Expectations are a funny thing. If you set them too low, nobody cares if you meet them. If you set them too high, nobody believes you would meet them. If you set them just right, nobody notices unless you significantly exceed them. Expectations are also a necessary thing, and it appears that based on Jason Kidd’s postgame presser last night, the Milwaukee Bucks don’t want to talk about expectations anymore.
Following their horrendous loss to the Chicago Bulls last night, our good friend Eric Nehm followed up on a previous question where Kidd mentioned the team’s youth. Kidd’s answer was...perplexing, at best:
Kidd: We’re not leaning on it, it’s the truth. You guys can write that we’re a superteam and we’re really good and we have the Big 3. We’re a young team learning how to play the game at a high level with expectations that are a little bit too high. Understand that nobody in that locker room has ever won, so they’re learning how to win as a team. There’s gonna be tough nights like tonight where you’re gonna have to come out and give more energy on the defensive end. We just didn’t do that now.
Still don’t believe the words that he said? That’s okay, we have the video:
If it were ever a time to have a tough conversation about the Milwaukee Bucks, it’s now. We could accept losing to a bad team now and then, but the Bucks have demonstrated a pattern of playing up (and down) to their opponents for years now. We might even temper our expectations for this season, if they weren’t already firmly established by both the team’s head coach and general manager on Media Day.
Last night is the indictment against Jason Kidd as the Bucks head coach. The existing criticisms, valid as they are, are secondary. His rotations are wonky, fine. He is stubborn and took forever to embrace the three-pointer, sure. He installed a defense that worked initially, got figured out, and then flip-flopped on patching the holes from game to game, whatever.
It is simply unacceptable to retreat from expectations that you set for your own team less than four months ago. The idea that 50 wins and a second round playoff appearance is somehow “asking too much” of this Bucks team is infuriating. It’s not just inexcusable, it’s unconscionable. It’s not moving the goalposts, it’s walking away from the play while the ball is live. This is a problem.
Meeting expectations are what good teams do. Exceeding them is what great teams do. The Bucks, who profess to have championship aspirations, need to become a good team, in order to become a great team, in order to become a championship team. Jason Kidd’s answers to the questions facing the team indicate that they’re not even ready for the very first step. This is a problem.
Without some sort of fundamental, franchise-altering event (such as a major injury or a trade for a superstar), resetting expectations is the weakest response to adversity. Expectations are not too high for the team, the team has failed to meet expectations, and any discussion of the contrary is downright cowardly. If you can’t own the future, at least own the failure.
Now, the Bucks roster is not perfect. Giannis Antetokounmpo, a legitimate MVP candidate, is not perfect, neither are Khris Middleton and Eric Bledsoe, legitimate All Star candidates, or Malcolm Brogdon, the reigning NBA Rookie of the Year. Thon Maker has been bad, as have been Matthew Dellavedova, Rashad Vaughn, and DeAndre Liggins. John Henson has been good, but is limited. Mirza Teletovic and Jabari Parker are significant contributors who cannot play. These are problems, but not unsolvable, especially if the team’s sets and strategy adapt to the available roster, rather than the inverse.
But here’s the thing: you don’t need to be perfect to beat the Chicago Bulls (11-22, beat the Bucks twice), the Charlotte Hornets (12-21, beat the Bucks twice), Dallas Mavericks (10-25, beat the Bucks once), or Rudy Gobert-less Utah Jazz (15-20, beat the Bucks once). Those six games are contests that Milwaukee should has won, and are the difference between their current 17-15 record (a disappointment) and 23-9 (where the Toronto Raptors are, and where the Bucks could be).
And if you needed a cherry on top, consider that things might get a lot worse before they get better (if they change at all!):
Next 13 games could be huge for the Bucks, 11 of them vs. teams in the playoffs atm, only PHI and ORL not. Combined record of next 13 opponents? 251-187 for a .573 wp.— Willie Armstrong (@CanadaBucks) December 27, 2017
Players lose games, but coaches lose seasons, and it feels a lot like Jason Kidd might have already lost this season. If the Milwaukee Bucks want to salvage it, they may need to make a drastic change, and time is not on their side.