When Adrian Griffin was hired to be the Bucks’ next head coach this past summer, there was some excitement about him bringing on former Bucks and Blazers head coach Terry Stotts as his top lieutenant on the bench. Beyond the neat story of his return to Milwaukee—he was an assistant under George Karl from 1998–2002 before getting his first head coaching job in Atlanta, then taking over in Milwaukee in 2005 until being fired in 2007—and his longtime reputation for offensive prowess, Damian Lillard’s acquisition meant the two were reunited after nine years together in Portland. That seemed to make it an even better fit for the franchise.
Apparently not, according to Stotts himself, who resigned this morning:
Terry Stotts has stepped down as an assistant coach with the Milwaukee Bucks, sources tell ESPN. Stotts returned to coaching after two years away to join Adrian Griffin’s new staff but has decided that he won’t continue in that role.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) October 19, 2023
It’s very irregular for an assistant to leave his post one week before the regular season begins. There certainly will be speculation of discord between Stotts and the Bucks’ stars, particularly Lillard, as well as between Stotts and Griffin. With Lillard, though, it seems unlikely: Dame has gone on record a couple times speaking to his fondness for Stotts. Lillard was drafted in 2012, just barely a month before Portland hired Stotts, and the two were together until Stotts’ exit after the 2020–21 season. Those Blazers squads made the playoffs eight times, advancing thrice and reaching the Western Conference Finals in 2019.
Given the longstanding relationship between the two, there was a lot of excitement surrounding the Bucks’ offense this year. Stotts’ Blazers routinely were one of the league’s most efficient scoring units, finishing third or better in offensive rating four times. Even before the Lillard trade, many fans were optimistic that he would instantly improve an oft-moribund halfcourt offense, particularly in the playoffs.
Now, for whatever reason, those responsibilities will fall elsewhere on the staff. While losing an assistant coach is rarely—if ever—a season-altering move, it’s tough to look at this any other way than skeptically. There may be a perfectly rational reason for Stotts stepping away (he is 65 years old, after all) that we don’t know and may never know. It’s also possible the relationship with his new superior in Griffin wasn’t what Stotts was hoping for. At present, there’s no way to know.
If anything further comes out regarding Stotts or his replacement as Milwaukee’s lead assistant, we’ll be here with updates.
Update: Per the Journal Sentinel, “The Journal Sentinel confirmed the decision, and a league source said that after going through the bulk of training camp and four preseason games a fit never materialized between [Stotts and Griffin]. Stotts, 65, is not retiring and still plans on coaching.”
Update #2: Adrian Griffin speaks (we’ll keep an eye out for a recorded presser)
Griffin: “Of course. It caught all of us off guard, of course, but again, you just support him. He was a terrific guy. I learned a lot from him in a very short time. He was really good at what he does. He made a decision – a personal decision – and we just have to respect that.”— Eric Nehm (@eric_nehm) October 19, 2023