A largely disappointing Milwaukee Bucks season ended last night. A potentially turbulent offseason officially begins today.
To be clear, a losing season should not be confused with a lost season, not with Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parkerand Khris Middleton establishing themselves as the team's most promising young triumvirate in two decades (maybe more). And with a new arena lease now officially on the books, Marc Lasry, Wes Edens and Jamie Dinan met the media yesterday on the same day that they could claim another major milestone in keeping the team in Milwaukee long term. Still, for all the high-level good that has accompanied the team over the past year, the product on the court has also struggled to cope with the elevated expectations that came after a breakout 14/15 campaign.
As for the decision-makers in charge of deciding who stays and who goes? Well, it wouldn't be a Bucks' offseason without rampant speculation about the futures of both general manager John Hammond and head coach Jason Kidd, and you can't have speculation about the futures of Hammond and Kidd without Adrian Wojnarowski and Gery Woelfel each doing their part to stoke the fire. Woj has harped on Kidd's preference (and posturing) for a front office job since before he even arrived in Milwaukee, and more recently he reported that Kidd had ruffled some ownership featherswith an ill-fated attempt to dump Greg Monroe for peanuts at the deadline. Similarly, Woelfel's latest story on Tuesday reiterated the notion of Kidd failing to impress ownership on a number of fronts, even lobbing Tom Thibodeau's name as a potential replacement.
On the flip side, Hammond is of course entirely used to people predicting his departure. Many expected Edens and Lasry to hire their own guy when they arrived in the spring of 2014; they didn't. By the end of June, the controversial arrival of Kidd was again predicted to be a harbinger of Hammond's imminent demise; it wasn't. Late last summer Hammond was again rumored to be heading elsewhere, with Kidd purported to be taking over personnel; instead, Hammond was given an extension, assuring that both Hammond and Kidd would be signed up to the summer of 2017. In short, Hammond is nothing if not a survivor, and regardless of what happens next, it's Hammond who can claim credit for the two most crucial moves of the Bucks' decade: drafting Giannis Antetokounmpo at #15 in 2013 and swiping Khris Middleton from the Pistons a month later.
Still, as much as it might seem like something has to give soon, comments on Wednesday and Thursday from Edens, Lasry, Kidd and Hammond don't suggest the team has any immediate intention of moving on from either Hammond or Kidd. Here's what Lasry offered:
"At the end of the day, Jason is our coach. I know there's been a bunch of articles. We think he's done a great job. He's our guy. Everybody who keeps talking about it, it's a non-issue. I never understand why in this league you have these issues.
"We want to win next year; we're going to want to win the year after. This is a five-year plan."
Edens and Lasry then (after much prompting) alluded to consideration for a Kidd contract extension this summer, in the process offering an apparent endorsement of Hammond as well.
"Jason had real consideration and rightfully so to be coach of the year last year. We outperformed.
"We had a lot of injuries; there's a lot of excuses [this year]. It's a tough league. Everyone has their issues. John Hammond has drafted some great players over the time; he's a very high-quality general manager.
"Jason is a young coach. We all have a lot of room to grow. We're happy with all the progress that has been made in many areas. We're not happy about 33 wins."
Kidd (predictably) also demurred on the topic of his potential demise:
"For me, I'm going to be here as long as our ownership wants me here, and then my job is to make those guys in the locker room better."
"The one thing you learn from the owners is that you play out your contract until they bring that up [laughter]. So...I won't bring that up. If that comes up sometime this summer then we'll address that then. I still have a year left on my deal. And the nice thing about this whole situation is that we're going in the right direction and these younger players have gotten better..."
"I think coaching is the exciting part, it's the chess match of putting guys in a position to be successful, and then also I'm not that far removed from playing with certain guys in this league that maybe can help you in free agency. And hopefully again we can make Milwaukee an attractive place for free agents to come."
Context is of course important. No one should have expected anyone to be fired during a Q&A, but going out of your way to endorse your coach or GM isn't the wisest move if you're intending to replace them next week (ask Larry Harris). So ultimately the real gauge of ownership's happiness will be their wallets, though the extension question might not be as binary as you might think. While the Bucks don't have the best history with lame duck scenarios -- see their ugly 12/13 season, which saw Scott Skiles depart midseason and Hammond eventually extended -- coaches with more proven track records than Kidd have gone into the final season of a contract and succeeded without an extension. This year alone, Steve Clifford, Dwane Casey, Mike Budenholzer, and Terry Stotts all began the season without guaranteed money next year, and none of them have struggled to manage a locker room or win games (though weirdly only Clifford has received an in-season extension).
So if ownership is in fact split on Kidd -- which obviously wasn't going to be openly discussed last night -- the compromise scenario would be to neither fire nor extend his contract, thus putting the ball in Kidd's court to either prove his value next season or walk away of his own volition this summer. Considering Kidd is reportedly due $5 million next year, both sides have a major financial incentive to make things work.
But is that the right move? Well, let's start by admitting that "meh, let's wait and see" isn't the sort of decisive, clear-the-air move many fans might want, especially given the smoke surrounding Kidd's involvement in a series of poor personnel decisions over the past year and the team's general regression this in the standings. In an ideal world, the Bucks would have a savvy drafting, shrewd deal-making GM and terrific coach who's involved in personnel but stays in his lane. The standings and rumors over the last year suggest we're a ways from that ideal in Milwaukee. But Kidd and his staff's role in developing the young core shouldn't be overlooked, and it's easy to forget that we're just 12 months removed from everyone lauding their coaching of the 14/15 squad.
And so any assessment of Kidd inevitably leaves us with unanswered questions. Is Kidd the coach who couldn't get his guys to defend at all for much of this season -- or the one responsible for catapulting them from dead last under Larry Drew to top five a year ago? Is he the guy who makes Milwaukee an attractive place for free agents and has the credibility and hall of fame savvy to push his young players to their fullest potential -- or a guy whose combination of personnel inexperience and hunger for control drove the regrettable moves and general dysfunction of the past year?
The latter issue is the most troubling and figures to leave many wary of proceeding with the status quo regardless of what might be said publicly. On the one hand, Kidd doesn't have to be loved in Brooklyn or around the league if he can get the team to get back onto the winning trajectory of his first season. But the Bucks' moves over the past year certainly don't paint the picture of someone ready to quarterback a front office, and they've raised obvious questions about his ability to effectively work with the team's current one as well. Everyone including Hammond continue to say the right things, but without results the process behind it -- or whatever perception of it exists in the public -- will continue to draw questions.
In that sense it's not surprising that a 26-win turnaround quieted rumors of Kidd's outsized ambitions, or that the team's struggles this season have predictably restarted the debate over who to blame for last year's decisions. Another lottery pick paired with the progression of the team's youngsters may prove a major plus in the long term, but let's not confuse a 33-win season for an intended consequence of everything that happened last summer. Moreover, even then there were signs of discord: assistant GM David Morway quietly departed mid-summer, and while Rod Thorn was brought in as a consultant, no one was hired to fill the day-to-day void.
As for Hammond, the same do-nothing approach seems the most likely one for the Bucks' long-tenured GM, who Woelfel notes could have a soft landing spot with his former boss Joe Dumars in New Orleans should he decide he's not long for Milwaukee. Of course, Dumars would actually have to be hired in a full-time capacity first, though his long-rumored connection to New Orleans ownership seems more likely to result in an executive role given the Pelicans' struggles under Dell Demps and Alvin Gentry this season.
As a result, Hammond and Kidd may ultimately be the ones who decide their near-term fate. Even without extensions, are they as committed to and capable of rebuilding the Bucks as they suggested publicly this week? Do they actually have options elsewhere? After last season they may not have much choice but to solider on and make the best of a promising but flawed roster. Their ice may have thinned, but it doesn't appear to be cracking just yet.
Giannis: There are days when I ask myself... | Eurohoops
Fun read from Giannis in his latest blog:
There are days when things affect me and I say to myself, ‘Giannis, can you go that far?' Games might not go so well, I might not be good in practice, something might happen that will bring me down psychologically. My antidote for when I'm feeling this way is to go to our training center and work even harder.
You might often get disappointed and feel that the hours of individual training that you've put in are not coming out on the court as you might've expected. You can feel it, but it's a thought that might lead you into error and down the wrong path.
The rule is simple and inviolable: whatever happens, the more you work, the better you become.
Novak shooting for second chance to show Bucks his long-range | Journal-Sentinel
We barely saw Steve Novak in a Bucks uniform this year, but the season-ending knee injury he suffered might not be the last we see of the Brown Deer High School native.
"Being home has been unbelievable," Novak said. "I see the team that we have and hopefully I can be a big part of that. I am a free agent this summer, but that's my goal (to stay with the Bucks)."