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BREAKING: Bucks fire head coach Adrian Griffin, Joe Prunty again interim coach, Doc Rivers seen as likely replacement

Griff barely made it half a season

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Sacramento Kings v Milwaukee Bucks Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images

For months, discussion around new Bucks’ head coach Adrian Griffin swelled on and off into an at-times pitched debate, as fans—and indeed players—pointed out the team’s major issues and how Griffin wasn’t fixing them. It appears that now, after just 43 games and tied for the second-best record in the league, Milwaukee has seen enough, per Bleacher Report’s Chris Haynes:

Now, who will be taking the reins in the near term? If you’ve been a Bucks fan since 2017 or so, you already know:

Six years and one day ago (January 22, 2018), Prunty took over after the firing of Jason Kidd, and helmed the team through the playoffs. Apparently, Prunty will not have the rest of the season as he did this time, as there are already reports that the Bucks will quickly move to find a veteran successor:

It’s probably safe to say that Doc Rivers is not atop many fans’ lists after years of postseason failures with the Sixers and Clippers, but he might be the best name out there right now... unless the Bucks want to bring back a certain former head coach.

As for Griff, after fifteen-plus years as an NBA assistant and reportedly over a dozen interviews, Griffin was hired on June 5th, reportedly as Giannis Antetokounmpo’s preferred candidate among three finalists. He made it just under eight months, and you can bet that Giannis signed off on today’s move too, and it seems likely that other players were probably on board, given reports from inside the locker room in recent months.

We’ll have much, much more on the Bucks’ sudden head coaching search—eight months after their last one—but for now, let us know what you think. Was this too soon? Is the season now in peril? Are the title chances for this year dashed, or does this increase them?

UPDATE 1: It appears that rumors of the team’s discontent with Griff were well-founded, as was speculation that Giannis wasn’t on board:

UPDATE 2: Reporting from Shams Charania, Sam Amick, and former BHer Eric Nehm in The Athletic suggests that Doc Rivers has been involved with the current team for quite some time:

Apparently, Doc Rivers “began to serve as an informal consultant to Griffin at the behest of the Bucks. One month later, multiple sources briefed on the matter now indicate that Rivers is the serious leader for the now-vacant position and the preferred choice of key stakeholders.” So the smart money is on Doc taking over.

Another nugget from the story is that there were internal concerns “growing about the severe decline of their once-elite defense, the flawed use of newcomer Damian Lillard alongside franchise centerpiece Giannis Antetokounmpo and a widespread fear that this group, which was widely expected to contend for a title, was likely to fall short if they stood pat.” That skepticism grew beginning during December’s In-Season Tournament, which is also when Rivers became a consultant, as the Bucks organized a meeting between him and Griffin.

Shams states that Bucks have apparently also started talking to Rivers about taking over as head coach, though Woj disagrees. Warriors’ assistant Kenny Atkinson—who was a finalist for the job that went to Griffin last May—will be their route if they can’t agree with Rivers.

UPDATE 3: Marc Stein has some further intel on the situation. Two weeks ago, a trusted insider told him “heard [Terry] Stotts would be coaching the Bucks today if he was still here.” He also points the finger—probably justifiably—at Giannis for this debacle. Stein first told us that Griffin was Giannis’ preferred candidate, at least among the three finalists (Griffin, Atkinson, and Nick Nurse). He now tells us that Giannis’ “desire to play for Griffin is better described as a determination to play for someone other than Nick Nurse.”

Obviously, the star player’s opinion should be solicited in a coaching hire. I—and I’m sure most Bucks fans—can understand why Giannis didn’t want to play for Nurse. Zach Lowe mentioned recently on his podcast that the opinion to hire Griffin might not have been unanimous/the first choice among the higher-ups, but they went with Giannis’ guy because sources say he didn’t want to play for Nurse.

Maybe that helped convince Giannis to sign his extension. And neither he or Griffin had foreseen the Dame trade, which I think we can guess was the main factor in Giannis extending. Getting Giannis to extend again was undoubtedly the most important thing the franchise had to get done, and they did it, but do the ends justify the means?

UPDATE 4: Haynes, the original breaker of the story, has more details too. GM Jon Horst and assistant GM Milt Newton began more closely scrutinizing Griffin at practices and shootarounds. That’s pretty standard, but usually they’re not on the sidelines as Horst and Newton were.

Their calculus changed, as you might expect, after the Lillard trade as well. Sounds like there was some serious uncertainty when hiring Griffin about a number of things: Khris Middleton re-signing, Brook Lopez re-signing, and of course Giannis extending. The franchise thought they might take a step back in 2023–24 and were ok with a first-time head coach. Once they had the opportunity to add Lillard, though, the stakes were raised significantly.

Players were complaining and questioning about things a head coach has some control over, like schemes, roles, and touches. Griffin tried to get them to air their grievances, and even held a meeting with the big four of Giannis, Lillard, Middleton, and Brook Lopez. Griffin sternly told the players that sacrifices would need to be made in response to the players telling him how they best could be utilized and called them out for not hustling enough on defense.

Sounds like the players did actually appreciate that session, and lo and behold, the Bucks won their next seven games. But with wins not being convincing enough, “bickering” persisted in the locker room. With all that, Haynes describes Griffin as having “lost the locker room” and convincing the front office to make a “drastic change.”

Haynes also reports that Milwaukee is considering former coach and ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy, who hasn’t coached in the NBA since the second Bush administration, and former Pacers/Hawks head coach Nate McMillan, in addition to Rivers.

UPDATE 5: Rivers has been hired as head coach.