Jason Kidd: Giannis offered to save my job right before Bucks fired me

Dan Devine

The Milwaukee Bucks fired Jason Kidd this afternoon, parting ways with the head coach they’d hired away from the Brooklyn Nets in the summer of 2014. Whether or not the decision to axe Kidd after 3 1/2 seasons surprised you — to plenty of Bucks fans frustrated by the team’s underachieving 23-22 start and tactically questionable defensive strategy, it was a long time coming — it evidently stunned the franchise’s signature superstar. According to Kidd, anyway.

On his way out the door, Kidd told ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne that All-Star forward Giannis Antetokounmpo reached out to him a scant 15 minutes before he’d officially been given the gate and “offered to help save [Kidd’s] job.”

Shelburne’s colleague Ohm Youngmisuk reported that the decision to can Kidd — under whose guidance the Bucks have made two playoff appearances in the last three seasons, with Antetokounmpo becoming one of the most gifted and compelling superstars in the NBA — was not unanimous among Bucks ownership. Bucks general manager Jon Horst refuted that in his statement on the firing before offering some more insight into what went into the decision in an interview during the second quarter of the Bucks’ Monday night matchup with the Phoenix Suns.

“Why now?” Horst told Fox Sports Wisconsin’s Telly Hughes. “At the end of the day, we believe this team has great promise and a great future, and we just felt we needed a fresh look, a fresh approach and a new voice in leadership. We wanted to put our team in a position to succeed.”

Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jason Kidd developed a strong bond during their 3 1/2 years together in Milwaukee. (Getty)
Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jason Kidd developed a strong bond during their 3 1/2 years together in Milwaukee. (Getty)

Horst’s definition of success, in the current climate: not only making a second straight playoff appearance for the first time in more than a decade, but also looking like “a team that should be able to compete and have a chance to get out of the first round.” Milwaukee entered Monday’s action at 23-22, good for the eighth and final playoff spot in the East, one game ahead of the Detroit Pistons.

“You have short windows in the NBA to build towards contention and actually contend, and we didn’t want to waste time in putting our team in the best position to do that,” Horst said in a pre-game news conference, according to Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today Sports. ” … A general manager in the NHL had a statement once: ‘If something’s inevitable, why wait?’ And so I think we’d come to the conclusion that this was the best thing for the future of the franchise.”

That certainly could be the case. Kidd shepherded a massive 26-game turnaround to bring the Bucks to .500 and back to the postseason in his first year on the bench, but the team has stagnated since despite Antetokounmpo’s ascent, Khris Middleton developing into one of the more underrated swingmen in the league, and 2016 second-round pick Malcolm Brogdon turning into an instant starter and the Rookie of the Year. Sure, some of the Bucks’ most important players are young and still learning how to process the game at a high level on both ends of the floor, but Milwaukee simply has too much talent to continue treading water like this; a new coach with a clearer view for how to get the most out of that young talent might be just what the doctor ordered in Milwaukee.

It’s only the best thing for the future of the franchise, though, if the single most important aspect of that future — namely, one 6-foot-11 supernova from Greece — is on board. Kidd’s comments cast at least some doubt on that prospect.

“We have a great relationship with Giannis,” Bucks co-owner Wes Edens told Matt Velazquez of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Monday night. “Giannis called me this afternoon. I have a good relationship with him. He’s obviously, in addition to being an incredibly talented basketball player, he’s a very fine young man. He feels a lot of loyalty to Coach Kidd, and that’s a wonderful trait. That’s a great emotion for him to have. But Giannis wants to win as badly as anybody, including me, and I want to win pretty badly.”

Horst confirmed during his in-game interview that interim coach Joe Prunty will “be the head coach, for the rest of the season, of this team, and based on that, will have to earn an opportunity to be part of the search for the summer.” However Prunty finishes out the year, there certainly won’t be any shortage of accomplished coaches throwing their hats into the ring for the chance to coach an enticing young core of Antetokounmpo, Middleton, Brogdon, Eric Bledsoe, Jabari Parker (who might not have had the rosiest relationship with Kidd) and Thon Maker (barring a pre-trade deadline deal for more present-tense help that could reshape the Bucks’ foundation). But if Antetokounmpo really was “devastated” by the news, and was willing to put his star power to use to keep Kidd in control, and Horst didn’t loop in his superstar before pulling the trigger, well, things could get rocky in the days and weeks to come.

Kidd, for his part, not only made sure to let everyone know who’d listen that Milwaukee’s superstar didn’t want him to get fired, but also wasted little time making sure his own résumé was up-to-date on LinkedIn (metaphorically):

After the way the famously, um, controversial Kidd left Brooklyn and began his messy tenure in Milwaukee, and presented a private conversation with his star player for public consumption as bid farewell, it’ll be interesting to see how long it takes for that next gig to materialize.

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Dan Devine is a writer and editor for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at devine@oath.com or follow him on Twitter!

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