFL, but there are still some firings every year during the offseason. That has been the case this offseason in particular, and a couple of championship coaches have been relieved of their duties.
The Toronto Raptors and Milwaukee Bucks are both heading in new directions at the head coaching position, and neither firing was expected. These will also be two jobs that are covered by other coaches in the league, as both franchises have proven to be successful in recent years.
The NBA team stats for both the Raptors and Bucks are part of the reason that each coach has been fired, but there were other factors at play as well. News of a head coaching firing in Toronto had been rumored for a while, but the decision in Milwaukee came as a complete shock.
Raptors Fire Nick Nurse
The first major surprise firing came early in the offseason as the Toronto Raptors decided to move on from head coach Nick Nurse. This move came after several meetings between Nurse and team president Masai Ujiri.
It’s unclear if Nurse would have made a decision to walk away on his own as he had thought about that at points throughout the year. Nurse guided the Toronto Raptors to an NBA championship in 2019, which was the first and only one in league history.
Things have not gone well for the Raptors since that season, and the Raptors were eliminated from the play-in tournament after suffering a loss to the Chicago Bulls. The 2020 NBA Coach of the Year was unable to put his stamp on this team as they just continued to struggle to win big and important games.
Nurse was still owed $8 million, and had one year left on his contract. Next season was likely going to be his final season with the Raptors, but Ujiri was wanting to change things up and make a change for next season.
Bucks Make Surprising Move By Firing Budenholzer
The most surprising move during the NBA offseason was the Milwaukee Bucks firing of champion coach Mike Budenholzer. This news came shortly after the Milwaukee Bucks were bounced in the first round of the NBA Playoffs after being the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
Budenholzer still had two years remaining on his contract and was still owed approximately $16 million from the team. General manager Jon Horst made the announcement and thanked Budenholzer for his five great years on the bench in Milwaukee.
The past five years were some of the best in team history, and it included an NBA Championship during the 2020-21 season. Milwaukee has been a title contender during every year of his tenure, but getting upset by the number eight seed was enough for Horst to seek a change.
This is just the fourth time in the last 50 years in which the coach that led his team to the best record in the league will not be returning. Milwaukee is in a position in which it will have to try to convince Giannis Antetokounmpo to stay with the team, and Horst believed that a coach change was needed.
Milwaukee was actually considering moving on from Budenholzer after the 2020 season, but he responded by guiding his team to a title. He made some questionable coaching decisions during the 2023 NBA Playoffs, and that factored into the decision as well.
Udoka Will Be Candidate
Ime Udoka is expected to be a top candidate for both franchises, but he will have to prove that he is ready to get back into the league. Udoka was suspended by the Boston Celtics prior to the 2022-23 season for a violation of team rules.
The Celtics were expected to bring Udoka back after one year when the punishment was initially handed down, but that no longer feels like a possibility. Boston is happy with their new head coach, and it’s best for Udoka to move on and find a new team to lead.
That actually could have happened earlier this season, as Udoka was rumored to be a top choice of the Brooklyn Nets. News was circulating that a deal was almost in place before the Nets shifted gears and went with Jacque Vaughn.
The Milwaukee Bucks might have some interest in Udoka, but they will likely be the second choice when competing against the Raptors. Udoka and Masai Ujiri have a long relationship, and mutual interest could be a big reason that Toronto was comfortable moving on from Nurse at such a strange time.
What About Becky Hammon?
A woman has never been named the head coach of an NBA franchise, but that is likely going to be changing at some point. Becky Hammon is likely going to be the woman that breaks through the gender barrier, and it could be in one of these two openings.
Toronto did announce that Hammon would get an interview for the job, and she was seriously going to be considered for the opening. Hammon spent some time with Gregg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs and has also been doing a great job in the WNBA.
Both Coaches Will Find Jobs
Both Nurse and Budenholzer are not going to be unemployed long as both have proven that they know how to win with teams at the NBA level. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see either coach back in the NBA next season, and there will be some more openings that pop up as well.
Nick Nurse is expected to be a top candidate in Houston, and that would give him a chance to work with another young team. Budenholzer could end up being considered in Toronto, but it’s unclear if he will want to stay in the Eastern Conference.
These firings do keep up with a trend of teams firing championship coaches, as NBA owners are getting impatient after just one year of bad play. Since NBA teams are not able to make big changes to the roster every single year, taking a look at the coaching staff is one of the only options that remain.
Both of these coaching decisions were shocking, but they might not end up being the only moves that are made.