Serge Ibaka says Bucks exit was over communication issues around playing time

NBA veteran Serge Ibaka broke down his split with the Milwaukee Bucks in an interview with The Athletic’s Shams Charania on Thursday, saying he “couldn’t take what was happening anymore” as his playing time dwindled without, he said, adequate communication from the team. Here’s what you need you know:

  • Ibaka, 33, said he signed with Milwaukee knowing he wasn’t going to play as much as he wanted to and that he had talked about the situation with former coach Mike Budenholzer before signing. “(Budenholzer) told me to my face: Listen, you’re coming here, I promise you nothing — but you never know it’s a long season, guys can have injuries, you have to stay ready,” Ibaka said.
  • But then, Ibaka said, things became more “confusing” when his name wasn’t called when other players got hurt, and he was instead asked to play “when guys come back from injuries.” He said it was a lack of communication that was the issue.
  • Ibaka added: “When I go talk to the front office, they tell me different things. They love me. They want me to be there, they want me to stay. And when I go back on the court, it’s different. It got to some point where I cannot take this anymore. I love this game so much, but if this is going to take my peace of mind, my joy, it’s not worth it. I earned my respect in this league. At least communicate. I’m not asking about playing, I’m just asking for communication.”

What else Ibaka said

Ibaka added that he was in a similar playing time situation with the Los Angeles Clippers (from 2020-2022, before being traded to the Bucks), but felt it was handled better.

“I was with the Clippers. One thing I respect so much about Ty Lue, he used to call me in the morning. ‘This week, I’m going with the young fellas.’ ‘OK, cool. Perfect. No problem,’” Ibaka said. “Like it or not, at the end of the day, I have to be professional. At least I know the next two weeks, I have to work. And when something changes or something comes up, he calls me in the office, ‘Listen, Serge. Tonight, I think I will put you in. Be ready.’ Or ‘I don’t know. I’m not sure yet.’ That’s it.”

The Athletic’s instant analysis:

Ibaka’s comments sound familiar

During the season, neither Ibaka nor the team talked much about his exit from Milwaukee, but in this interview, Ibaka revealed that his biggest problem in Milwaukee was not his lack of playing time in Milwaukee, but rather the lack of communication from Budenholzer as Ibaka was not getting a chance to prove himself on the floor. After the Bucks’ first-round exit to the Heat, veteran forward Jae Crowder also voiced concern over the lack of communication about his role in Milwaukee and what was expected from him during the Bucks’ postseason run. The Bucks moved on from Budenholzer shortly after the season, but this interview helps reveal part of the reasoning that might have gone into that decision. — Nehm

What this means for the Bucks

While Budenholzer is no longer part of the organization, this interview with Ibaka helps show what new coach Adrian Griffin is going to need to do to be successful in Milwaukee. Expectations are high in Milwaukee and winning another championship is the goal, which means general manager Jon Horst typically tries to build a deep roster with lots of options for the head coach. But only nine or ten players are going to play each night, so that means there are going to be players outside of the rotation that feel they deserve to be on the floor and Griffin is going to have to navigate that with high levels of communication. In Ibaka’s opinion, Budenholzer did not do that well last season. Griffin will need to avoid players feeling the same way in his first season in Milwaukee. — Nehm


Ibaka and the Bucks mutually agreed in January to find him a new home via trade as he remained away from the team for “personal reasons.” He was traded to the Pacers, who then waived him, at the deadline in February. Ibaka played in 16 games last season, averaging 4.1 points in 11.6 minutes.

Ibaka became an NBA champion in 2019 with the Toronto Raptors and three-time All-Defensive team member. He also previously played for the Oklahoma City Thunder and Orlando Magic.

The Bucks announced they parted ways with Budenholzer on May 4. He coached the team for five seasons and led the Bucks to their second NBA title in 2021.

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(Photo: Jeff Hanisch / USA Today)

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