Such is the state of the Milwaukee Bucks these days that they end up looking bad even when they do the right thing.
Clearly, Monday’s dismissal of coach Jason Kidd was the right thing to do. Many of the players had tuned out Kidd, the fan base had grown weary of his excuses and who knows what was going on in the team’s administrative offices with Kidd, who is notorious for his behind-the-scenes power plays.
As necessary as it was to fire Kidd after 3½ seasons, however, the sloppy, ham-handed way it was done was a bad look for the Bucks. Team officials reportedly notified every player and his agent that Kidd had been let go before they told Kidd, who said he was informed of the decision by star forward Giannis Antetokounmpo 15 minutes before his bosses called.
All of which lent further support to the notion that the Bucks have an unwieldy ownership/management structure that is holding the team back as much as Kidd’s prehistoric offense or increasingly fractured relationship with his players ever did. The odd timing of the firing — after a morning shootaround and hours before a game — only added to belief that the Bucks’ decision-making process is flawed under the current owners.
First-year general manager Jon Horst said it was his recommendation to fire Kidd and that he received the backing of the three majority owners — Wes Edens, Marc Lasry and Jamie Dinan. I really want to believe that because it would be the first sign that the Bucks are finally operating with a clear chain of command and are capable of reaching a unanimous decision on a critical matter.
As much as I want to believe it though, I’ll need more evidence. The Bucks’ decision-making process has been muddled since the owners took over from Herb Kohl in 2014. While the business side, especially the new arena that will open later this year, has gone swimmingly, the basketball operation has experienced ups and downs. Though the overall trend was pointing upward with young stars such as Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker and Khris Middleton, the team stalled out this season, going 23-22 under Kidd and playing very inconsistently.
That threw the Bucks’ decision-making into question once again.
The questions began shortly after the takeover in 2014, when the new owners circumvented general manager John Hammond and allowed coach Larry Drew to twist in the wind while they openly negotiated with Kidd, who had coached the Brooklyn Nets for one season but had been rebuffed in his attempt to take control of personnel decisions. That was not only a messy look for the Bucks, it angered people around the NBA.
An unwritten rule says coaches don’t interview for jobs when there is still a coach in place, but that didn’t stop the Bucks and Kidd, who had a long-standing friendship with Lasry. That the owners, who were still wet behind the ears after taking over just two months earlier, proceeded without consulting the widely respected Hammond was an even bigger red flag. So was the notion that Kidd wouldn’t have come to Milwaukee without gaining considerable power over personnel matters.
The potential for disagreement and dysfunction with two people — the coach and general manager — answering to three owners surfaced again in June, when Hammond left to take a job with the Orlando Magic. It was during the at-times farcical search for Hammond’s replacement that reports of disagreement among the owners surfaced.
It appeared the Bucks had narrowed the field to two candidates — Bucks assistant general manager Justin Zanik and Denver Nuggets executive Arturas Karnisovas. But when the latter was elevated to general manager in Denver, it left only with Zanik, on whom the owners reportedly were divided. So the Bucks ended up elevating Horst, the team’s director of basketball operations since 2008.
How has the decision-making process affected the Bucks during their rebuild? Only those on the inside know for sure who was pushing for what in terms of first-round draft picks, free agents or trades, but the Bucks made plenty of questionable decisions after they drafted Parker — a no-brainer with the No. 2 pick — in 2014. The result is a top-heavy roster that is missing enough key ingredients — a true center, depth on the bench — that it hasn’t taken the step up many thought it would this season.
As a coach, Kidd was a good teacher for a young team. However, as that young team matured and the expectations rose, the players started chafing under Kidd’s old-school approach.
Perhaps Joe Prunty, who fell out of the Gregg Popovich coaching tree and was Kidd’s top assistant, will be the answer. The Bucks won Monday in Prunty’s debut as interim coach, have 36 more games to play, should get Parker back from injury soon and are exploring the trade market with gusto, so immediate improvement is possible.
Horst said the Bucks will conduct a coaching search after the season and, with young talent such as Antetokounmpo and Parker plus a new arena about to open, it should be an attractive job. Or maybe Prunty will prove he’s capable of taking the Bucks to the next level and will be retained.
I’d like to have confidence the Bucks will get it right, but they just won’t let me.