Adrian Griffin was set up to fail from the beginning. His appointment as head coach of the Milwaukee Bucks felt like a turbulent marriage. Signing a deal to take on one of the most pressure-filled jobs in the NBA and then bringing on former Bucks coach Terry Stotts as an assistant, only to be instructed by management to hire Damian Lillard’s former head coach as an assistant, felt like being at a shotgun wedding. The writing was on the wall for Griffin from the moment Stotts was hired as a pseudo-offensive coordinator.
It turned out that Stotts wasn’t the only coach the management was toying with. Doc Rivers was originally brought in as an advisor to Griffin at the behest of the Bucks when they were hired in May 2023. They again turned to Rivers to serve as an assistant to Griffin after the in-season tournament. It was clear from the start that Griffin wasn’t cut out for the job. He was just a placeholder. You know the old saying? Don’t let your girlfriend stop you from meeting your wife? Yes, that applies here.
When one door closes, another one usually leads Rivers. As soon as Griffin’s tenure was fired, the Pro-Doc PR machine started churning more efficiently than a presidential campaign. With insiders from Shams Charania to Adrian Wojnarowski reporting that Rivers was being considered as the top candidate to replace Griffin, it was as if Rivers might run on a third-party ticket. Rivers‘ name was mentioned as a candidate to replace Monty Williams as head coach of the Phoenix Suns this summer, but the push feels more direct now.
Ranked 30:13 at the start of the season, Griffin had more the aura of a decorative statue than a respected authority at the bench. Giannis Antetokounmpo’s preference for playing for Griffin while negotiating a contract extension helped him get the job, but less than a month into the season, Antetokounmpo left Griffin sitting at the scoring table. The perimeter defense has been in shambles since Lillard was taken over in the Jrue Holiday trade, and there have been no solutions in sight.
If anything, Griffin made it worse by exacerbating their problems through the introduction of an aggressive defensive system based on pressuring one of the league’s worst defensive players and forcing turnovers. That remained at the expense, and luckily Lillard and Antetokounmpo were offensively outstanding enough to keep Milwaukee in contention for the top spot. Their ambitions are higher.
But the expectation was that Griffin would at least make David Blatt stick around, at least for the playoffs, maybe even for a quarter of the next season. Teams on the verge of number one don’t normally shoot their head coaches out of the cannon, so there was reason to believe he would get a chance to grow into the job. Instead, the Bucks ended his tenure after 43 games, the third shortest stint in NBA history. The only shorter stints were Bob Weiss‘ 30 games as Sonics coach after 11 years as an assistant, and Jerry Tarkanian’s 9-11 record in 20 games with San Antonio. The Bucks wanted Griffin gone so badly that they locked him with a record of 17 games OVER .500, possibly to make room for Rivers.
Warriors assistant Kenny Atkinson is also a candidate, but who are we kidding? That’s Rivers‘ job to lose. Firing a head coach mid-season is always a delicate move, but Antetokounmpo’s growing frustration, Lillard’s decline in play and engagement on offense, and a downturn sparked the Bucks into action. There simply aren’t many real championship-caliber coaches hovering around like this summer near the All-Star break. Trae Young hasn’t been around Quin Snyder long enough to throw his body overboard into the abyss of unemployment, so the pipeline is no longer supplied.
The shallow field is Rivers‘ gain. Perhaps it’s the nickname that gives him a credibility he no longer quite has. Since 2008, Rivers‘ career has seen rough patches and potholes, and he has led at least three franchise organizations into the abyss, but Rivers‘ agent always finds a way to damage organizations from within. Rivers has more lives than Jason Voorhees.
It’s also disheartening to see Philadelphia’s more offensive unit since the loss of Harden and Rivers. His rotations, execution, and outdated offensive philosophy have proven lackluster in recent years. The league has evolved since Rivers‘ crowning success with the Boston Celtics in 2008, but he hasn’t kept up with the times. Nurse revamped the Sixers‘ offense to resemble that of the Denver Nuggets. Harden was sent to the Clippers, directing a larger part of their offense through Embiid, and sailing through the East.
Philadelphia’s free-flowing offense makes it clear how much potential the Sixers teams under Rivers have wasted. Rivers is really the only option for the Bucks. He puts them in a tight spot unless they decide to go with experienced assistant Joe Prunty for the duration of the season. On the other hand, if they want to dig out the fossils of an overhaul, they might consider Mike Budenholzer.
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