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Bucks reportedly reach deal to make Doc Rivers new head coach

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Phoenix Suns
NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Phoenix Suns

Doc Rivers, the man fired in Philadelphia after last season because of his inability to get his team over the championship hump, has been hired by the Milwaukee Bucks to turn their team back into champions.

In a widely expected move that took a little longer to come together than some expected, Rivers has agreed to terms to become the new head coach of the Bucks, a story broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN (not CNN, which jumped the gun the previous night) and confirmed by multiple other reports. Milwaukee general manager Jon Horst is expected to make it official when he meets with the media later in the day.

Rivers replaces Adrian Griffin, the first-year coach who was fired despite a 30-13 start to the season. While not expected at this time, his firing was not the shock inside the basketball world as it seemed to people outside it. While the Bucks sat second in the East, the cracks in the facade of this being a contending team were visible — most notably, a bottom-10 defense — and Milwaukee's front office and ownership (now including Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslem) decided to move sooner rather than later.

Griffin didn't take his own advice in establishing his role as Bucks coach.

When in Los Angeles for a preseason game, he said his philosophy was "don't fix what isn't broke," that the team needed more tweaks than an overhaul. He then tried to overhaul a drop-back Bucks defensive style that had them in the top five of the league for years, trying to install a more aggressive, blitzing style that didn't mesh with the team's personnel. It took all of four games before the players came to the coach and asked for a change to something closer to what they used to do. The addition of Damian Lillard was always going to change the offense. However, Griffin never got the buy-in from Giannis Antetokounmpo to set a lot of picks and roll for Lillard (or run some inverted pick-and-rolls with Lillard screening for Antetokounmpo) and with that the offense lacked flow, even if it was second best in the league.

The Bucks as a team seemed to lack a clear identity this season. Whatever flaws Mike Budenholzer had as a playoff coach in Milwaukee, his teams had a clear identity.

Add in assistant coach (and long-time Lillard coach in Portland) Terry Stotts leaving before the season and Antetokounmpo saying they needed to be coached harder, and the writing was on the wall. Griffin was not going to be afforded the chance to learn on the job other rookie coaches get. While over the summer NBC Sports heard (and others reported as well) that Griffin was Antetokounmpo's choice to coach the team, Marc Stein reported Tuesday that the Greek Freek was more anti-Nick Nurse (the frontrunner for the job at the time, and the man who took the 76ers job after Rivers was let go) than pro-Griffin. Maybe that's spin in the wake of how things worked out, maybe not. It doesn't matter, with a tight championship window while they have Lillard and Antetokounmpo, the Bucks decided to move sooner rather than later.

With Rivers, the Bucks bring in an established coach with a ring, but that title was 16 years ago, and his record since then includes a lot of falling short in the playoffs, including multiple blown 3-1 series leads. He is being asked to do in Milwaukee exactly what he was let go for not being able to do in Philadelphia — get a team to the NBA Finals. Rivers does bring an ability to connect with veteran players and a good sense of what works and what doesn't — he's a quality NBA coach.

Whether Rivers is the guy to get the Bucks back to the NBA Finals — in a stacked East with the Celtics and 76ers — will play out over the next five months.