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Bucks fire Adrian Griffin, with Doc Rivers his rumored replacement

Bucks head coach Adrian Griffin during practice prior to the start of the 2023-2024 season.
Milwaukee Bucks; Facebook
Bucks head coach Adrian Griffin during practice prior to the start of the 2023-2024 season.

UPDATE (12:06 p.m. Jan. 24): League sources have told The Athletic that the Bucks are hiring Doc Rivers as their next head coach (ESPN also reported the news here). The report comes one day after his predecessor, Adrian Griffin was dismissed.

For longtime fans of the Milwaukee Bucks, Tuesday afternoon’s news that the team fired head coach Adrian Griffin was an indicator of just how far the franchise has come.

If, just a few years ago, you told one of those diehards that the Bucks of 2024 have a 30-13 record, lead the Central Division, sit second in the Eastern Conference standings, average the second-most points in the entire league … and decided to part ways with their head coach, they’d scratch their heads until they looked like Scott Skiles.

Flash-forward to today, and the news of Griffin’s departure (first reported by The Athletic) more likely has those same diehards nodding their noggins than scratching them.

Anyone who has watched the Bucks on a regular basis suspected the record was window-dressing a house in disarray. The Athletic confirmed as much with team sources in another report, which laid out a litany of issues:

  • The Oct. 19 resignation of veteran assistant coach Terry Stotts, who “never really saw eye to eye on his role and responsibilities” and felt disrespected as a result.
  • A mediocre January that had players “question Griffin’s schemes on both sides of the floor and the strategy that was being laid out for them each night.”
  • An inability to communicate “his vision to his players for them to execute it on the floor.”

Things looked just as messy on the court as in the locker room, especially on the defensive end. An area of the floor that was rarely a worry under previous head coach Mike Budenholzer became a constant headache bemoaned by just about everyone, including 2019-2020 Defensive Player of the Year award winner Giannis Antetokounmpo. Milwaukee’s franchise player laid out his issues earlier this month after a loss to the Houston Rockets:

What is our strategy? Are we going to give a lot of open 3s? Are we going to let them get in the paint? When they go in the post, are we going to stay with ours and play one-on-one? What is our strategy? Right now, we are giving everything. We are giving everything. We are giving the 3s. We are giving straight-line drives. We are letting guys play in the post and get comfortable. We’re giving offensive rebounds.

It appears those questions went unanswered. More recently, the Bucks got pulled apart by the Cleveland Cavaliers in a Giannis-less 135-95 loss Jan. 17, and then needed some big efforts by their two biggest stars to avoid losing at least one and possibly both ends of back-to-back games against the Detroit Pistons — a team that just set a league record for consecutive losses in a single season with 28.

It’s hard to say when the last straw fell in the owners’ box. For their part, the leaders of the organization opted for a five-sentence press release Tuesday afternoon with a single statement from general manager Jon Horst. “This was a difficult decision to make during the season. We are working immediately toward hiring our next head coach. We thank Coach Griffin for his hard work and contributions to the team.”

“Difficult” is doing a lot of work in that quote. Are we talking “difficult” like calculus to a kindergartner or the word jumble on the back of a kids menu? Only the Bucks’ decision makers can say.

According to The Athletic report, they also plan on having a word or two with “informal consultant” Doc Rivers, who has been offering advice to Griffin at the behest of management since last month. The veteran NBA coach and title-winner with the Boston Celtics in 2008 is “the preferred choice of key stakeholders,” and his connections to the city that date back to his playing days at Marquette probably don’t hurt.

We’ll see whether the prospect of much more formally guiding this talent-laden roster is enough to pull Rivers out from behind the scorers table to prowl the sidelines in front of it. For now, assistant Joe Prunty will take over as interim head coach as the Bucks prepare for Wednesday night’s home game against the Cavaliers, with Horst planning to address the media prior to tip-off at a 5:15 p.m. news conference.