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Call a Doctor: The Rivers-Led Bucks Are Struggling Immensely

Milwaukee Bucks head coach Doc Rivers (left) reacts during the second half against the Memphis Grizzlies at FedExForum.

On January 23, rookie head coach Adrian Griffin had the Bucks at 30-13 and the second seed in the East. The Milwaukee Bucks’ season looked incredibly promising, and there was hope for another title. Then, the Bucks brass bizarrely fired Griffin midseason and hired Doc Rivers to replace him under suspicious circumstances. Since then, the Bucks have gone 3-7 with a series of embarrassing losses to the likes of the hospital Memphis Grizzlies. Why are the Rivers-led Bucks struggling so much?

Call a Doctor: The Rivers-Led Bucks Are Struggling Immensely

Firing Griffin

By midseason, the Bucks appeared to be humming along. They were comfortably second in the East, behind only the red-hot Boston Celtics. Top star Giannis Antetokounmpo was having another MVP-caliber season, averaging 30.8 PPG and 11.8 RPG. Blockbuster acquisition Damian Lillard was adjusting to his new role as a second star, averaging 24.6 PPG and 6.7 APG. However, many expected some turmoil when he left the role he had been playing for a decade. But for all intents and purposes, things seemed to be going just fine up in Milwaukee.

However, that image was shattered on January 23, when the Bucks fired Griffin after only 43 games. Reports that Griffin frequently clashed with top players like Antetokounmpo and Lillard began to leak. One incident that caught the media’s attention occurred after a loss to the Indiana Pacers on New Year’s Day. Antetokounmpo went on a lengthy rant in a postgame press conference where he expressed frustration with the coaching staff: “We have to be coached better.”

Following that tension, it seemed only a matter of team until Griffin departed. However, most fans expected it to happen during the offseason, not two weeks after Antetokounmpo’s rant.

Hiring Rivers

Less than 24 hours after Griffin’s dismissal from the Bucks, the Bucks announced they had hired veteran head coach Rivers to replace him. Not only that, they were apparently so confident in Rivers that they gave him a four-year, $40 million contract before he coached a single game for them. Amid the chaos of Griffin’s dismissal and Rivers’ rapid ascension to power, reports surfaced that Rivers had been the shadow head coach for weeks before Griffin was fired. This troubling news, combined with Rivers’ previous disastrous tenures with the Philadelphia 76ers and Los Angeles Clippers, caused the NBA media and fanbase to immediately predict that Rivers’ Bucks tenure would be a monumental failure.

The Rivers-Bucks Struggle

Unfortunately for Rivers, this prediction has seemingly come true. The Bucks are 3-7 since Rivers took over. That tenure includes an extremely embarrassing loss to the undermanned Grizzlies. They were missing their entire starting lineup and sixth man, right players in total at the time of tipoff. The vaunted Bucks, with two MVP-caliber stars, were defeated by players named Jordan Goodwin (career G-Leaguer), GG Jackson (second-round pick), and Lamar Stevens (who?). Beyond just that game, the Bucks were also defeated by the likes of the Portland Trail Blazers, Utah Jazz, and the Miami Heat (with top star Jimmy Butler out with injury).

The Bucks limped into the All-Star Break with Lillard in a slump and Antetokounmpo seemingly more angry after every loss. Milwaukee needed a leader to rally the troops. Rivers decided to go on a bizarre week-long media tour doing the exact opposite. On national TV, he claimed he advised the Bucks against hiring him and “didn’t understand why they hired him.” He also started beef with retired role player-turned-podcaster JJ Redick. Finally, his son, Austin Rivers, went on TV to defend him. This only ended up fanning the flames against the elder Rivers, as he was accused of nepotism in trading for his son when he coached the Clippers. To sum it up, it’s been a very bad week for the reputation of Rivers, and Bucks players have had to sit and watch it all unfold with the rest of us.

The Last Word

The Bucks have the talent to turn it around. Antetokounmpo and Lillard are MVP-caliber players with a record of playoff success. Despite recent failures, Rivers is not a bad coach. He won a title with the 2008 Boston Celtics, and the NBA named him one of the top 15 coaches of all time.

The playoffs would be better if they could turn it around and keep their usual rivalries with the Celtics and Heat competitive. However, unless they come storming out of the All-Star Break, the Rivers-led Bucks appear to have a very bleak future.


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