Doc Rivers reportedly finalizing a deal to take over as the Bucks coach

MILWAUKEE (AP) — Doc Rivers is finalizing a deal to take over as the Milwaukee Bucks coach a day after the firing of Adrian Griffin, a person with knowledge of the negotiations told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

Rivers and the Bucks were still negotiating on Wednesday, according to the person who spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because no contract had been completed.

ESPN, where Rivers has worked this season an analyst, reported that Rivers has agreed to a deal in principle. ESPN’s public relations department released a statement on social media from head of event and studio production David Roberts saying, “We wish Doc well and we look forward to documenting the next chapter of his coaching career.”

Interim coach Joe Prunty will coach the Bucks on Wednesday night when they host the Cleveland Cavaliers. Bucks general manager Jon Horst held a news conference before the game to discuss Griffin’s dismissal but declined to discuss the coach’s potential successor.

“We’re not going to talk about Doc tonight,” Horst said. “That’s not part of this. There will be at some point hopefully a time where we can do that, but this is a chance for us to kind of dive into the Adrian Griffin piece.”

The Bucks fired Griffin on Tuesday despite having a 30-13 record that matches the Oklahoma City Thunder and Minnesota Timberwolves for the second-best mark in the league. Milwaukee is 3 1/2 games behind the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference standings.

“We believe that this is a good team right now, and with improvements, we have a chance to be great,” said Horst, who indicated he didn’t consult players before making this decision. “We’re looking for a way to really make this a great team.”

Griffin had never been a head coach until the Bucks hired him last summer, though he had spent 16 years as an assistant. The Bucks would be replacing him with someone who has nearly a quarter-century of head coaching experience.

Rivers has plenty of Milwaukee ties, as he played for Marquette from 1980-83 and his No. 31 jersey hangs from the Fiserv Forum rafters. He also has a championship background after leading the Boston Celtics to a title in 2008 and a Game 7 Finals appearance two years later.

He didn’t have as much postseason success in later stints with the Los Angeles Clippers (2013-20) and Philadelphia 76ers (2020-23). The 76ers fired him last year after they exited in the second round of the playoffs each of his three seasons in Philadelphia.

Rivers has a 1,097-763 regular-season record and 111-104 playoff mark in 24 seasons with the Magic (1999-2004), Celtics (2004-13), Clippers and 76ers.

His 1,097 regular-season wins put him one shy of Larry Brown for eighth most in NBA history. His departure from ESPN brought an emotional reaction from his broadcast teammates, Mike Breen and Doris Burke, before ABC aired the Dallas-Phoenix game on Wednesday night.

“Our dear friend has decided that life as an NBA broadcaster is way too stressful, so he’s decided to opt for a less-stressful job — an NBA head coach on a team that’s trying to win a championship,” Breen said on the broadcast. “We thank him for all his many weeks of service and we wish him all the luck in the world.”

Rivers would be taking over a team that is chasing its second NBA title in four years and has shown a sense of urgency in the moves it has made over the last year.

The Bucks posted the NBA’s best regular-season record last year, but fired coach Mike Budenholzer after a stunning 4-1 first-round playoff loss to the Miami Heat. Budenholzer had led the 2020-21 Bucks to the franchise’s first championship in half a century.

Milwaukee followed up the hiring of Griffin by acquiring seven-time all-NBA guard Damian Lillard from the Portland Trail Blazers to team him with two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, who signed a three-year, $186 million contract extension shortly before the season. The Bucks gave up two-time All-Star guard Jrue Holiday and Grayson Allen in the Lillard trade, which also left them without control over any of their first-round draft picks until 2031.

Now they’ve fired Griffin after just 43 games. Horst acknowledged the dynamic of the team had changed since Griffin’s arrival.

“These are special opportunities,” Horst said. “The talent became even more special. The commitment to the team even more significant. And I think that increased the urgency.”

Horst acknowledged how the dynamic of the team had changed since Griffin’s hire while discussing the reasons behind the dismissal. The Bucks’ offseason moves also included re-signing Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez.

Rivers’ immediate task at Milwaukee would be to upgrade a defense that performed poorly enough under Griffin to cast doubt on the Bucks’ chances of seriously contending for a title. The Bucks rank 21st in defensive rating, down from fourth last season.

“Defensively, we have a talent group I think that can be better than what they’ve been so far,” Horst said. “Is that a top-five defense, a top-10, top-15? I don’t know. That’s what we’re trying to decide here with the roster as constructed.”

Although the Bucks have one of the league’s best records, they face a much tougher schedule the rest of the way. They’ve produced some troublesome performances while going 6-5 in January, though they’ve won five of their last six games.

They lost back-to-back games against the Indiana Pacers, who are 4-1 against Milwaukee this season. They trailed by 31 points at halftime of a 132-116 home loss to Utah in which Lillard was unavailable. They needed a 3-pointer by Lillard at the buzzer to beat Sacramento at home in overtime and suffered a 40-point loss at Cleveland last week when Antetokounmpo was out with a bruised right shoulder.

Those struggles had led to some frustrations from players in postgame media sessions, but Horst disputed the idea Griffin had lost the locker room.

“My biggest frustration with kind of the aftermath was that that’s the narrative,” Horst said. “That’s just not my opinion. That doesn’t mean that I’m right or wrong, but my opinion, my assessment and ownership’s assessment and going through this wasn’t an assessment that he lost the locker room, that there was dysfunction, that there were players that were jumping off the ship. That’s just not our assessment.”


AP Basketball Writer Tim Reynolds in Miami contributed to this report.