The Bucks Restart Here

Tomorrow night, the Milwaukee Bucks will try an complete the back half of a two-game homestand against the Cleveland Cavaliers with what could be their fourth consecutive win.  With, in all likelhood, their third different coach.

Only in an NBA with epic expectations would the first head coach firing of the 2023-24 season be of someone with a mere 43 games of coaching experience, 30 of which had resulted in victories.   If Adrian Griffin never gets another head coaching job, he will be forever tied at .698 with Philadelphia 76ers great Billy Cunningham, who led the “fo-fo-fo” team of Moses Malone and Julius Erving to the title 41 seasons ago.

But Bucks management isn’t quite as invested in historic comparisons as many others are. nor do they appear to be all that motivated by what others see as success.  After all, they won their first NBA title in 52 seasons a mere two seasons ago, and already the guy who led them to that, Mike Budenholzer, was out of a job.  As BUCKS ZONE’s Matthew Dugandzic pointed out in an X-eet from HOOP MIX ONLY, here was Griffin’s CV:

30-13 record — 2nd in East — 1st in Offense — 2nd in PPG — 5th in 3PM — 3rd in FG% And they fired him👀

But those in the know know that to a team that is wholly committed to winning NOW, that doesn’t matter.  SB NATION’s Harrison Faigen attempted to explain it in his article from yesterday:

The vibes had been off all season, however, and it turned out two straight tight wins over the league-worst Detroit Pistons weren’t enough to stay management’s hand from dismissing their embattled rookie coach to seek a more established voice.

All the way back in training camp, the signs of Griffin maybe not being the greatest people manager started to percolate, most notably when he reportedly yelled at lead assistant coach Terry Stotts in front of the whole team during training camp (via The Athletic):

According to sources who witnessed Tuesday’s events, Griffin wrapped up the shootaround and called the team together for a huddle to close out the day and let the players get to post-shootaround shooting drills. During that huddle, Griffin informed the coaches that he wanted to have a separate huddle with them once they wrapped things up.

When the players and coaches broke the huddle, Stotts went in the opposite direction of the coaches’ huddle and instead started walking toward players to discuss the offense. As Stotts attempted to start a conversation with Lillard and Giannis Antetokounmpo, Griffin called to Stotts to join the coaching huddle. When Stotts asked for some time with the players, Griffin yelled for Stotts to join the coaches’ huddle. The incident occurred in front of the entire team, those sources said.

And since Stotts was supposed to be the calming influence for newcome Damien Lilliard, who he coached with the Portland Trail Blazers for years before, that didn’t sit well with those who orchestrated that trade.  Nor did incidents like this:

In December, leaks to Bleacher Report’s Chris Haynes revealed that veteran forward Bobby Portis called out Griffin in front of the entire team after their In-Season Tournament loss to the Indiana Pacers:

As one of the leaders of the team, Portis continued on voicing his concerns. Griffin welcomed the criticism and acknowledged he could do a better job being more aggressive with his play-calling, sources say. The nine-year veteran explained that it’s a two-way street: direction is needed and then it’s up to the players to execute, sources say.

Things only snowballed from there. Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated tweeted on Tuesday that there had been “steady rumblings for weeks in NBA circles that several Bucks veterans, including Giannis, had lost faith in Griffin.

To his credit, Greek Freak now claims that he was indifferent to all of this.  As Dugandzic tells it:

Reports had it that Giannis’ relationship with Adrian had soured and that it played a huge role in the sudden firing of Griffin just 43 games into his run with the Bucks. In shooting down such a notion, the Greek Freak said he himself hates seeing players or coaches unceremoniously dismissed.  This is the thing I don’t like about the NBA. It’s a crazy business. Yesterday, coach Griff was our head coach. Today he’s not. I don’t like that about the NBA, and I speak openly about it. But I understand it. It’s a business. People being traded, people being waived, people have to change their whole lives just like that,” said Giannis.

But Bucks management does already have $156 million invested in Antetokounmpo, and they want more than one title out of that investment.  So they now have found what they see as the adult in the room with Doc Rivers, who had already been “informally advising” both Griffin and the team, even as he was ostenisbly an ESPN analyst and an occasional contributor to Bill Simmons’ podcast.  The deal with Rivers was finally secured late yesterday well after Simmons personally reported it was a done deal the day before.  He’s conflicted, poor thing, as the Bucks are chasing his beloved Celtics for the NBA East top seed.

Except Rivers has blown far more leads in playoff series than the 2008 title he won with the Celts.  Ask a Clippers fan.  Ask a Sixers fan.  Rivers, of course, will always tell anyone who will care to listen his track record should have been a lot better–he was missing a healthy Kendrick Perkins in a later Boston series, for example, he never had a full deck to play in LA come playoff time, and he had to suffer through disinterested and yip-infected underperfomers like Ben Simmons and James Harden in Philadelphia.

So now he takes over a team that at least on paper is already a winner and a contender.  With an unmistakable thirst for a second ring for both Giannis that they hope Doc still has.

Look, it’s Wisconsin in January.  Spring is still far off.  We all need something to hope for.

So good luck, Doc and your new bosses.  Let’s hope you have less to bitch about with Bill come the summer.


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