The Milwaukee Bucks are firing head coach Adrian Griffin, the team announced Tuesday. The stunning move comes a mere 43 games into Griffin’s coaching career. The former Toronto Raptors assistant was hired by Milwaukee this offseason after the team’s upset loss to the Miami Heat in the first round of the 2023 NBA playoffs cost Mike Budenholzer his job.
Griffin had the blessing of star forward Giannis Antetokounmpo and got off to a 30-13 record in Milwaukee (.698 winning percentage), but several incidents throughout the year suggested things weren’t going according to plan.
“This was a difficult decision to make during the season,” Bucks general manager Jon Horst said in a press release. “We are working immediately toward hiring our next head coach. We thank Coach Griffin for his hard work and contributions to the team.”
The Bucks are reportedly considering a small group of veteran former head coaches as possible replacements for Griffin, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. That includes former Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doc Rivers, who is currently broadcasting games for ESPN, as well as top assistant Joe Prunty, who will serve as the interim coach.
There was a pre-season shake-up on Griffin’s staff as top assistant Terry Stotts resigned in October following an incident at shootaround in which Griffin yelled at him to join a coaching huddle rather than speak with Antetokounmpo and Damian Lillard. There was another reported incident during Milwaukee’s In-Season Tournament elimination loss to the Pacers in which Bobby Portis reportedly challenged him in the locker room. Griffin tried to implement a more aggressive defensive scheme early in the season, but admitted that Milwaukee’s players had convinced him to change it after early struggles.
It is unclear what other candidates they are considering, but there are a number of accomplished former head coaches currently without jobs. Among them are Mike D’Antoni, Dave Joerger and, ironically, Budenholzer. Stotts would seem to be a possible fit given his long history of coaching Lillard, but it is unclear if either side would be interested in a reunion after their split in October.
There is no real precedent for a team firing a rookie head coach 43 games into a season in which he has the NBA’s second-best record. There have been shorter overall tenures, like Jerry Tarkanian’s 20-game stint in San Antonio and Bob Weiss’ 30-game stretch with the Sonics, but both coaches were below .500 when they were fired. To find a fired coach who won as much as Griffin has, you’d have to turn to former Cleveland Cavaliers coach David Blatt, who reached the Finals in his first season in 2015 and was then fired 41 games into his second season with a 30-11 record.
The Bucks, who currently have the third-shortest odds to win the 2024 NBA title at +480, have such a talented roster that some degree of regular-season success was almost inevitable. But there were visible issues under the surface in Milwaukee, and after the Bucks traded away all of its remaining draft capital to land Lillard over the summer, there was a clear mandate across the entire organization to win the championship right now. The front office seemingly decided that Griffin wasn’t up to the task and let him go with enough time left to try to find a suitable replacement before the playoffs.