Wed. Feb 21st, 2024

Ric Bucher

Ric Bucher

FOX Sports NBA Analyst

Winning, apparently, doesn’t cure everything. Proof? The Milwaukee Bucks fired first-year head coach Adrian Griffin Tuesday despite having the second-best record in the NBA at 30-13 with wins in five of their last six games.

Doc Rivers was contacted by the team to discuss the opening, according to ESPN, but the Bucks, while confirming they have fired Griffin, gave no indication who his permanent replacement will be. Assistant coach Joe Prunty, the team announced, will serve as interim head coach.

Sources inside and outside the organization said Griffin’s dismissal was completely unexpected at this juncture.

“Nobody saw this coming,” one Eastern Conference executive said.

To be clear, the timing of Griffin’s dismissal came as a surprise, not the possibility that his tenure might be relatively short. 

The first indication of unrest occurred in training camp, when veteran coach Terry Stotts abruptly stepped down after reportedly being reprimanded in front of the team by Griffin as they prepared for a preseason game against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Stotts’ previous job had been head coach of the Portland Trail Blazers for nine seasons. His hiring in Portland coincided with the drafting of Damian Lillard, who was acquired by the Bucks last summer in a blockbuster three-team trade, a month after Stotts joined their coaching staff. Stotts was expected to help integrate Lillard with Milwaukee’s incumbent star, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and one of the issues that led to Griffin’s ouster, league sources say, is a lack of progress on that front. 

While the Bucks offense is ranked second overall by Basketball Reference, two spots higher than they finished last season, they’ve dropped in net rating from fifth to 10th. Particularly troubling has been the relative ineffectiveness of Antetokounmpo and Lillard when they’re on the floor together. They rank 58th in plus-minus (5.5) for two-man combinations, tied with Denver’s backcourt, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Jamal Murray. The feeling in Milwaukee, league sources said, is that their overall offensive success was in spite of, not because of, Griffin’s schemes. Lillard’s averages in points, field-goal percentage, 3-point percentage and free-throw attempts this season are all below his career averages.

“There were rumblings going back to training camp that the players and staff weren’t feeling him,” said one Eastern Conference GM, referring to Griffin. “He was seen as very controlling. And the Stotts’ thing didn’t help.”

The Bucks defense has also fallen off considerably this season. A slight decline was expected, having dealt five-time All-Defense selection Jrue Holiday to acquire Lillard, but the Bucks have slid from fourth last season to 21st.

“Their defense has taken a full step back,” an Eastern Conference executive said.

Bucks fire head coach Adrian Griffin, targeting Doc Rivers as replacement | Speak

Bucks fire head coach Adrian Griffin, targeting Doc Rivers as replacement | Speak

Griffin’s name has been floated in coaching searches for the last few years and sources familiar with the Bucks’ coaching search said he was Antetokounmpo’s choice over former Toronto Raptors and current Philadelphia 76ers head coach Nick Nurse, whom Griffin served under as an assistant coach for five seasons in Toronto, including their 2018-19 championship year. Griffin had previously been an assistant in Oklahoma City, Orlando and Chicago, starting his assistant-coaching career in Milwaukee after retiring from a nine-year NBA playing career as a defensive wing journeyman.

Antetokounmpo signed a three-year extension in late October, roughly a week after Stotts resigned, but a source close to the Bucks organization said Antetokounmpo has since expressed regret for backing Griffin’s hiring. 

Several rival scouts and executives were surprised by the timing of the Bucks’ decision, but not the decision itself.  

“I love Adrian, but he doesn’t have it,” one Western Conference scout said. “He wasn’t 30-13. They were.”

Bucks fire first-year head coach Adrian Griffin after 43 games | The Herd

Bucks fire first-year head coach Adrian Griffin after 43 games | The Herd

Ric Bucher is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. He previously wrote for Bleacher Report, ESPN The Magazine and The Washington Post and has written two books, “Rebound,” on NBA forward Brian Grant’s battle with young onset Parkinson’s, and “Yao: A Life In Two Worlds.” He also has a daily podcast, “On The Ball with Ric Bucher.” Follow him on Twitter @RicBucher.

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