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The Bucks Are All Fucked Up

Head Coach Doc Rivers of the Milwaukee Bucks speaks during a press conference after the game against the Atlanta Hawks at State Farm Arena on March 30, 2024 in Atlanta, Georgia. The Milwaukee Bucks defeated the Atlanta Hawks 122-113.
Paras Griffin/Getty Images

When the Milwaukee Bucks fired head coach Adrian Griffin in January, it was meant to be taken as a signal of how high expectations are within the organization. The Bucks were 30-13, and yet close observers had reason to worry not just about defensive schemes, but also the lack of those less tangible qualities that one can sense in a championship contender. One year removed from a first-round playoff exit, the Bucks, even with Damian Lillard newly ensconced in the lineup, looked to be losing their edge. So Griffin was chucked, and the man entrusted with turning the Bucks back into the killers they used to be was Doc Rivers.

How's that going so far? Well, if Griffin's 30-13 record did some work to shroud the team's deficiencies, Rivers's tenure has stripped them naked. After Sunday's loss to the Knicks, the Bucks are now 15-17 under Rivers's guidance. Milwaukee's lost four games in a row, six of its last seven, and dropped three of those games to the Wizards, Grizzlies, and Raptors, who have a combined record of 67-168. The Bucks were missing at least one of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, and Lillard in each of those three losses, but that's hardly an excuse when playing teams that are trying to lose on purpose and running guys like Eugene Omoruyi, Trey Jemison, and Jordan Nwora out onto the floor. The Athletic reported that, following the loss to the Raptors, Rivers held a special film session with his top nine rotation players, in which each was given a chance to speak his mind. "It’s only the start of these tough and necessary conversations," a source told The Athletic.

Those tough conversations yielded very brief results, if any. The Bucks were up by 11 points at halftime on Sunday, and with Antetokounmpo, Lillard, and Middleton all in the lineup they seemed to be on their way to an important get-right win against a tough opponent. But then Middleton got his tooth knocked out, the Bucks shot 40 percent from the field in the second half, and the Knicks won, 122-109.

"That's on me, I gotta figure out how to get the ball unstuck," said Rivers after the game, referring to his team's offensive struggles in the second half. "We get so stubborn at times with the ball, and it doesn't move. You can get away with that against some teams, but most teams you can't, especially playoff teams."

That's a pretty standard quote to hear from the coach of a team in a losing streak, but the self-critical piece of it marked a significant tonal shift for Rivers. Ever since arriving in Milwaukee, Rivers has been giving strange, self-serving quotes designed to place blame for Milwaukee's struggles on anyone's shoulders but his. He wanted everyone to know that taking over the team had been "harder than I thought"; he called out some of his players for having their minds "in Cabo" during a pre-All-Star break loss to the Grizzlies; after losing to that same Grizzlies team last week, he took aim at the Bucks' travel staff: "I've actually been sitting back and watching everything. Not just our players, but our travel crew. Everything. And I've made a lot of notes. I will say that. I won't share that. But we don't bring the necessary professionalism, seriousness on the road."

If Rivers is just now starting to put his hand up and take some responsibility for his team's current struggles, perhaps it's because he's starting to realize that this team might actually be in real trouble. Assuming they hold off the Orlando Magic and maintain the second seed in the conference, there's every reason to feel nervous about a matchup with one of the East's play-in survivors. Would you count on this team to survive a series against the Sixers? The Heat? The damn Bulls, even? Perhaps the Bucks would feel more confident if their head coach hadn't lost his last job due to consistent and enervating postseason underperformance.

The Bucks have four games left in the regular season, and then it's on Rivers to prove that the organization didn't make the biggest mistake of the season by handing the team over to him. If the Bucks do crash out in the first round, they will at least provide an important lesson to other teams going forward: Maybe it is not always a good idea to fire a coach with a 30-13 record and replace him with a guy who has been spending a good portion of his time going on the Bill Simmons Podcast and talking about how much golf he's been playing with Larry David.

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