Milwaukee Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer calls to players during the...

Milwaukee Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer calls to players during the first half of Game 2 of an Eastern Conference semifinal against the Boston Celtics in the NBA basketball playoffs Tuesday, May 3, 2022, in Boston. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa) Credit: AP/Charles Krupa

For the first time since February, there’s clarity on the Nets’ search to find their next coach.

The Athletic reported Saturday that former Milwaukee Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer is a finalist for the job. Other finalists are Kings associate coach Jordi Fernandez and Suns associate coach Kevin Young.

Nets owner Joe Tsai is expected to have in-person meetings with the finalists, and a decision could come soon.

It explains why Tsai was seen courtside for at least two recent games. He was at the Nets’ April 6 win over the Pistons at Barclays Center three weeks after watching the Nets’ March 17 loss to the Spurs in Austin.

General manager Sean Marks said in February that he and Tsai would work together to decide the team’s next coach. With that statement, it also was understood that Marks will continue in his role next season.

“Joe and I will make this decision and he has given me no reason to believe that I won’t be able to make that decision,” Marks said.

Budenholzer — the highest-profile coach available — as a finalist is an obvious play. He led the Bucks to the 2021 NBA championship, including a win over the Nets in the Eastern Conference semifinals. He’s also a two-time Coach of the Year.

The Bucks fired him last season after a first-round loss to the Heat in the playoffs.

Given Budenholzer’s track record, that’s the type of coach the Nets need. They fell off the national radar this season and further behind the Knicks, who are making a second straight playoff push. They need someone who can command respect in the locker room with a proven track record.

Marks also has history with Budenholzer. When Marks played for the Spurs, Budenholzer was an assistant under Gregg Popovich.

As for Fernandez and Young, their names have come up in other coaching searches, including the Hornets’ vacancy. Fernandez spent two seasons with the Kings. Before that, he spent six with the Nuggets.

Young has been with the Suns the last four seasons. That includes 2 1⁄2 seasons with Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson before their trade to the Nets in February 2023.

The Nets have promoted assistants before, as Marks hired Kenny Atkinson and Jacque Vaughn. But can he hitch his fourth coaching hire to a first-time NBA head coach?

Marks knows that general managers rarely get to hire a fifth, so it’s imperative for him to get this right. A promising assistant coach isn’t a bad start. A former head coach would make it clear that the Nets realize the urgency of their situation.

The current roster has talent and strong veteran leadership, as Bridges affirmed that he’s committed to help things improve.

“My intention is definitely to stay here,” said Bridges, who has two years left on his contract. “I got nowhere else to be.”

It’s another reason the Nets are wise to pursue experienced coaches as much as young assistants. With the finalists list revealed, it’s up to Marks and Tsai to figure out their most important move this offseason.

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