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A Big Risk For The Bucks: The Adrian Griffin Saga.

It is rare when NBA teams fire their Head Coach in the middle of the season, and NBA analysts search for answers to uncover the truth. Adrian Griffin was hired during the summer of 2023 after the Milwaukee Bucks fired Mike Budenholzer. Bucks fans were initially skeptical because Griffin was a rookie head coach in charge of a championship-caliber team. Problems began as Griffin implemented his offensive and defensive strategies. The front office hired former Portland Trailblazers head coach Terry Stotts as an Assistant Coach to help Griffin. 

The Trailblazers traded Damian Lillard to the Bucks last summer, and he played under Stotts for most of his 11-year tenure in Portland. Stotts’s primary purpose on staff was to help Lillard transition smoothly to a new team, but he resigned on October 19th, during the preseason. Griffin declined to comment on the situation and said the organization was surprised by his decision.  

“It caught all of us off guard, of course, but again, you just support him,” Griffin said. “He was a terrific guy. I learned a lot from him in a very short time. He was good at what he does. He made a decision, a personal decision, and we have to respect that.”

Stotts’s resignation alarmed the league, and his actions signified dismay amongst the staff. As the season progressed, the Bucks were winning games impressively. Despite their success, Giannis Antentokounmpo was very critical of Griffin’s coaching techniques and did not approve of his practices. The front office’s primary goal was to appease Antentokounmpo, and they were aware of his dissatisfaction. On January 23rd, the Bucks officially fired Griffin four months into his four-year contract. 

The next day, NBA Insider Adrian Wojnarowski announced on social media that Doc Rivers was finalizing a deal to become head coach. Bucks fans were unhappy with the signing because of Rivers’s reputation in the postseason. Throughout his coaching tenure in the NBA, he has become notorious for being unable to close out playoff series. 

 Last season, he was the head coach of the Philadelphia 76ers. In the 2023 Playoffs, the Sixers had a 3-2 lead against the Boston Celtics and lost in game 7. It was his eighth time losing a playoff series while having a lead. The Sixers fired him two days later and hired Nick Nurse as their new head coach. He was commentating games for ESPN alongside Mike Breen and Doris Burke during the first half of the season before accepting the job. 

The Bucks were 30-13 when they fired Griffin, and now they are 35-21. They have a 3-7 record under Rivers, and their recent losses have caused concern from the fans. The Bucks have lost to the Miami Heat, Utah Jazz, Trailblazers, and Memphis Grizzlies in the Rivers era. Miami is the best team as a 7th seed, and the other three teams are at the bottom of the Western Conference standings. Rivers addressed the media after the loss to the Grizzlies and gave no excuses for the performance. 

“Obviously, you don't want to lose games like this ever,” Rivers said. “ Does that change how I think about the team and where I think we can go? No, I have a lot of confidence, but we’re going to have to make changes.” 

The recent decisions from the front office have confused NBA spectators because the Bucks have regressed rather than improved. Without Griffin on the sideline, their discipline on the court has become lackadaisical. Their offensive and defensive ratings have dropped. They also traded Jrue Holiday in the package for Lillard, which was detrimental to their defense. Analysts have noticed a change in their execution and effort on the court. Griffin’s intensity was better for the Bucks roster, but Rivers still has plenty of time to dispel the doubt about his coaching ability.

Rivers has always succeeded in the regular season, and the Bucks could be his last opportunity to coach a contending team. The “Lob City” L.A. Clippers never made it past the 2nd round of the playoffs, and it was one of Rivers’s most talented rosters. Former NBA Player Matt Barnes played for Rivers during his Clippers tenure and said he could not adjust in a playoff series under pressure. 

The debacle in the Celtics series provides recent evidence of Barnes’s claims. It will be interesting to see how Rivers can change the narrative surrounding his coaching skills since he is leading another stacked roster. Regular-season success will build the fan’s belief in him, but his real test will be in the 2024 postseason. The All-Star break is upon us, and he can use this time to strategize.

NBA All-Star weekend, 2024, is February 16th-18th in Indianapolis, and Griffin was initially selected to coach the Eastern Conference All-Star team. Despite having a negative record since taking over the team, Rivers will replace him. It will be his 4th time coaching the All-Star game. Bucks fans voiced their sympathy for Griffin on social media and claimed it was unfair for Rivers to reap the rewards of another coach’s hard work. 

If he can’t utilize the Bucks's talent correctly, their decision to fire Griffin will continue to backfire. He showed great potential in his first year, and other teams will hire him after seeing his performance on the sideline. He was an assistant coach for the Toronto Raptors when they won the championship in 2019. The pressure level of the NBA Finals contributed to his coaching credibility, and he shined in his first opportunity as a head coach. If the Bucks can’t regain their momentum, their significant risk will have no reward.

X account: @AntwaneWillisjr

LinkedIn: Antwane Willis


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