“He’s a great coach. He was the Coach of the Year in the 2015-2016 season,” the 23-year-old Antetokounmpo said on ESPN’s NBA Draft Combine show Thursday. “We had a great conversation (before Budenholzer was hired and) talked about the game plan. How he views me as a player, how he can help this team. I had a lot of tough questions for him. But it was fun, I’m excited to play for him.”
The Bucks announced on Thursday afternoon that they’d hired Budenholzer as their head coach.
The club negotiated a four-year deal with Budenholzer’s representative on Wednesday, hours after a breakfast meeting with Antetokounmpo and teammate Khris Middleton, league sources told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowksi.
Antetokounmpo said on Thursday that the Bucks’ decision to have him meet with Budenholzer before the coach was officially hired “meant a lot.”
“Obviously I’m not the guy that’s going to make the decision,” he added. “We can reverse that, like the front office is not going to tell me how to shoot a jump shot. I do my job; they do their part. But it was great having the conversation with him.”
The Bucks wanted Antetokounmpo and Middleton — especially Antetokounmpo, the franchise star — to have a sense of the prospective next Bucks coach and encouraged the players to sit down with Milwaukee’s preferred candidate before the organization extended a formal offer, league sources said.
In announcing the hire, the Bucks’ owners cited Budenholzer’s ability as a teacher.
“He’s widely respected and has shown a special ability to teach and develop players,” Bucks owners Wes Edens, Marc Lasry and Jamie Dinan said in a statement. “His leadership, basketball intellect, championship-level experience and communication skills make him the right fit to take our team to the next level.”
Budenholzer was previously with the Atlanta Hawks and parted ways with the club in April, after the two sides could no longer see a path together with the franchise’s rebuilding plans and new management structure.
Considered one of the NBA’s best tacticians, Budenholzer had been the Hawks’ president of basketball operations until surrendering front-office control with the arrival of general manager Travis Schlenk in the spring of 2017.
Budenholzer won his NBA Coach of the Year award after a 60-victory regular season and a trip to the Eastern Conference finals in 2016. He spent 17 years as an assistant under Spurs coach Gregg Popovich before his hiring in Atlanta in 2013.
The Bucks finished 44-38 this season and lost to the Boston Celtics in the first round of the NBA playoffs. Management fired Jason Kidd in late January and replaced him with assistant Joe Prunty before hiring Budenholzer.
The club has an important decision to make this summer with forward Jabari Parker. Parker will be a restricted free agent this summer and has shown that he has great promise. Since entering the league, though, the forward has endured two left ACL surgeries and missed 155 games.
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski contributed to this report.