MILWAUKEE — It was little more than a year ago that David Fizdale and Mike Budenholzer were making the rounds, interviewing for the vacant NBA coaching jobs, including both taking turns in New York.
You might think that Fizdale would hold a little envy or animosity toward Budenholzer because while he won out for the Knicks job in the summer of 2018, Budenholzer got the real prize, taking the Milwaukee Bucks job where he oversees the best team in the Eastern Conference and has at his disposal the reigning NBA Most Valuable Player, Giannis Antetokounmpo. But the two coaches forged a friendship long before they ever thought of competing for the multi-million dollar contracts leading teams and before the Bucks humbled Fizdale’s Knicks.
The difference between the fortunes of the two was on display at Fiserv Forum Monday as the Bucks could have named the score, leading by as many as 47 on their way to a 132-88 win over the Knicks.
The Bucks toyed with the Knicks, players taking turns piling up their night’s worth of statistics and highlights — led by Antetokounmpo’s 29 points and 15 rebounds in just 21 minutes. The usual chants for end of the bench players came early in the second half on this night as the Knicks, playing without Marcus Morris (cervical spasms) and Frank Ntilikina (strained upper back), were never in the game. It was still the third quarter when the fans chanted, “Warm up the bus,” which seemed almost kind at that point. When the benches were emptied it continued, an 11-0 run exciting what was left of the crowd as even Thanasis Antetokounmpo got in the act.
Still, Fizdale is admiring of the man who he landed the job at Madison Square Garden over, a decision that seems more like a prison sentence than a win right now.
“That’s my man,” Fizdale said before the two teams met Monday night on divergent paths, the Bucks winning their 12th consecutive game while the Knicks were at the bottom of the standings with seven straight losses, a 4-17 record, and had not pieced together two straight wins all season. “Superstars Camp in Santa Barbara, me and Bud were two camp counselors. I think I was just graduating from high school and Bud was in his first year in college. We go way back. It’s pretty cool now to see us doing our thing. I’m really happy for him the situation that he’s in.”
Both of them had long careers as assistant coaches and got their opportunities in lesser spotlights — Budenholzer with the Atlanta Hawks and Fizdale with the Memphis Grizzlies. But if Fizdale landed on the bigger stage, Budenholzer has taken charge of the better situation and earned NBA Coach of the Year honors last season.
Fizdale has been on a hot seat in New York. While last season was seen as a tanking season in New York, this time around the organization hoped to make a step forward by signing seven veteran free agents in the summer. But even that, paired with No. 3 overall pick RJ Barrett, has not made a difference. Barrett was 0-for-9 shooting, scoring just two points, Monday and he wasn’t alone. Dennis Smith was 1-for-7 for four points. Kevin Knox was 1-for-9 with five points.
But Fizdale insists that the two held no animosity or anxiety in competing for the same jobs last year.
“No, we all laugh about it, because we know that it’s such a fluctuating thing,” Fizdale said. “I was even talking to him because I was getting interviewed by Atlanta — tell me about Atlanta, what you went through, the ups and downs. We’ve all leaned on each other in different ways. He, myself, [Erik Spoelstra], we all come that same age. We’ve always tried to bounce things off each other and learn from each other. He’s just one of those guys, such a high character guy, he’s always there to help me when I need it.”