Jon Horst's biggest mistake with the Milwaukee Bucks is coming to light

Jan 27, 2024; Milwaukee, WI, USA;
Jan 27, 2024; Milwaukee, WI, USA; / Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Milwaukee Bucks fans will forever be grateful for Jon Horst. He helped assemble a roster that won a championship in 2021 and was considered a contender in many seasons outside of that.

However, some recent decisions from Horst are responsible for the team's current situation, being down 2-1 to the Indiana Pacers in the first round of the playoffs. There is one situation, in particular, that Horst likely wishes he could do over again.

Jon Horst's biggest mistake with the Milwaukee Bucks

After the Bucks decided to move on from former head coach Mike Budenholzer last May, the team thoroughly searched for their next leader. The search ended with them selecting Adrian Griffin, a first-time head coach, who they thought could lead a team seeking to contend for a title.

At the time, the Bucks did not know that Damian Lillard would end up on their roster. The Bucks believed in Griffin's long-term outlook as their coach, so they were willing to take a chance on someone who had not been a head coach before. On the same day, the NBA free agency period got underway, it was reported that Lillard had requested a trade.

Still, Milwaukee and Griffin's expectations remained the same since Lillard's preferred destination was Miami.

As the offseason moved on and training camp got closer, it became more apparent that Lillard wouldn't end up in Miami. Milwaukee eventually would make a blockbuster deal for Lillard in exchange for Jrue Holiday, Grayson Allen, and some draft picks in a three-team trade.

Some might wonder why the Lillard trade matters to the team's head coach. The Bucks hired Griffin with the belief that they would be running it back with the same core of players, and Griffin would likely have a one-year grace period if the team didn't compete for a title. Instead, Lillard came along, and expectations for the season became championship or bust.

The results through the first half of the season could have been better. Griffin was dismissed despite a 30-13 start to the season. The Bucks' defense ranked in the bottom third of the league for most of the season to that point. Their excellent record was misleading, considering they had played one of the easiest schedules in the NBA throughout the first half. Clearly, they needed to fix their defense and wanted to find someone new to do it.

Due to Griffin's firing happening mid-season, the Bucks couldn't have done a deep coaching search like they could have if they had waited until the offseason. The Bucks were left with Doc Rivers as the best available option, and he was hired days after Griffin's dismissal. Most people did not warmly welcome Rivers' hire because of his history of disappointments in the playoffs.

Rivers' tenure has been up and down for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, it seems that at least one key player is always injured. The Bucks have rarely, if at all, been at full strength since Rivers took over.

While health has been a factor, some of the team's issues in their first-round series against the Pacers have been caused by Rivers' rotations. The example that stands out the most is the minutes of Andre Jackson Jr.

The Pacers are a young and athletic team that likes to push the tempo and beat you with their speed. The Bucks have been in desperate need of someone who can keep up with Indiana's style of play. This is where Jackson Jr. comes into play.

Jackson Jr. did not play a single relevant minute in the first two games of the series, although he did get to play with the backups after the Bucks had pulled the starters in Game 2. Then, in Game 3, Rivers finally called his number. The only problem was that the Bucks were already down by 17 points when he checked in.

Jackson Jr.'s impact on the game was evident when he checked in. The Bucks' defense improved dramatically when he was on the floor. Jackson Jr., himself, played spectacularly, holding Pacers players to 0-for-10 shooting while defended by him.

One could argue that if Jackson Jr. had played meaningful minutes in Game 2, Milwaukee would have won. The same argument could be made if he had checked into Game 3 earlier. The Bucks could be looking at a 3-0 series lead if Rivers had made one minor adjustment to his rotation.

So, we can blame injuries, say Rivers needs more time or use whatever excuse fits our narratives the best. At the end of the day, Horst and the Bucks did this to themselves. They should have hired an experienced coach from the beginning, or they should have let Griffin finish out his first season as coach and re-evaluated him following the year.

Hindsight is 20/20, but this appeared to be a disaster from the start of the season. One has to wonder if Horst regrets how he's handled the coaching situation over the past year.

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