In the summer of 2014, Milwaukee made Jason Kidd the most powerful figure in Bucks basketball operations. John Hammond was the general manager, but Kidd, courtesy of a tight-knit relationship with co-owner Marc Lasry, an ex-minority owner in Brooklyn and Kidd’s former financial adviser, swung the biggest bat. On Tuesday, first-year general manager Jon Horst — with the full backing of Lasry — fired Kidd, ending a tumultuous 3½-year tenure.
The final numbers for Kidd: a 139-152 record, two playoff appearances and a final season that was spinning out of control. A promising 15-10 start was followed by a ragged 8-12 stretch, with the Bucks entering Monday’s victory against Phoenix losers of four out of five, tumbling to the bottom of the Eastern Conference playoff bracket.
“I think a general manager in the NHL had a statement once of, ‘If something is inevitable, why wait?’ ” Horst said. “And so I think we’ve come to a conclusion that this was the best thing for the future of the franchise, and that this was the time.”
Horst made it clear Kidd’s firing was performance-based, and it’s easy to find cause there. Milwaukee entered the season believing it could compete with the conference’s elite, and team officials were frustrated by the recent downturn, sources familiar with the situation told Yahoo Sports, believing the team was playing well below its talent level. Even Lasry, whose relationship with Kidd had eroded over the past year, believed it was time for Kidd to go.
Five years into his post-playing career, Kidd is at a crossroads. As a coach he has his strengths: He relates to players, particularly veterans, and has a keen offensive mind. Yet he can be stubborn, closed-minded and unrelenting to point guards — Deron Williams, for example — who don’t live up to his expectations. At 44, Kidd is young by NBA coaching standards, and his Hall of Fame playing résumé will make him desirable down the road. But the abrupt end in Brooklyn coupled with the midseason firing in Milwaukee will likely mean a cooling off period before another gig.
The Bucks believe the season can be salvaged, and Horst made no commitment to interim coach Joe Prunty leading the team beyond Monday night. Teeming with talent and led by a true franchise player in Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee’s job is one of the NBA’s most desirable.
“We made this decision relatively quickly,” Horst said. “Why now? We believe this gives our team the best opportunity to have the most success this season. The success we expect and going forward long term. You have short windows in the NBA to build towards contention, and actually contend, and we don’t want to waste time in doing that.”
Available coaches will line up to interview, but there may be an early favorite: Monty Williams. NBA coaching sources believe the widely respected Williams is the frontrunner to land the job, and his track record of working with high-level talent — Williams developed Anthony Davis into an All-Star in New Orleans and led the Pelicans to the playoffs before being fired in 2015 — will make him appealing. While it’s unclear when the Bucks will hire a permanent coach, Williams, currently working in the Spurs’ front office, could be available right away.
Whoever takes over will inherit an enviable situation, this season and beyond. Antetokounmpo is 23, and in the first year of a four-year, $100 million contract. The Bucks have a high-level point guard in Eric Bledsoe and a former starter, Malcolm Brogdon, backing him up. And the team will get a boost when Jabari Parker, nearing a return from knee surgery, is back in the mix. Milwaukee’s season experienced upheaval on Monday, but the season isn’t over yet.
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