Jue. Feb 29th, 2024

MILWAUKEE — When Doc Rivers flew into Dallas this week, he was planning to spend extra time with his daughter and son-in-law before he was scheduled to broadcast an ESPN game between the Mavericks and Phoenix Suns on Wednesday night.

Instead, when he checked his phone Tuesday afternoon, he had what he called «a lot of urgent messages» following the news that the Milwaukee Bucks had fired first-year coach Adrian Griffin.

To that point, Rivers said he was comfortable with his time away from coaching after being fired this past summer following three seasons as coach for the Philadelphia 76ers. He said he had been contacted several times about a coach vacancy in the time since, but he hadn’t taken the call and wouldn’t in the future — unless it was the right job.

Enter Milwaukee, where he was an All-American at Marquette in the 1980s and has his retired jersey number hanging in the rafters at the Bucks’ home arena. Then consider the team he inherits, with two superstars in Giannis Antetokounmpo and Damian Lillard and a chance to win a championship.

«You know the answer. Giannis, Dame. Really, that’s the answer,» Rivers said at his introductory news conference Saturday morning. «Like, you look at their team. What is it, eight teams that have a legitimate shot [at a championship]? And I don’t know if it’s that high, but the Bucks are one of them, right?

«The other thing is the way they’re built with the veterans and their grown-ups. I thought that if you’re going to jump into this at this time of the year, this would be a type of group that you have the best opportunity to connect and change the quickest.»

Rivers, 62, was introduced at a news conference sitting next to Bucks general manager Jon Horst on Saturday morning, three days after Horst sat at the same table to talk about dismissing Griffin only 43 games into his first year as coach despite a 30-13 record. While Rivers acknowledged he and Griffin have spoken on multiple occasions — «Adrian and I are good friends, I wanted him to do well,» Rivers said — both he and Horst denied Rivers had been employed by the team before this week.

Earlier this week, Horst said he wanted a coach who could maximize the Bucks’ talent and he appeared thrilled Saturday about being able to get a deal done with Rivers so quickly.

«This has been a difficult couple of days, but a great couple of days,» Horst said. «We talked a few days ago about identifying a coach who could lead and maximize this team’s talent in a window where we have a real chance to compete. We found Doc, we talked to Doc, we went at him with urgency as we talked about, and it’s my honor today to be here and sit with Doc and introduce him as the next head coach of the Milwaukee Bucks.»

The Bucks finish the second half of a back-to-back Saturday night when they host the New Orleans Pelicans, but Rivers confirmed he will make his coaching debut on the road Monday night against the Denver Nuggets.

Rivers observed the Bucks’ game Friday night from a suite in the arena, a 112-100 loss to the Cavaliers, along with his new assistant coaches, Rex Kalamian and Dave Joerger. He spoke optimistically about the talent on the roster, but also the challenge they faced.

Beginning Monday, the Bucks will have 36 games remaining in the regular season before the playoffs begin.

«I’ve never done this. I wouldn’t wish this on anyone, I can tell you that, just from the day-and-a-half,» Rivers said. «It’s going to be a challenge. It’s a challenge that I’m running towards. We’ve got to get organized quickly. Can’t try to do too much too soon. We’re in the middle of a season, so we’ve got to try to keep our rhythm.

«There are changes that we have to make, there’s no doubt about that. We’ll start working on it immediately.»

One big change Rivers noted from this job compared to his previous stops was the culture of the team. In Los Angeles and Philadelphia, Rivers said he believed he was hired to change the culture of the team as much as to coach the games. But he thought Milwaukee already had a solid foundation, it was his job to just coach.

And this will be the 25th consecutive NBA season in which Rivers will be a head coach, starting before the 1999-2000 season with the Orlando Magic. The Bucks will be the fifth franchise to hire Rivers as head coach.

«I don’t know if I have anything to prove except I want to win,» Rivers said. «I like winning. I like putting myself in those situations.

«I’ve been through everything, I really have as a coach. That’s what’s so great about coaching. There’s a lot of highs, there’s lows, and you work through them and you learn from them always. At the end of the day, this is a relationship business. Your job as a coach is to get some of the guys to do some of the things they don’t want to do.

«You’re not going to be popular all the time and that’s fine, you have to accept that when you accept a leadership role. That’s just part of it. But if you can get the buy-in and get everybody to buy in and be on the same page, then you can have some success.»

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