In spite of Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s parting defense of Jason Kidd, the former head coach’s fate still won’t impact the All-Star’s Milwaukee Bucks’ future.
One of my longer running jokes on our Win In 6 Podcast is that nobody watches the Milwaukee Bucks. With time, Giannis Antetokounmpo has gone a long way toward proving that statement to be wrong, but still the instances when the full attention of the wider NBA media turn to Milwaukee can be rare.
Monday was one of those occasions, though. The firing of any NBA head coach is big news, but with a character, a personality and most of all a name like Jason Kidd, the scale was only magnified further.
While the wider consensus seemed to need to take little more than record into account to identify the thinking behind the Bucks’ decision, quotes that arrived later in the evening from Kidd, himself, added a different talking point to the discussion around his departure.
The first communication to emerge publicly from the former Bucks head coach came via a conversation he had with ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne. In addition to providing Shelburne with a more general note on his time in Milwaukee, Kidd quickly switched to sharing details of his final interactions with the star player he has watched blossom over the last few years.
Shelburne shared the details on Twitter in the tweets presented below.
Kidd’s quotes only further fueled interest in the reaction of the Greek Freak to the news, following ESPN’s Chris Haynes earlier note that Giannis was “devastated” by the decision.
As one of the league’s very best players already and with a future that may see him destined to become the best player on the planet, Antetokounmpo’s thinking is increasingly the source of speculation from the national media, in spite of how the player’s often private demeanor does little to let outsiders in.
With that in mind, it was inevitable that rumblings like this would quickly be spun into discussions of whether Antetokounmpo was onboard with the organization’s thinking, and for those even more fond of the dramatic, whether the decision to fire Kidd could negatively influence his long-term future with the Bucks.
To put it simply, I have no doubt that Antetokounmpo is currently upset about the dismissal of the man who has coached almost 80 percent of the games he’s played in the NBA. If he wasn’t, that wouldn’t necessarily be a positive trait and it would certainly fly in the face of the loyal, intelligent and caring image that has emerged of the 23-year-old during his time in the U.S.
Speaking on SportsCenter, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN very succinctly summed up the state of play in regard to Giannis’ feelings for Jason Kidd and how things will change with the Bucks going forward. (H/T to Brew Hoop’s Eric Buenning for transcribing)
"“Giannis has a good relationship with Kidd. He’s a respectful guy. He’s going to be respectful of whoever the coach is. But the organization didn’t see something there that was going to injure them long-term with Giannis. He wants to win. They feel like they’ve got a team that can do better.”"
As it stands, Antetokounmpo knows little different than playing under Jason Kidd. The culture shock that his rookie season likely represented, along with the challenging year the Bucks had under Larry Drew almost certainly means that franchise-worst season isn’t one Giannis draws much of his experience from.
Winning will help to quickly cover over any sadness that Antetokounmpo has over the move, as he’s only reached the heights he has in the game by virtue of a relentless work ethic and competitive drive that ensures that winning cures most, if not all, of his problems in a professional sense.
For many young stars, a head coaching change like this is akin to a rite of passage, and it’s common to hear of the player’s disappointment in the moment.
Notably, when Monty Williams was relieved of his duties as Pelicans head coach back in 2015, the feelings of Anthony Davis came under scrutiny as the two had a widely publicized, positive relationship.
In the time since, the Pelicans have moved on, Davis has moved on, but the young star remains in New Orleans. The Pelicans haven’t necessarily had the success since that both player and team would have hoped for, but if Davis eventually leaves as a free agent in 2020, those failures on the court will be what’s pointed to as the breaking point, not the dismissal of a coach five years earlier.
The situation is no different for Antetokounmpo, yet the Bucks must strive to have greater success in selecting their next head coach.
Regardless of how Kidd’s legacy in Milwaukee is ultimately viewed, his influence on Antetokounmpo is undeniable.
Sure, there’s an argument to be made that Giannis would have thrived regardless of who his coach was, and Kidd preventing him from shooting three-pointers as a rookie will be long discussed as one of the few hitches in the Greek’s development. Even if it was as a figurehead more than anything else, Kidd was an almost ever-present for Antetokounmpo, and that matters.
With Kidd’s departure, Antetokounmpo has lost a mentor, but it’s not the first time.
When John Hammond left Milwaukee for a job with the Orlando Magic last summer, Antetokounmpo was left to say goodbye to arguably the greatest influence on his pro career to date. It was Hammond who helped discover Antetokounmpo in an NBA sense, who went to visit him in Greece, who gave him his chance in the NBA, and later showing evidence of a strong personal relationship, it was also Hammond who helped teach Giannis how to drive.
Antetokounmpo greeted the news of Hammond’s move to the Magic on Instagram by saying:
"“Where can I start … this man gave me the opportunity of a lifetime! He taught me how to be a professional on and off the court. He helped mold me into the man that I am today. This guy took a chance on me at 18 years old and I am forever grateful. Congratulations Mr. Hammond. I wish you the best with your future in Orlando. From the bottom of my heart thank you for changing, not only my life, but my family’s life as well!”"
In spite of a heavy heart, Antetokounmpo has continued to grow and has even taken a further step forward in the brief time that Hammond has been away from Milwaukee.
The importance of professional relationships shouldn’t be underestimated, but they shouldn’t be viewed without perspective either.
In the same year that Antetokounmpo and his family had to deal with the sudden and tragic passing of his father, a change of coach seems incredibly insignificant in comparison.
Antetokounmpo already has had to deal with the harsh reality that life goes on no matter what happens around you, and in context, a change of a coach that he held dear doesn’t seem like something that can’t be moved past with improved team performances.
The onus is now on the Bucks to find the right coach to help Antetokounmpo and his teammates achieve all of their professional dreams, and make no mistake about it, that decision will be much more influential in the star’s long-term future in Milwaukee than the dismissal of Kidd may appear to be right now.