The Milwaukee Bucks are hiring longtime NBA coach Doc Rivers, league sources said Wednesday, one day after the team fired first-year coach Adrian Griffin.
Rivers, 62, began serving as an informal consultant to Griffin in December at the behest of the Bucks. The team quickly moved to agree to a deal with Rivers after moving on from Griffin after just 43 games. Joe Prunty will serve as interim coach throughout the process, the team announced.
With a 30-13 record and two superstar talents in Giannis Antetokounmpo and Damian Lillard, the Bucks are still in the middle of a season the organization believes can end in a championship. With that in mind, Milwaukee general manager Jon Horst needed to find a replacement for Griffin that could keep the team moving toward its goal.
“This is obviously a difficult decision,” Horst told reporters Wednesday evening. “Adrian is a great person, brought a lot to the franchise. … But we also believe that we had an opportunity now with a special group — the talent on this team. The dynamic of the team has changed. The team itself had changed from when we hired him, and we felt we had an opportunity to improve and get better. We wanted to take advantage of that opportunity.”
Ideally, the Bucks would find someone with significant coaching experience, championship pedigree and enough gravitas to coach superstar talents to take over for first-time head coach in Griffin. With 24 seasons of coaching experience and an NBA championship in 2008 with the Boston Celtics, Rivers checked off all of those boxes and Milwaukee was aggressive in pursuing him as its coach.
Rivers, who has previously coached the Orlando Magic, Celtics, Los Angeles Clippers and Philadelphia 76ers, has not had a losing year since 2007. His streak is the fourth best in league history behind Basketball Hall of Famers Gregg Popovich, Phil Jackson and Pat Riley.
Rivers holds a 1,097-763 record across his 24 seasons as a coach, only missing the playoffs five times. He signed with ESPN as a lead commentator alongside Doris Burke and Mike Breen in July 2023 after a three-year stint with the 76ers from 2020 to 2023. He won NBA Coach of the Year in 2000 with the Magic.
Rivers was selected in the second round of the 1983 NBA Draft by the Atlanta Hawks. He played the first eight seasons of his 13-year NBA career in Atlanta and is the team’s all-time assists leader with 3,866. Rivers notched 4,889 regular-season assists during his career.
He also played one season with the Clippers, one with the New York Knicks and two with the San Antonio Spurs to round out his time in the NBA.
The Bucks job is a homecoming of sorts for Rivers, who graduated from Marquette University in Milwaukee. Rivers, a Chicago native, played three seasons at Marquette from 1980 to 1983 and had his No. 31 retired by the university in 2004.
While Horst declined to speak specifically about why the team hired Rivers, he did say the team needed a leader brought in who can take the franchise “to the next level.”
“What we’re looking for now is a path to go forward and maximize this group from a leadership perspective, from an experience perspective. We want to try to bring in a coach that can really take us to the next level where we think we can go with this group,” he said. “That’s not just about coaching. The players have to be better, they have to improve, my group has to continue figuring out how to improve the roster, but we think coaching is an element for us to get better.”
Why move on from Griffin?
While the Bucks had put together a 30-13 record in their first 43 games this season, they were not showing off enough growth as the season passed the halfway point. While they were able to put together a 6-5 record in January under Griffin, Milwaukee had a brutal start to the new year defensively, surrendering 122.1 points per 100 possessions. Instead of showing signs of growth as they tried out new ideas defensively, the Bucks were regressing and put together their worst defensive month of the season.
On the other side of the floor, the results have been much better with Milwaukee currently second in offensive rating, scoring 120.5 points per 100 possessions, but the offense just hasn’t looked cohesive to this point. Rather than putting together an offensive attack that has multiplied the skills of Antetokounmpo and Lillard, the team’s superstar duo has ended up taking turns on the offensive end.
It has been successful because of the team’s spectacular offensive talent, but the offense still has significant potential to do even more.
On Wednesday, Horst said he doesn’t regret hiring Griffin.
“I believe in the hire that we made,” he said. “I believe in the reasons we did it, the process we went through, and again, Adrian has contributed to this group. Part of why we are where we are today and who we are is because of him. This was an opportunity about going forward. Yeah, no regrets from me. No looking back. I believe in what we did why we did when we did it and believe in where we’re at today as well.”
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