By GERY WOELFEL
The Milwaukee Bucks are rolling.
They are in the Eastern Conference Finals and boast a 2-1 advantage going into Monday night’s Game 4 in their best-of-seven game series against the Atlanta Hawks. Barring an unforeseen collapse, the Bucks will be heading to the Finals for the first time since 1974.
Considering the enviable position the Bucks are in, one would assume the Bucks hierarchy would be elated with head coach Mike Budenholzer.
But that apparently isn’t the case. In fact, some league sources said Budenholzer’s status with the team still remains murky.
“I’d say it’s 50-50 whether he stays on,’’ said a league source, familiar with the Bucks’ owners. “You’d think they’d keep him but they’re still working through some internal issues.
“I know they (the Bucks brass) has been talking about whether they want to keep going forward with him.’’
The source wasn’t specific about Bucks management’s concerns with Budenholzer, but some officials, in and out of the organization, contend he is pompous and at time dictatorial.
And there continues to be speculation about Budenholzer’s relationship with star forward Giannis Antetokounmpo. Budenholzer and Antetokoumpo, according to some people close to the situation, insist they have had a “business-like’’ relationship and nothing more.
One Bucks official said Antetokounmpo, a two-time NBA Most Valuable Player, exerted his clout early in Budenholzer’s tenure in Milwaukee when he confronted Budenholzer after Budenholzer openly criticized another Bucks employee.
“Giannis basically told Bud, ‘This isn’t the way we treat people here,’ ‘’ the source said.
There was ample speculation just a few weeks ago Budenholzer was on his way out when the Bucks lost the first two games to Brooklyn in the second round of the playoffs.
But, with Brooklyn banged up – Kyrie Irving didn’t play the last three games and James Harden missed almost four complete games in the series – the Bucks bounced back to barely beat the Nets 115-111 in overtime in Game 7.
Then, the Bucks were stunned by the Hawks in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals in Milwaukee and talk of Budenholzer’s future with the team resurfaced.
Budenholzer, 51, is in his third season with the Bucks. He has enjoyed considerable success during the regular season, compiling an impressive three-year record of 162-65 – a .714 winning percentage..
But the Bucks, whom many observers regarded as title contenders for the last three seasons, have struggled in postseason play. The Bucks lost to Toronto two years ago in the EC Finals and then were shocked by Miami in the second round last season.
This season, the Bucks blew out the Heat in the opening round before catching a huge breaks against both Brooklyn and now Atlanta. The Hawks suffered a major blow when star guard Trae Young suffered a foot bruise late in the third quarter of a tight Game 3. His status for the rest of the playoffs is uncertain.
Additionally, Hawks’ sharpshooter Bogdan Bogdanovic is far from 100 percent, dealing with a bum knee, and the Hawks continues to be without talented young forward De’Andre Hunter, who is sidelined with a small tear of the lateral meniscus in the right knee. Hunter is out for the season.
“You always need a little luck in the playoffs; they’ve had a lot of luck,’’ an NBA official said of the Bucks.
Whether that luck continues and the Bucks can win their first NBA championship since 1971 remains to be seen. So, too, is Budenholzer’s time in Milwaukee.