So why didn't Giannis Antetokounmpo play against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday night?
It's a fair question, but one that Jason Kidd had zero interest in answering following his team's loss to the Cavs. After announcing pregame that Jared Dudley would take Antetokounmpo's starting spot against the Cavs, Kidd left his 20-year-old forward on the bench for the entirety of the team's narrow loss to the Cavaliers, and then didn't offer any real clarification after repeatedly being asked about it during his postgame press conference. The Twitter recap:
Jason Kidd says Jared Dudley will start for Giannis tonight vs. Cleveland. No reason given other than "Just making a change."— Matt Velazquez (@Matt_Velazquez) April 8, 2015
Apparently coach's decision that Giannis will not play tonight, according to Bucks TV. More to come after game. Kidd would not say pre-game.— cfgardner (@cf_gardner) April 9, 2015
Not much in the way of a response from Kidd regarding Giannis. Answered questions with "It was a coach's decision."— Eric Buenning (@ericbuenning) April 9, 2015
Referred to the many questions asking about Giannis as "stupid". Wanted to focus on the guys that did play.— Jeremy Schmidt (@Bucksketball) April 9, 2015
Kidd on Giannis' status for Friday: "He'll practice tomorrow."— Eric Buenning (@ericbuenning) April 9, 2015
Giannis said he was not told of decision but "I really respect it. It's not in my hands." Asked if he will play Friday, he said "Hopefully."— cfgardner (@cf_gardner) April 9, 2015
So yeah, good times.
Kidd was a bit more forthcoming about the issue on Thursday after practice, though (predictably) he remained intentionally vague about the rationale for his decision. Now, normally this is where I'd snippet a short quote from Charles Gardner's story about it, but honestly I'm not sure there's any single comment that really summarizes the whole thing. Among other things, he doesn't think every decision needs to be public (fair enough), no one on the team was surprised by the move (good, I guess?), "hopefully" Giannis will play in New York on Friday (indeed), it's all about the team (of course!), sometimes stuff happens (yep), life is a garden (dig it!), and the sun will rise again tomorrow (hooray!). OK, he didn't say all of that stuff, but you get the point. Jason Kidd still doesn't want to talk about this, but he'll say a bunch of random stuff to placate us and make it clear that no one's feelings are hurt and life will go on. Fair enough.
Perhaps more importantly, Giannis himself didn't seem too bent out of shape over it when interviewed on Thursday. After saying he "respected" his coach's decision last night, he stayed after practice to work out with Michael Carter-Williams and Jerryd Bayless before reiterating his acceptance of his coach's decision. Atta kid, Giannis.
Giannis said he views as motivation: "Hopefully, yeah, he's trying to motivate me. Whatever he's trying to do, he's doing the right thing."— cfgardner (@cf_gardner) April 9, 2015
In the end my guess (slash-hope) is that this is a 48-hour story; if Giannis plays major minutes again on Friday in New York all will mostly be forgotten. Optimistically, that would also explain why Kidd felt he could get away with treating it like such a non-story last night -- if he waits a day it probably resolves itself and suddenly no one cares. Still, we shouldn't lose sight of the irony of the whole situation: This became a story in no small part because Kidd said it wasn't a story and then became testy when reporters made it clear that, yes, benching your team's most popular and most talented player is the kind of thing people find interesting.
All of which also highlights the inherent tension coaches face when it comes to disclosing what happens behind closed doors. If a guy messes up or a coach otherwise thinks he needs to send a message to a player -- let's assume it's something in that innocuous neighborhood with Giannis -- how much of an explanation does the coach owe fans and the media about it? The easy answer would be, "it depends," and the irony is that the public is often content (and in many ways expects) to just be lied to about these sorts of minor things. I don't know if that's actually a good thing, but people are used to it, it happens all the time, and it keeps those of us on the outside from asking too many questions.
Kidd didn't take that route on Wednesday, which isn't necessarily a bad thing; if he's trying to shield Giannis from any undue scrutiny and direct it at himself, then he certainly succeeded. But in the process he helped stoke a weird, half-baked pseudo controversy that he felt obligated to clarify a day later, and now it's a thing that we're writing, talking and tweeting about when the reality is probably far, far less interesting. Fingers crossed we won't be doing the same on Saturday, eh?