The Milwaukee Bucks have hired Doc Rivers as their new head coach, the team announced on Friday. Rivers, who had spent this season broadcasting games for ESPN, was one of the most experienced head coaches on the market. He has coached 24 combined seasons with the Orlando Magic, Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Clippers and Philadelphia 76ers to go along with a decorated 13-year playing career. He won the NBA championship with Boston in 2008 and won Coach of the Year for the Magic in 2000.
On Tuesday, The Athletic’s Shams Charania reported that Rivers had served as an informal consultant to former Bucks coach Adrian Griffin since the In-Season Tournament at the organization’s behest. Now, he will replace Griffin on the team’s bench. Rivers’ first game in charge is expected to come on Monday in Denver against the defending champion Nuggets, according to Adrian Wojnarowski.
“Doc is a proven, extraordinary leader and communicator during his renowned NBA coaching career,” Bucks general manager Jon Horst said. “As a championship coach, he’s widely respected as an established innovator, and the right coach to lead our experienced and talented team. I want to thank our owners, Wes Edens, Jimmy and Dee Haslam and Jamie Dinan, for their unwavering commitment to winning. It’s a pleasure to welcome Doc to the Bucks.”
Rivers’ arrival comes after Milwaukee’s unprecedented decision to fire former coach Adrian Griffin 43 games into his head coaching career. Griffin went 30-13 in those games, giving the Bucks the second-best record in the NBA at the time of his dismissal and Griffin the fourth-best winning percentage of any coach in NBA history behind only Joe Mazzulla, Phil Jackson and Billy Cunningham.
Griffin’s firing may have seemed surprising, but there was plenty of tension under the surface in Milwaukee. The first red flag came in October, when top assistant Terry Stotts stepped down after an incident in which Griffin publicly yelled at him at a shootaround. Veteran forward Bobby Portis reportedly got into a confrontation with Griffin during Milwaukee’s In-Season Tournament loss to the Indiana Pacers, and Griffin admitted that his players needed to talk him out of the more aggressive scheme he tried to implement on defense early in the season. Ultimately, Milwaukee seemingly decided that Griffin was not the man to lead them to what could be their second championship in four seasons this spring.
They are hoping that Rivers can do so, but his recent playoff history leaves something to be desired. The 76ers fired Rivers last spring after they blew a 3-2 lead against the Boston Celtics in the second round of the postseason. That was the second major playoff disappointment for Rivers in Philadelphia, as his 2021 team was upset by the Atlanta Hawks in the second round. One year earlier, he was fired by the Los Angeles Clippers after they blew a 3-1 lead to the Denver Nuggets in the second round of the Orlando bubble. Rivers has blown three 3-1 playoff leads and four more 3-2 leads.
Of course, as talented as his rosters have been, he has never taken over a roster that has already won a title. The core of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez did so in 2021, and they are even more dangerous this season with Damian Lillard in place. Milwaukee made the blockbuster Lillard trade expecting to win it all this season.
Rivers has done so before, but in taking over this job in the middle of the season, he’d have to make history to do it again in June. While new coaches have won it all after being promoted mid-season in the past, no team has ever won the championship with an in-season coaching change that brought in a new head honcho from outside of the organization before. The Bucks believe Rivers can be the first.