By Steve Megargee, The Associated Press on January 26, 2024.
MILWAUKEE (AP) – Doc Rivers is about to resume his coaching career at a place where his jersey hangs from the rafters.
The Milwaukee Bucks officially announced Friday night they had hired Rivers to take over for Adrian Griffin, who was fired on Tuesday after only 43 games. Rivers played from 1980-83 at Marquette, which shares a home arena with the Bucks and has retired Rivers’ No. 31 college jersey.
“Doc is a proven, extraordinary leader and communicator during his renowned NBA coaching career,” general manager Jon Horst said in a statement announcing the move. “As a championship coach, he’s widely respected as an established innovator, and the right coach to lead our experienced and talented team.”
Rivers will be introduced at a Saturday news conference.
This move represents a major shift in terms of head coaching experience.
Griffin had never been a head coach before the Bucks hired him last summer, though he had 16 seasons of experience as an assistant. Rivers won an NBA title with the Boston Celtics in 2008, and his background as a head coach extends almost a quarter-century.
Rivers owns a 1,097-763 regular-season record and 111-104 playoff mark in 24 seasons with the Orlando Magic (1999-2004), Celtics (2004-13), Los Angeles Clippers (2013-20) and Philadelphia 76ers (2020-23). His 1,097 regular-season wins put him one shy of Larry Brown for eighth most in NBA history.
“He’s just been like a big uncle to me,” veteran wing Jae Crowder said after the Bucks’ Friday shootaround. “Obviously we both went to Marquette. I’m a Marquette alum. I remember putting on that Marquette jersey and he’s one of the guys I’d look up to.”
Joe Prunty, an assistant on Griffin’s staff, had served as interim head coach for the Bucks’ last two games.
Taking over a team featuring two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and seven-time All-NBA guard Damian Lillard gives Rivers a chance to make the deep postseason run that has eluded him since he left Boston.
Milwaukee is behind only the Celtics in the Eastern Conference standings, though the Bucks’ schedule gets much tougher the rest of the season.
“I think that’s one of the positives of where we are, considering that it’s been kind of rocky and up-and-down to get here, being almost 20 games over .500 and still knowing that we haven’t been the best version of ourselves,” Lillard said Wednesday after a 126-116 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers.
During a Wednesday press conference discussing Griffin’s dismissal, Horst said he believed a new coach would have enough time to make an impact that could boost the team’s postseason hopes.
“Generally speaking, NBA players, the NBA system, is incredible,” Horst said. “How they can transition and adapt and adjust on the fly. You think of players that get traded, changes that happen in-season all the time. Although it’s a condensed period of time calendar-wise, I think in the world of the NBA, and what, in particular, our really smart, professional, mature players can do, a great coaching staff around them, I believe there is enough time for them to find an identity, find a rhythm together and continue to grow.”
The Bucks’ main challenge is to upgrade a defense that has taken a step back since they gave up five-time NBA All-Defensive Team guard Jrue Holiday in the trade that brought them Lillard. The Bucks entered Friday ranked 20th in defensive rating, down from fourth last season.
“We have guys who can put our best foot forward and be a top-five defense in this league, but we’re not there yet, and I think we have a lot of work to do,” Crowder said.
Rivers helped the Celtics win their last title in 2008 and was one win away from another championship two years later, as Boston lost the NBA Finals in seven games to the Los Angeles Lakers. He took the Celtics to the Eastern Conference finals in 2012.
But he never got beyond the conference semifinals with either the Clippers or 76ers. He was fired as the 76ers’ coach last year after each of his three seasons in Philadelphia ended with second-round exits.
Rivers started this season working as an ESPN analyst before the opportunity to lead the Bucks lured him back into coaching.
The Bucks have faced their own postseason issues after winning their first title in half a century in 2021.
Milwaukee lost 4-3 in the second round to Boston in 2022. Last year, the Bucks posted the NBA’s top regular-season record but got stunned 4-1 by the Miami Heat in the opening round.
The Bucks responded to that upset by firing Mike Budenholzer, who had coached that 2021 championship team. His replacement lasted barely half the season.
“At the end of the day, I trust the ownership decision,” Antetokounmpo said after Wednesday’s game. “I trust the front office. They’ve never (done) me wrong in the past. They’ve always created a great atmosphere, a great culture, a winning culture. They always did whatever was the best for the team and for us to be in a position to win, so we’ve just got to do the same here. You’ve just got to trust this is the best decision for me and the guys, and we’ve just got to go with it.”
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