Bucks' Giannis Antetokounmpo caught off guard by former coach Adrian Griffin's firing

Giannis Antetokounmpo and Damian Lillard said they were both caught off guard by the firing of former Milwaukee Bucks head coach Adrian Griffin on Tuesday.

The first-year coach was dismissed despite the Bucks owning the second-best record in the Eastern Conference at 30-13.

Even though the sudden move surprised the Bucks' All-Star duo, Antetokounmpo said he's going to lean into trusting the team's leadership.

"I've got to trust the front office, I've got to trust the ownership group that they consider the bigger picture," Antetokounmpo said after Wednesday's 126-116 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers. "My job is to be the best version of myself, to lead this team out there and help win games.

"Their job is to create the best team possible and the best atmosphere around the team possible that they believe gives us a better chance to win a championship. But yeah, I do think [firing coach Griffin] was a surprise."

Milwaukee Bucks head coach Adrian Griffin talks to Giannis Antetokounmpo during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2023, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)
Milwaukee Bucks head coach Adrian Griffin was fired on Jan. 23, and star forward Giannis Antetokounmpo said the move surprised him. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

Lillard echoed those sentiments, and like Antetokounmpo conceded that for the star power on the team, there are improvements Milwaukee can make to actualize its full potential.

"There's been a lot of expectations on our team," Lillard said. "Things have been expected to look a certain way. We've had a bumpy road to our success, which is sometimes a part of the process. I was surprised. But it's part of the game. People get traded, people get waived, people get fired, and that's never something you want to see."

A day after Griffin received his pink slip, ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Milwaukee picked its next guy and had reached an agreement in principle with Doc Rivers to become the Bucks' next coach. With the deal still not done, general manager Jon Horst said he had no comment.

Even though some speculated that Antetokounmpo had input on the move, Horst shut that down and said this was a decision made only by the front office and ownership group. No player contributed to the move.

Horst did, however, speak to why Milwaukee's front office decided to make the move now. First and foremost, he believed that there was a chance to improve the group at a coaching level and grasp the championship window the team has right now.

Onlookers received a very small taste of that as the Bucks beat the Cavaliers in a wire-to-wire affair in the first game since Griffin's departure. Without Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee got trounced by 40 in the teams' last meeting.

On Wednesday, with Antetokounmpo on the floor, the team won easily as he finished with his third triple-double in four games — 35 points, 18 rebounds and 10 assists. He's one triple-double away from setting a new career high (eight) in one season.

Following the win, Antetokounmpo doubled down on Horst's comments that he had no hand in Griffin's dismissal, even if he did believe the team can play better basketball.

"I loved the guy; I invited him to my wedding," Antetokounmpo said of Griffin. "I was coached by him and we did very, very, very well. When somebody is being hired, the GM might come and ask, 'What do you think about that? What do you think about this?' or whatever and not just me — players, people that he trusts their advice. But at times, they make it seem like it's the players that are making the decision.

"From our chemistry, to the way we practice, our level of focus when we go out there, there's a lot of things that we could do better. Two-man game with me and [Damian Lillard] more. Me and Khris [Middleton] to also connect more. To posting up Brook [Lopez]. There's so many things ... so I'll probably assume that he's referring to those things."