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Worthwhile? The Legacy of Jason Kidd in Milwaukee

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There’s a lot to hate about Jason Kidd, but maybe it was all worth it.

Milwaukee Bucks v Cleveland Cavaliers Photo by Gregory Shamus/NBAE via Getty Images

As the news broke that the Milwaukee Bucks had relieved Jason Kidd of his duties as head coach, a palpable wave of relief washed over Bucks fans everywhere. Kidd, the backwards-thinking, stubborn scapegoat for all the things wrong with Milwaukee basketball, was gone, and the team could finally make some progress.

Kidd was brought to the Bucks under dubious circumstances; between that, his prior reputation, the team’s inconsistent performance, and the ever-growing divide between expectations and results, it’s entirely understandable how the fanbase at large turned against him with such intensity.

He instituted and persisted in using a defensive scheme that had been solved. He routinely acted like he was at odds with the media. He often lobbied to bring in veterans with a connection to his days as a player or coach in Brooklyn. His offense was unimaginative, emphasizing post-ups too much and three-pointers too little. His rotations were erratic, inconsistent, and entirely too dependent on the team’s cornerstones. The list of his faults goes on from there.

However, this is an incomplete view of his true legacy in Milwaukee. Jason Kidd, who was absolutely a below-average head coach with a number of significant flaws and deservedly fired in the midst of his fourth year with the team, should not be reviled in Milwaukee, but respected.

Jason Kidd should be acknowledged as the man who facilitated the ascendence of Giannis Antetokounmpo.

One of the core principles of #FireKidd was that Jason Kidd, as head coach, would hold the team back despite Giannis’ excellence, and that retaining Kidd would be wasting Giannis’ time. While it’s easy to recognize how important Giannis is to the Bucks, shouldn’t we also recognize how important Kidd was to Giannis? Or put another way, would fans’ ire have been drawn as strongly if Giannis hadn’t become the MVP candidate he is today?

To win in the NBA, you’re fighting an uphill battle no matter where you start. The biggest boost a team can get is acquiring a superstar, who are as rare as they are valuable. Giannis, perhaps the rarest of superstars, gives the Bucks their best chance to actually matter, and Jason Kidd was not along for the ride, but actively drove Giannis to become the transcendent talent he is today.

Kidd put the ball in Giannis’ hands and conducted the “Point Giannis” experiment. Kidd paired Giannis with assistant coach Sean Sweeney (who is still with the team, and the architect of the Bucks’ maligned defensive strategy), who also deserves credit for his efforts, to work together during the summers. And Kidd established a relationship with Giannis and earned his respect, which may not matter to us, but matters immensely to those who actually play the games.

Let’s be clear about what we’re saying. Jason Kidd did not single-handedly turn Giannis into a superstar, but directed his development path towards it. Kidd showed him the way, but it was Giannis that sprinted down it. Giannis deserves just as much credit, if not more, for the steps that he has taken since being drafted outside of the lottery in 2013.

Additionally, Kidd’s involvement with Giannis does not invalidate the other parts of his coaching career. Kidd helped turn him into a star in this league, but still ran him (and others) into the ground this season. Kidd still refused to dial back a defense in desperate need of being dialed back. It turns out we’re still learning things about Kidd’s tenure in Milwaukee, as Sports Illustrated reported today:

The Bucks contemplated firing Jason Kidd after last season because of how disconnected he was with most of the team because of his “old-school approach” to coaching, sources told Jared Zwerling of Sports Illustrated.

According to Zwerling’s sources, Kidd would “play mind games” with some of the players during film sessions and timeouts, talking trash and not comforting players. Zwerling’s sources add that along with the lack of communication between Kidd and the players, management also felt that Kidd wanted too much personnel control.

All in all, Kidd fared poorly as a coach. He still needed to go, whether it was last summer, next summer, or anytime in between, it’s still the right choice, whether it was a calculated move or in response to some sort of blow-up.

Now that Jason Kidd and the Bucks have parted ways, perhaps the animosity that Kidd generated can eventually be set aside. He doesn’t deserve a key to the city, or a statue, or even a commemorative plaque. But when we think of the Jason Kidd era in Milwaukee, we can recognize that it coincided with the beginning of the Giannis Antetokounmpo era. Maybe, at the end of the day, it was all worth the hassle?