Milwaukee Bucks: Imagining a documentary on the Jason Kidd years

MILWAUKEE, WI - APRIL 10: (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
MILWAUKEE, WI - APRIL 10: (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images) /
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Milwaukee Bucks
MILWAUKEE, WI – DECEMBER 12: (Photo by Mike McGinnis/Getty Images) /

Imagining a Kidd era Milwaukee Bucks documentary: The 2015-16 season

How do you go from 41 wins with a young and improving team, under an increasingly well-regarded coach, after the highest profile signing in the team’s history, and manage to follow it up with just 33 wins the next year?

For the 2015-16 Bucks, the answer to that question likely lies in the locker room as much as on the court.

In an anecdote that has now become an infamous marker of Kidd’s tenure and coaching style, ESPN’s Zach Lowe detailed one notable look inside Milwaukee’s locker room that may have laid the groundwork for not just disappointment in 2015-16, but also the downfall of Kidd beyond that:

"“During the middle of a frustrating 2015-16 season, Jason Kidd stopped a film session and polled Milwaukee’s players one-by-one as they all sat together: Who did each think was the best player on the team? It was an attempt to clarify a pecking order. Giannis Antetokounmpo wasn’t a full-on freak yet; Kidd would unleash him as Point Giannis in another couple of months. Greg Monroe was the starriest free-agent acquisition in franchise history, Michael Carter-Williams a former Rookie of the Year for whom the Bucks passed up a lightly protected future Lakers pick (whoops). Jabari Parker was a No. 2 pick who likely expected the “best player” mantle would one day be his. Khris Middleton was surging.”"

Gifted a group of players of a similar age, at a similar juncture in their careers, with a similar desire and hunger to prove themselves, Kidd’s instinct was, remarkably, to create divisions.

Speaking on a recent episode of the Gyro Step podcast, Johnny O’Bryant, a second year player on that Bucks’ squad, pointed to the loss of veteran players and a wider sense of dissatisfaction as contributing factors in that season amounting to a colossal letdown:

"“I think, honestly, guys were not happy. I just think guys weren’t happy. I think [Michael Carter-Williams], he wasn’t really happy. I think the bench guys weren’t happy. I don’t think Greg Monroe was happy, even though he just got paid. I just think there were a lot of unhappy guys on that roster…Rashad Vaughn…so that’s what I’d chalk it up to. It was a group of unhappy guys and we kind of underachieved.”"

Considering the momentum the Bucks seemed to have gathered, and the personal momentum of many of its young players, there was little reason for Milwaukee to be a miserable team at that time. Kidd’s hard-nosed and frequently abrasive style certainly wouldn’t have helped to nurture a positive dynamic, but it also contributed to damage on the court.

Having shown some positive signs with his shooting as a rookie, Giannis Antetokounmpo essentially stopped attempting jumpers completely under Kidd. For all of the Greek’s phenomenal development since, his 3-point and free throw shooting have never really returned to the comfort level that was on display when he entered the league.

Speaking to Matt Velazquez of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in 2018, Antetokounmpo revealed that he had been explicitly instructed not to shoot for some time by Kidd, and had effectively struggled to turn that part of his game back on in the years since.

"“I think it was my second year he told me not to shoot the ball,” Antetokounmpo said. “Then my third year, at the end of the year, he told me to shoot the ball a little bit. In my fourth year, he let me shoot the ball and in my fifth year he told me, ‘You have the green light, do whatever you want,’ but I wasn’t comfortable enough. It’s hard. When you’re not shooting the ball, it’s hard to get back (to shooting).”"

Control was crucially important for Kidd, and as someone who was a supremely talented floor general that probably shouldn’t have been all that much of a surprise. That came across in how he looked to micromanage how his players played, the countless documented examples of him undermining players or taking hardline stances that dented their confidence, and how he constantly attempted to spin and shape the narratives that surrounded him and his team.

It would be the best part of 18 months before Kidd finally left the Bucks, but it was 2015-16 when it all started to unravel. Doubts were seeded among ownership that hadn’t previously existed, and a couple of key individuals were making strides on the court that suggested they were soon going to be much more important to the franchise than their coach.

Quite simply, it was in this season that Kidd began to lose the control that was so central to how he operated in Milwaukee.