What does the end of the Damian Lillard-Terry Stotts reunion mean for Milwaukee?

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It’s not quite as impactful or scandalous as Ime Udoka getting sidelined before Boston’s season last September, but a year later another Eastern Conference contender has lost an influential coach on the eve of the season. Milwaukee’s serendipitous reunion of longtime Portland Trail Blazers head coach/current Bucks assistant Terry Stotts with Damian Lillard came to an unexpected end on Thursday when Stotts stepped down from Milwaukee’s coaching staff.

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Stotts joined the Bucks in June, and his presence seemed to make Milwaukee a more desirable destination for Lillard. The other two destinations on Lillard’s list were Miami, where he was tight with Bam Adebayo, and Brooklyn, whose cornerstone was a close enough friend of Lillard’s that he sat courtside to watch them play toward the end of the 2023 campaign. Giannis Antetokounmpo and Milwaukee being the No. 1 seed in the East a year ago certainly helped, but Stotts was a small piece of Portland in the Midwest for Dame.

Nobody would blame Stotts, 65, for stepping away from the grind after two years off, but you’d think being on the championship hunt with Lillard could have motivated him to stay for one last hurrah. Stotts’ decision to step away a week before the regular season is a hint that all is not well in Cream City. Not only was Stotts someone that Lillard trusted, but he was a veteran mind on first-time head coach Adrian Griffin’s staff.

There was also admiration between Stotts and Lillard. At his introductory press conference, Lillard said, “It’ll be smooth…There’s a lot of things that are familiar. I’ve played with Terry [Stotts] for nine years. A lot of stuff we put in is stuff I’ve done for a long time. So it’s simple for me. I understand it. I know where to find myself”

All the signs point to a misalignment between Griffin and Stotts. Stotts was an addition reportedly made at the behest of the organization, and given how highly Lillard thought of Stotts, there may not have been enough space on that coaching staff for those egos. Not only is Griffin a rookie head coach, but Stotts is a seasoned coach who has accumulated experience as a head coach at multiple stops including Milwaukee, although that was two ownership regimes ago. His rotations and lineups were a bane of Portlandia’s existence for years.

Griffin talked about Stotts as a de facto offensive coordinator throughout the offseason, but it appears something changed in that dynamic or the tension was always there and just well hidden. With the regular season just over the horizon, Stotts may have decided this was as good a time as any to make a beeline to the exits and Lillard had no bearing on his decision.

Griffin was conciliatory when asked about Stotts’ departure on Thursday, but any disagreements between Stotts and Griffin became magnified exponentially once Lillard arrived.

It’s surprising Stotts left voluntarily instead of awkwardly standing around and becoming an even more prominent sideline voice anytime the Bucks hit a rough patch like some of the more ruthless figures in coaching would have done. He’s a classier guy than most.

His resignation removes that possible distraction from Griffin’s peripherals. Prior to this season, Griffin had never held a head coaching position and now he’s tasked with maximizing two of the most unique talents in basketball without his lead assistant.

Stotts’ departure probably won’t have an impact on the Bucks’ overall winning percentage, but his mysterious and abrupt resignation has created intrigue about the inner workings of the Bucks’ new coaching staff on a club that already had questions about how their two superstars were going gel on the court.

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