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Crossroads 2017: Coach Kidd and What We Don’t Know (Yet)

You take the good, you take the bad...but you might not have the whole picture.

NBA: Playoffs-Milwaukee Bucks at Toronto Raptors John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

Pro/Con lists aren’t just for the characters in ‘Gilmore Girls.’ Over the last two days, we’ve been able to dissect the plusses and minuses (from our perspective) about Jason Kidd’s past (and future) as Milwaukee’s head coach. But sometimes this isn’t enough; it is important to at least recognize what we know we don’t know.

Unknowns

Communication.

As it relates to communicating during games, we can clearly tell that Kidd is laid-back by default, and musters up the energy on rare occasions when an outburst on an official is deemed necessary. More often than not, Kidd appears aloof and disinterested, but it is also clear that Kidd has the respect of his players. Even if there is a miscommunication that looks bad to us outsiders, it ends up getting patched up and doesn’t linger.

But coaching involves so much more than what fans can see on game day. Combining the private nature of the job (practices, strategy meetings, and film sessions) with Kidd’s apparent reluctance to offer any substantive information to inquiring media members leaves us with very little impression at how effective Kidd communicates during the majority of his day-to-day.

What are Kidd’s communication habits like? Does he reach out directly, or wait for others to reach out to him? How much does he interact with the front office, or the analytics team, or the ownership group? Does the media play any role in his workday beyond press scrums? Does he prefer in-person, email, phone calls, texting, or some other medium to move information back and forth? So much of this is unknown to fans, and it’s impossible to define what is the “right” or “wrong” approach, because we’re not a direct stakeholder in any of Kidd’s daily habits. But communication affects everything else, so it’s crucial to recognize that we simply don’t know how it impacts the Bucks’ performance.

Development curve.

When we discussed the pros and cons of Jason Kidd’s coaching repertoire, one factor that was hinted at but left on the margins was Kidd’s lack of coaching experience. After nearly 1400 games and nearly 20 years as an NBA player, Kidd made the abrupt jump from “floor general” to “bench general.” While famous for his ability to lead teammates, Kidd had only ever suited up for games, not donned a suit.

To (over)simplify, coaching and playing are two completely different arenas. The game’s best players sometimes make the worst coaches (see: Isiah Thomas, Derek Fisher) while some of the most marginal players turn out to be good coaches (see: Rick Carlisle, Luke Walton). But more often than that, non-players who spend years honing the craft of coaching are the ones who turn out to be the cream of that particular crop (see: Gregg Popovich, Erik Spoelstra, or Terry Stotts).

Jason Kidd made the jump with zero formal coaching experience. He has been an NBA coach for as long as Giannis Antetokounmpo has been an NBA player. Giannis’ development has taken the league by storm, and while Kidd has made improvements, there’s no way to know what his progression looks like. Maybe he gets a lot better...but maybe he doesn’t?

External factors.

In the NBA, there are few guarantees. To paraphrase an old quote, things in the NBA are how they are...until they aren’t. In recent years, the NBA has been comprised of LeBron’s Cavaliers, the Steph Curry/Draymond Green Warriors, and “everyone else.” That’s just how it is...but this paradigm isn’t permanent. Bad luck, bad decisions, unintended consequences, injuries, and plain old random chance reshape the NBA landscape without any warning, and the only thing a team can do is hope that their ship has a captain that can navigate the waves and sail out of the fog.

Here’s an example of what that could look like. Hypothetically, say that the Philadelphia 76ers turn in their lucky coin for a rabbit’s foot, and everything starts breaking right for them. Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and Dario Saric all hit their ceilings, the team is able to make some needed acquisitions, and all of a sudden the Sixers are a dangerous team to rising franchises, like the Bucks.

Does Jason Kidd have the coaching versatility to effectively lead the Bucks past such an obstacle, or through a power vacuum if LeBron James’ dominance suddenly becomes vulnerable? If another challenger (like the above Philly example) unexpectedly rises to knock Milwaukee off-course, how does Coach Kidd respond?

Speculation is a poor form of investment.” We cannot predict the future, and we don’t know how future events will affect the team’s standing in the league. The best way to prepare for the future is to create an environment that can withstand tectonic shifts. It appears to be the case that Kidd has established the basic framework for such an environment, but is it at this point strong enough to withstand major changes, both in Milwaukee and across the NBA?

Relationship management.

In Jason Kidd, the Bucks have a coach who appears to value the relationship between himself and his players, as well as between the players themselves. The dynamics of a locker room can be difficult to manage, but they are easy to influence if you are able to convince the members of that room to buy what you’re selling. In the early goings, Kidd’s in-house salesmanship appears to be a strong asset.

In Kidd, the Bucks also have a coach who is intimately familiar with the different power structures within the NBA from his playing days and his existing relationships in the league. But as those relationships evaporate (players retire, people move on to different roles, etc.), so too do the benefits those connections provide. How will Jason Kidd’s image across the league change after surrogates like Jason Terry are no longer involved?

Most importantly, though, is Jason Kidd’s relationship with Milwaukee’s ownership, led by Marc Lasry, Wes Edens, and Jamie Dinan (shortened to LED, in some circles). Kidd and Lasry go way back, but how far does that loyalty extend, and is it reciprocal on both sides? If the Bucks do not meet expectations, to what extent does ownership demonstrate accountability?


What did we miss? Are any of these items better characterized as strengths or weaknesses? Do you think we’re ready to pass a verdict on what the Bucks ought to do with their head coach (if anything)? Let us know in the comments!