On January 20, 2018 the Milwaukee Bucks endured another embarrassing defeat, this time on the road, against the Philadelphia 76ers 94-116. Superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo didn’t play that game, but the team was out-hustled, out-played and out-coached. The team had now lost four of their previous five (23-22 overall). Underachieving and seemingly unable to string together any stretch of quality play, the team looked aimless and uninspired.
The team that looked ready to take the next step after a competitive playoff series against Toronto wasn’t showing up. The team that opened the season with a win in Boston had curled into a shell. A path to mediocrity was set in stone and the Kiddism “energy and effort” was a laughingstock that drove Bucks fans to want to punch a wall. Two days later, the team prepared for a game against the Phoenix Suns and it was going to be another ho-hum Monday night struggle until something unexpected happened.
Milwaukee has fired coach Jason Kidd, league sources tell ESPN.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) January 22, 2018
The tension and pressure of the season was causing cracks, but Jason Kidd’s dismissal caused everything to shatter. Milwaukee finally pulled the trigger on a long overdue move that many fans had been angrily clamoring for on forums and social media.
That left the LED (Marc Lasry, Wes Edens, and Jamie Dinan-led) ownership group and general manager Jon Horst to pick up the remains and fix their shattered (expensive) art piece of a franchise. Joe Prunty was put in charge to try and salvage whatever was left. The team got into the playoffs and there was some faction of fans that thought, maybe Prunty could wind up as the head coach and he could install some different schemes rather than just care-taking Kidd’s.
Then the playoff series against Boston happened. Despite Giannis and Khris Middleton’s best efforts, Prunty bungled key coaching decisions like playing an aged Jason Terry and Shabazz Muhammad too many minutes in a game 7. That loss closed the door on any improbable Bucks run, and any chance, however faint, Prunty may have had at the job.
Fast forward to May 2018, when Milwaukee faces one of the biggest offseason decisions in the history of the franchise. Hit a home run with that coaching hire, and the team can finally take that oft-discussed next leap and keep Giannis happy enough to sign a supermax contract in 2020. Whiff, and you set yourself up for a lengthy, and painful, rebuild. As we know now, Milwaukee hired Mike Budenholzer, who had the experience but also seemed to skew on the safer more dependable side compared to some highly touted assistants from the Spurs or Raptors ranks.
Then came free agency, when the team made the key signing of the offseason in Brook Lopez while adding depth with Donte DiVincenzo, Pat Connaughton and Christian Wood. While the three haven’t set the world on fire compared to Lopez, they are still a substantial upgrade on Jason Terry, Muhammad and Jabari Parker. When the season came, the trade of John Henson and Matthew Dellavedova gave Milwaukee some much needed cap relief next summer while adding an improvement of the third guard in George Hill. Milwaukee’s player moves have been crucial in the recovery process from the Kidd era, but the improvement of perceived lost causes is just as important.
Thon Maker’s flashes are now more frequent, and while the jokes of his inability to catch will remain, we can’t deny that his floor has raised. D.J. Wilson was someone fans constantly derided and said wasn’t good enough to even be on a G-League roster. His turnaround alone would be a notable, but guys like Sterling Brown and Tony Snell too have been better and more consistent with this staff.
Consistency was a word we could never use to describe the Kidd regime, at least not as a compliment. One week the Bucks could beat any given team, then they would turn around and lose to one of the tanking teams. The team couldn’t string together win streaks or a sustained stretch of quality play other than March of 2017, but even that was due to some sheer reversal of fortunes. It’s staggering that Milwaukee’s 7-0 start was longer than any win streak under the Kidd era, but inconsistency was just one of the many issue that plagued the team.
What, on paper, always seemed to be a potential top-5 defense has finally become realized under Budenholzer. An offense that had to force a square peg into a round hole to become a top-10 offense has become that and so much more while making it look like a seamless transition. Under Kidd, the team that would frequently crack under pressure and blow double digit leads or squander chances in the clutch wasn’t a running joke, it was the reality that Bucks fans faced every single game. What should’ve been a prime time installation night in and night out instead was just a collection of shattered pieces on full display for any outside ridicule due to coaching malpractice.
The infamous Fire Kidd avatars were all over twitter. Like a plague, where one infected person has it and it spreads and becomes an epidemic. Any tweet sent by Brew Hoop, Behind the Buck Pass, beat reporters, the team itself or its employees (like SVP Alex Lasry) was followed by a sea of responses, bearing that avatar with some tweet containing #FireKidd.
On that day a year ago, the epidemic of Fire Kidd avatars on Twitter officially could be contained; fans could return to their normal everyday faces as avatars with a little mixture of Giannis dunking over Tim Hardaway Jr. The illness finally had a cure. At the end of the 2017-18 season, fans could finally look forward to change. The future was unpredictable and scary, but at least it wasn’t the same destructive pattern we had gotten used to.
Now, fans can believe in this team and the energy is there to match the state of the art new arena in Fiserv Forum. The team has taken the next step. Expectations are flirting towards not just getting homecourt advantage or advancing past the first round. It’s starting to reach being in the Eastern Conference Finals and beyond, winning the east and contending for the title. The roster doesn’t have one great asset and a majority of neutral to bad assets, it has an MVP-level asset paired with complementary good to neutral ones. About the only potential bad aspect is the Ersan Ilyasova signing. All that, and it has cap flexibility that wasn’t existent before the season to keep these pieces together and let fans have those higher expectations for this offseason and potentially beyond.
The past year has been a transformation for this franchise and it’s unbelievable to see. What was deemed lost has been found; what was broken has been fixed. There is still progress both the teams and the fans need to make; but it’s easier when it’s a united effort. The infighting among Bucks nation has been reduced, barring an occasional disagreement here and there, while this team seems to have the best chemistry the franchise has seen since the 80’s. How long this will last is an answer nobody can well and truly have, but this year-long path to recovery is something everyone should look back on fondly.