Baller Mind Frame

How far can Jason Kidd take the Milwaukee Bucks?

Image courtesy of Keith Allison/Flickr.

Image courtesy of Keith Allison/Flickr.

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Jason Kidd’s first season with the Brooklyn Nets was a success, despite the fact that they lost in the second round of the playoffs. Will Kidd’s move to Milwaukee mean success for the Bucks too?

One and Done

Jason Kidd’s transfer to the Milwaukee Bucks takes the “one-and-done” phrase down to the coaching level.

It was only a year ago when Brooklyn Nets principal owner Mikhail Prokhorov welcomed Kidd to Brooklyn. This was part of Prokhorov’s statement during Kidd’s hiring as per NBA.com:

We believe he will lead us there. Welcome home, Jason.

Kidd wasn’t able to lead them “there” last season, but his one year stint in Brooklyn achieved something more important to the Nets. In the middle of the season, when they started winning, GM Billy King made this statement via BleacherReport.com on April 11, 2014:

So now putting a team together, I know which players to add.That’s something we’ve been searching for a while, is getting an identity so now in the offseason, Jason and I have already talked about the type of players he wants and have a feel for. That’s the key, you have a system. A lot of the credit, the players have played well, but Jason has been amazing.

Last season’s experience gave the team their identity and the blueprint for their future. So now, with or without Kidd, the show will go on in Brooklyn, but that’s the other side of the coin. What we want to know now is how Kidd will do in Milwaukee.

Miracle Man in Brooklyn?

To start, let us take a look at how far Kidd took the Nets last season.

The Nets started the season 10-21, but finished strong at 44-38 to claim the sixth playoff spot in the East.

The Nets’ turnaround started when they started playing “small ball,” but this did not really happen by design. A report by the NYDailyNews.com on March 18, 2014 said:

It took a season-ending injury to Brook Lopez and a re-shuffling of priorities, but the Nets found their identity.They’ve ditched the idea of trying to outrebound the other team. They’ve ditched the low-post offense. If the Nets are successful, it’s because they’re hitting their perimeter shots and forcing turnovers.

Now let’s take a look at the two key factors there: Hitting the perimeter shots and forcing turnovers.

Brooklyn was ranked sixth in the NBA in forcing opponents’ turnovers and fourth in forcing steals last season. Much of that can be credited to Kidd’s defensive philosophy of having “active hands.” Kidd said this in a report by WSJ.com on February 6, 2014:

‘Active hands,’ Kidd said when asked what he’s looking for on defense. ‘When you have active hands, deflections, steals, that means everybody is in tune defensively. When deflections are down, steals are down… [the opponent] can move the ball [from] A to B.’

That is a great philosophy, but it needs no science, it just needs active participants. The Nets were all ears to Kidd and so that part of it worked.

Next thing is perimeter shooting, and the Nets were loaded with shooters. Take a look at this loaded lineup:

3PM-3FA 3P%
Joe Johnson 2.1-5.1 .401
Deron Williams 1.5-4.2 .366
Paul Pierce 1.5-4.0 .373
Mirza Teletovic 1.9-4.8 .339
Marcus Thornton 2.0-5.3 .380
Alan Anderson 1.1-3.2 .332

If you add that up, that’s 10.1 three-pointers made per game. The 2014 NBA leader was Houston, and they made 9.5 threes per game. Marcus Thornton was a midseason acquisition, so some of his numbers belonged to his former team, the Sacramento Kings, but if he were there all season long, the Nets would’ve led the NBA in three-point makes per game. That’s how good the Nets were in that department.

Not to take anything away from Kidd, but when he got to Brooklyn the team not only had good shooters, but it had four NBA superstars. Of course two of them, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, were past their prime, but they weren’t over the hill, especially not Pierce. They also had Deron Williams, although he had an injury-filled season. Then of course, the ever reliable Joe Johnson was always there. They also had an incredibly reliable sixth man in Shaun Livingston, who unbelievably had a very healthy season for the first time in his career.

What was impressive about Kidd in Brooklyn was his ability to adjust his game plan when Brook Lopez got hurt. In fact, Brook’s injury might have been a blessing in disguise (sorry Brook) for the Nets. Kidd was a great presence in the locker room and players loved to be around him. That’s what helped the Nets win last season.

Kidd was no miracle man in Brooklyn, he was a good leader whom the players listened to. He also had a good cast of assistant coaches in Eric Hughes and Sean Sweeney who helped him with the Xs and Os.

Everything looked perfect in Brooklyn and nobody had a hint that Kidd was planning a coup.

What Went Wrong?

What really happened to Kidd in Brooklyn is as mysterious as Prokhorov. That being said, here’s what happened beforehand, according to NYTimes.com on June 30, 2014:

Kidd, 41, approached the Nets’ ownership with a request to head the team’s basketball operations, a position that would put him above the general manager, Billy King, in the organizational hierarchy. The team rebuffed his proposal and, instead, gave Kidd permission to speak to the Milwaukee Bucks about a new job that might give him the power he desires.The likelihood of Kidd’s departure is a surprising development and came without any real hint that there was turmoil in the Nets’ hierarchy.

That likelihood is now a reality, but as to the turmoil in the Nets organization, it was unlikely given the fact that they had a good season, and after comrade Prokhorov’s declaration “Next season, we pick up right where we left off.”

There were rumors that this was all about money. According to USAToday.com on June 30, 2014:

It’s clear now that Kidd’s unhappiness with his pay played a part, as Kidd – who signed a four-year, $10.5 million last summer – saw Steve Kerr (the Golden State Warriors) and Derek Fisher (the New York Knicks) getting enormous deals as first-year coaches (both at five years, $25 million) and decided he deserved more as well.

If pay was the reason, Kidd had a motive, but it wasn’t the fault of Steve Kerr and Derek Fisher, it was Jason who paved the way for these kinds of coaching hires.

Again, this could be part of the reason, but it’s not conclusive. Since we cannot answer the question from this standpoint, let us go to the other side of the fence to see what’s out there.

Bucking On a Kidd

The basketball grass is not greener in Milwaukee. On the Bucks, Jason Kidd inherits a team that went 15-67 last season and that was at the bottom of the NBA standings. That being said, the Bucks are under new ownership, and that ownership has a link to Kidd. As noted on BleacherReport.com on June 30, 2014:

Bucks owner Marc Lasry is said to be at the forefront of the move. Lasry was Kidd’s financial adviser during his playing days. The two have also developed a close personal friendship, and Kidd has been working behind the scenes to facilitate the move. Lasry and Wes Edens purchased the franchise from Sen. Herb Kohl earlier this year.

Lasry was a minority owner of the Nets when Kidd was there, so it’s no secret that the two know each other pretty well. In fact, there has been a lot of media backlash because the owners directly dealt with Jason Kidd without the knowledge of GM John Hammond. Then of course there is Bucks coach Larry Drew. But let’s leave the talk on politics and power play to other discussions. Let’s strictly talk basketball.

What’s In It For Kidd?

According to ESPN.com on June 30, 2014, Kidd loves the challenge in Milwaukee:

He was intrigued by the challenge of coaching a young, rebuilding team that just added the No. 2 pick in the draft in Duke’s Jabari Parker, the source said.

If Kidd wanted a challenge, he might be getting more than what he was asking for.

The Bucks re-signed center Larry Sanders before last season to a four-year, $44 million deal. Sanders missed most of the season with an injury and was ineffective in the games he played in. Aside from his basketball problems, Sanders had his share of off-court troubles, but GM John Hammond expects a triumphant return for by him according to a report from FoxSports.com on June 30, 2014:

Larry is having a good summer. He’s doing everything he can to put himself in position to be successful. All Larry has to do is be on the floor. Everything else comes very easy to him once he’s out there, and he knows that. Having him on the floor is a huge attribute to our team.

Maybe Hammond was too kind in saying that all Sanders has to do is be on the floor. Sanders is a top priority for Jason Kidd. Whether he can keep Sanders on the right track remains a question and will be a key factor for the Bucks moving forward.

The challenge certainly doesn’t end with Sanders. If we take a look at the Bucks lineup, it’s loaded with bigs and is short on guards. Again, from the same FoxSports.com report:

With Wright and the draft picks in the mix, Milwaukee has 12 forwards or centers and just three true guards — Brandon Knight, O.J. Mayo and Nate Wolters. When asked about the lack of backcourt players on his roster, Hammond said Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Inglis — all 6-foot-8 or taller — may have to play at guard.

Unless Lasry intends on suiting up 41-year-old Jason Kidd again in the backcourt, the Bucks have got to make a lot of moves to shape that team in the offseason. That being said, there’s plenty of time to do that.

The current Bucks lineup cannot play small ball like the Nets did. They do not have the luxury of having the shooters that Brooklyn had. The Bucks ranked 22nd in the NBA in three-point shooting last season. Defensively, the Bucks ranked 28th in steals and 20th in opponent turnovers. So by those statistical comparisons alone, the Bucks are not in the same league as the Nets.

Another factor would be star power. Sure, the Bucks drafted Jabari Parker, and he is a sure NBA star, but remember how long it took before Jordan, Kobe, and LeBron won their first NBA titles? Parker cannot do it alone, much less do it right away.

In Brooklyn, Kidd had four NBA stars, and he had one of the most clutch players in NBA history in Paul Pierce, playing for him on the court and sitting next to him on the bench. He doesn’t have that luxury in Milwaukee, unless of course the Bucks get Pierce in free agency. The Bucks though have up and coming players like Brandon Knight, Giannis Antetokounmpo, John Henson, Khris Middleton, and Larry Sanders. However, none of them are in the caliber of the four stars in Brooklyn. The challenge for Kidd is to make these young guys take their games to the next level along with Jabari Parker.

Got To Be Kidd-ing

It’s still a riddle why Kidd gave up the safer Brooklyn job to take a real challenge in Milwaukee. It could be power, money, relationships, or maybe there is really trouble brewing in Brooklyn.

Brooklyn’s team is fast aging and their window of opportunity to win the NBA title is slowly closing. Pierce and Garnett may be gone too, and didn’t Prokhorov promise a title by 2015 or he’ll punish himself with a bride? 2015 is next season! Didn’t we also hear rumors last month that Prokhorov was interested in gauging the value of the Nets? Let’s not go further with those speculations though.

Kidd was not only a good basketball player, he was a smart one. He knows what he’s doing and for whatever reason, his future is now in Milwaukee. Kidd has all the intangibles to be a great motivator and leader, but if he thinks that he’s going to turn Milwaukee’s fortunes around the way he did the Nets last season, he could be very wrong.

The Bucks are in the middle of rebuilding. It won’t be a year or two before they become real title threats, but with Parker and their current core, they may be one of the teams of the future. We’re just not sure if Jason Kidd will still be around to be a part of it.

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