Jon Horst press conference takeaways: Bucks' GM weighs in on decision to fire Adrian Griffin



MILWAUKEE — Ahead of the Milwaukee Bucks’ matchup with the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday night, general manager Jon Horst took questions from the media about the organization’s decision to fire first-year head coach Adrian Griffin despite a 30-13 record

While CBS Sports’ Bill Reiter has confirmed that the team plans to hire Doc Rivers as the next head coach, that is not yet official, and as such Horst did not address those reports. He declined to give a specific timeline on Rivers’ arrival, saying only that they’ll be “as urgent and as quick as we can to try and transition.” 

Horst’s comments focused on Griffin’s tenure and why the front office and ownership group decided to make the bold decision to move on. Repeatedly, he stressed that, as a whole, they believed that making a coaching change would give them the best chance to maximize their talent. 

Here are some key takeaways from Horst’s press conference

This was not the players’ decision, allegedly 

Over the course of the season, it became clear that Griffin and the players were not on the same page. From subtle moments such as Antetokounmpo changing a play during the huddle late in a win over the Miami Heat, to overt comments like the two-time MVP’s rant after their recent loss to the Houston Rockets, in which he said the team needed to “be coached better.”

Horst, however, said that the players were not consulted on this decision, nor was it based on any input from them. 

“This is not about players’ comments, this is not about things said or unsaid,” Horst said. “This is my job, this is the organization’s job at the top to evaluate every single day all areas of the organization and feel like whether we’re getting or not getting the most that we can out of that group. We feel like we can maximize the talent of this group better if we made a change. That’s why we made it.”

He also pushed back on reports that Griffin had lost the locker room and players were not bought in, and pointed the finger at the media for looking to create a story where one didn’t exist. 

“My biggest frustration with kind of the aftermath was that that’s the narrative,” Horst said. “It’s just — 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.”

While the players may not have been in the room when the decision was made, it’s extremely difficult to believe that Antetokounmpo’s repeated public criticisms of Griffin had no impact on the decision. 

Trying to find a defensive identity

Even though there’s been plenty of growing pains with the Antetokounmpo-Damian Lillard fit, the Bucks have been incredible on offense. They’re second in the league, putting up 120.6 points per 100 possessions, can score at all three levels, get to the free throw line at will and generally take care of the ball. 

The problem is they’ve been giving up nearly as many points as they score most nights. At the time of Griffin’s firing, they ranked 21st in the league, allowing 116.8 points per 100 possessions. It’s very rare for teams as bad defensively as the Bucks to win the title. 

While replacing Jrue Holiday with poor perimeter defenders such as Lillard and Malik Beasley is a big part of the problem, Griffin’s over-aggressive schemes exacerbated the Bucks’ issues on that side of the ball. Horst hopes a new coach will stabilize things. 

“Defensively we have a talent group that can be better than what they’ve been so far. Is that a top-five defense, top-10, top-15? I don’t know, and that’s what we’re trying to decide here with the roster as constructed. We’re trying to understand where we can take it. Having the players be better. The players have an accountability to do this, to be better. And then the coaching element.

“I know that we’re gonna be really good offensively. We gotta figure out how to improve defensively consistently. We’ve had points throughout the season where we’ve been very good defensively. We’ve had points where we’ve really struggled. So trying to find a consistency, an identity on that side is part of this.”

As constructed, the Bucks are not going to be an elite defensive team. But with a new coach and potential roster changes, there’s a chance they can be decent enough to let their offense carry them. 

How much time do you have?

Most teams that fire a coach mid-season are looking toward the future, not trying to win a championship. The Bucks, of course, are contenders, which adds a unique twist to Rivers’ task. He doesn’t just have to implement a new system, gain the trust of the players and hire out his staff, he has to do so in the span of a few months before the playoffs begin without the benefit of training camp or even many practices. 

That raises a question: does Rivers have enough time to make his mark on the Bucks? Horst believes so, in part because of the veteran talent on the roster. 

“Generally speaking NBA players, the NBA system, to me is incredible,” Horst said. “How they can transition, adapt and adjust on the fly. Players that get traded, changes that happen in season all the time. Although it’s a condensed period of time calendar-wise I think in the world of the NBA and what in particular are our really smart, professional and mature players can do, a great coaching staff around them, I believe that there is enough time for them to find an identity, find a rhythm together and continue to grow. 

“So, it may feel shortened but the things that happen in the NBA happen quick all the time and transition happens all the time and I think we’ll be well adapted to it.”

Only time will tell if he’s right. 





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