The Milwaukee Bucks fired head coach Jason Kidd on Monday afternoon. The move reportedly “devastated” superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo, who was close with Kidd, and shook up one of the most promising young teams in the league.
There is only one prevailing question: Why?
1. Bucks management didn’t believe the team could win with Kidd
Just look at what general manager Jon Horst said during his media availability:
“We believe this gives our team the best opportunity to have the most success this season, the success that we expect, and going forward long-term,” Horst said Monday evening. “You have short windows in the NBA to build toward contention and actually contend, and we didn’t wanna waste time in putting our team in the best position to do that.”
The Bucks indeed have a short window to show signs of competing for a championship when you consider Antetokounmpo’s contract situation. The Greek Freak signed a four-year, $100 million extension that drags until the end of the 2020-21 season. He will then become an unrestricted free agent at the ripe age of 26, able to sign with whichever team he so chooses.
Antetokounmpo is the biggest star to walk through Milwaukee’s doors since the franchise drafted Ray Allen in 1996, and at least until now, he’s remained loyal to the organization that drafted him in 2013. The Bucks don’t have time to waste to put a winner around him, even if he supports Kidd.
2. Milwaukee’s defense was awful
The only teams with a worse defensive rating than Milwaukee were Atlanta, Orlando, Phoenix, Cleveland, and Sacramento. But it wasn’t supposed to be this way.
Kidd had implemented an aggressive defensive scheme that was supposed to stop offenses from making passes in stride. It was a blitzing defense that sent two defenders at the ball-handler with ball hawks lurking for an errant pass. The idea was supposed to take offenses completely out of their comfort zone and force floating passes that took teams away from their game plans.
Kidd’s defense worked in the 2014-15 season, Antetokounmpo’s first year in the playoffs, when Milwaukee finished 41-41 and posted the NBA’s second-best defensive rating. But it has proved ineffective with the Bucks since, as they’ve finished 22nd and 19th in defensive efficiency in the two full seasons since then. Milwaukee ranks 25th midway through this season.
The league had figured out Kidd’s revolutionary defense. Something had to change.
3. He kept making excuses for the Bucks’ age
The Bucks had a tendency to fall into the iso-ball trap, and that can happen when you have a superstar as talented as 23-year-old Antetokounmpo.
But Antetokounmpo is the only player in the starting lineup under age 25, which would make Kidd’s comments about the team’s age after a recent loss and inexperience a bit inaccurate.
“I think when you, you know, become 25 or, you know, in the 28 range, you tend to think about the game. We’re talking about kids that are thinking about trying to put the ball in the basket.”
Kidd repeatedly leaned on Milwaukee’s age as an excuse after bad losses. Here he is again after a defeat on Dec. 26:
Full quote from Jason Kidd when asked when the Bucks will be able to get past pointing to being young: pic.twitter.com/FdVGgcj6fR— Matt Velazquez (@Matt_Velazquez) December 27, 2017
“We’re not learning about it. It’s the truth. You guys can write that we’re a super team and we’re really good and we’ve got the ‘Big 3’ or the ‘Brew 3.’ We’re a young team that’s learning how to play the game at a high level with expectations that are a little too high.”
The Bucks’ average roster age is 26.3 years old. Again, Antetokounmpo is 23, Jabari Parker is 22, and budding big man Thon Maker is just 20. Milwaukee boasts just the sixth-youngest roster makeup in the league.
But many of the Bucks’ core players are in their veteran seasons. Khris Middleton is 26 years old and has been in the league for six seasons. So is John Henson, who is 27. Tony Snell is 26 and is in his fifth year in the NBA. Eric Bledsoe, acquired in November in a trade with Phoenix, is 28.
The Bucks may be a bit young, but they’re not as inexperienced as Kidd tabbed them. And experience certainly wasn’t an issue when he wrote the Bucks in for almost 50 wins in the preseason press conference.
4. Kidd reportedly had issues with Jabari Parker
And apparently, the two had reached a boiling point.
Kidd and Parker weren’t speaking prior to his dismissal, according to both ESPN’s Ryen Russillo and The Washington Post’s Tim Bontemps, who wrote there were issues between Kidd and the recovering Parker:
Not sure how much his relationship w/ Jabari factored in but was told they weren’t speaking. https://t.co/PsibxRwUms— Russillo (@ryenarussillo) January 22, 2018
Parker hasn’t played because he’s been recovering from a second torn ACL. But when healthy, he’s easily the second-most talented player on Milwaukee’s roster behind The Greek Freak.
You never want to be on non-speaking terms with one of your team’s best players.
5. The Bucks are underachieving. Full stop
Last season, Milwaukee took the loaded Raptors to a seven-game series and eventually lost in the first round of the playoffs. Many expected the Bucks to build on the momentum of that 42-40 season that saw Antetokounmpo win Most Improved Player and Malcolm Brogdon snag Rookie of the Year honors. The Greek Freak further validated those expectations by improving to MVP numbers this season.
But instead, Milwaukee has disappointed in recent weeks. The Bucks dropped two December games to the Bulls, then lost to the Heat twice and the Raptors twice before getting washed by the 76ers by 22. Altogether, Milwaukee fell to just a 9-11 record since Dec. 15 and is just barely clinging onto the last playoff spot in the East, just one game ahead of the Pistons.
That’s not what you’d expect from a team with aspirations and expectations for a deeper postseason run, especially not after addressing a key roster need by trading for a dynamic point guard in Bledsoe.
Milwaukee leadership felt like a change was necessary and pulled the trigger at a time few expected.
6. This was a consequence of ownership issues?
Who is the owner of the Milwaukee Bucks? Well, that’s a good question.
You might know the name Marc Lasry, and it’s not wrong to say he’s the owner. After all, it was Lasry’s relationship with Kidd that led him to the Bucks coaching job in the first place.
But there are two other Bucks owners, Wes Edens and Jamie Dinan, who share power between them. According to ESPN’s Zach Lowe and Brian Windhorst, those three hedge fund managers don’t always see eye to eye.
Case in point: One year before GM John Hammond left Milwaukee for the Orlando job, the Bucks hired Justin Zanik from the Utah Jazz as assistant general manager. Zanik was regarded as an executive on the rise, and according to Lowe and Windhorst, he took the job with the understanding he would succeed Hammond as general manager. Today, Jon Horst is GM after nine years in the Bucks’ front office as director of basketball operations.
Milwaukee made the decision on Horst, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, because Zanik had the full support of only two of the three owners. Edens, according to the report, “soured on Zanik” and wanted to conduct a full search.
Edens, though, is Milwaukee’s designated governor — much like Jeanie Buss is to the Los Angeles Lakers — and he has authority over all basketball decisions. Even after conducting a full GM search, Zanik still held a 2-1 majority vote, and usually a majority vote is enough. But Edens still was not sold on Zanik, and the three eventually decided on Horst, while Zanik returned to Utah.
Edens categorically denied the trio of owners had any issues back in March 2016:
“Nothing whatsoever,” Edens said, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Charles Gardner. “It’s just complete fiction.
”The thing that was most disappointing and inaccurate, of somehow discord among the owners, nothing could be farther from the truth. I don’t know where any of this stuff comes from. In this case it was so misplaced.”
Kidd is no longer the head coach of the Milwaukee Bucks, and more specifics may present themselves as the story continues to develop. But for now, Bucks fans can only hope their team rebounds from this midseason change and rallies to make a competitive postseason push.