Projected record: 22-60, 14th in East
Head coach: Jason Kidd
2013-14 record: 15-67
2013-14 ORtg: 100.2 (26th)
2013-14 DRtg: 108.9 (29th)
Players in: Jason Kidd (coach), Jerryd Bayless, Jared Dudley, Michael Eric, Damien Inglis, Kendall Marshall, Johnny O’Bryant, Jabari Parker
Players out: Larry Drew (coach), Jeff Adrien, Carlos Delfino, Miroslav Raduljica, Ramon Sessions, Ekpe Udoh
Projected Starting Lineup: Brandon Knight, O.J. Mayo, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker, Larry Sanders
“Kafkaesque” was the word I once used to describe the history of the New Jersey Nets prior to Jason Kidd the player’s arrival in 2001, so it makes sense that Kidd’s one-season tenure as coach ended up just as surreal and illogical.
Scratch that. It was bats—t insane.
From retiring his jersey in the pre-season and his season-opening two-game DUI suspension, to his Machiavelli for Dummies power-grab departure, to everything in between — Spillgate, anyone? — I’m still not convinced that Kidd was really the Nets coach. I know the Nets pump fragrances into Barclays, but are they also pumping in hallucinogens?
There’s a whole discussion about how the move, which ended with Kidd in Milwaukee and two second-rounders headed to Brooklyn, was in line with Kidd’s lifelong precedent of looking out for number 5. But I can only use so many expletives in one piece, and we’re talking about the Bucks, right?
Kidd inherits a team that finished last in the league in 2013-14, thanks to bad signings, bad luck, and bad talent. The Bucks were terrible on both sides of the ball, to the tune of the 5th-worst defensive rating and 2nd-worst offensive rating in the league. All you need to know: forward Khris Middleton, who had logged a total of 475 NBA minutes heading into the season, led them in minutes played.
But things are looking a tiny bit up for the Bucks. The 15-win season earned them the second pick in the 2014 NBA draft, which they used to take highly touted Duke forward Jabari Parker. They signed free agent guard Jerryd Bayless to help a razor-thin backcourt, and picked up veteran forward Jared Dudley with 2017 first round pick from the Clippers in exchange for Carlos Delfino, little-used Miroslav Raduljica, and a future second-rounder.
After a 2013-14 offseason in which they unsuccessfully chased mediocrity by overpaying for shooting guard O.J. Mayo and back-up center Zaza Pachullia, mostly standing pat with the roster this summer was the right call. The Bucks aren’t making any waves this season, so why risk cap flexibility to overpay for a first-round playoff exit
It will be a reverse culture shock for Kidd in Brew City. The second-year coach leaves a huge market full of NBA veterans for a small-market team replete with unproven pieces. Much of Kidd’s success in turning around Brooklyn’s 10-21 start last year was due to the necessary switch to a “small-long” hybrid lineup after Brook Lopez’s injury, but it also had a lot to do with him winning over guys in their late 30s like Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. To succeed in Milwaukee, he’ll have to earn the trust of teenagers Jabari Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Kidd can’t implement the spread-the-floor, slow-paced “small” ball system that worked well in Brooklyn with this roster. To even consider that, he’d need big bounce-back years from formerly strong shooters like Mayo or stretch four Ersan Ilyasova, whose shooting percentage from three-point range dropped from .444 to .282 in the last two years.
The Bucks are front-court heavy, and likely to see a healthy dose of youngsters like Parker and Antetokounmpo, the 6’11” hyper-athletic, super-raw “Greek Freak.” In an interview with The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Kidd even said the young Grecian warrior will see some minutes at point. Given his hubris, Kidd should know a thing or two about Greeks.
Kidd will have his work cut out for him at the position he revolutionized. Starting point guard Brandon Knight was Milwaukee’s most reliable scorer last season, but he is more of a combo guard. Nate Wolters, Bayless, and Kendall Marshall won’t strike fear in the heart of opponents.
Defensively, J-Kidd should try to bring some of the 2013-14 Nets principles with him over the Great Lakes. The Nets “small” ball lineup post-Lopez was actually a “long” ball lineup, with a 6’7″ starting point guard in Shaun Livingston. Paul Pierce at the four was the only player truly out of position. The resultant long-ball lineup allowed the Nets the defensive versatility to apply pressure on the ball and switch when necessary with relative impunity. Brooklyn jumped from 28th in defensive efficiency with Lopez to top-10 in the league without him.
Milwaukee has the athleticism and length to try some of these principles, especially in Antetokounmpo, who you can hear growing on a quiet night. What they don’t have are proven defenders or smart vets to make it work; Antetokounmpo has the tools to be a great defender, but he’s not there yet. Sanders is the only elite defender on the Bucks roster, and he’s coming off a disastrous season in which he played in only 23 games thanks to a combination of personal problems/injuries.
The Bucks will need a resurgent year from Sanders to make headway defensively and to make the push from a terrible team to just a bad one. They should improve on their 6.6 steals per game mark (28th in the NBA), but they are also likely to commit plenty of fouls in the process and turn the ball over plenty when they do have it.
It will be interesting to see how Kidd adjusts to his team’s inevitable growing pains. Right now, he is enjoying an idyllic fall in Milwaukee, with beautiful family photo ops in suburban parks, the buzz over young Bucks talent, and gosh gee golly, brownie cooking neighbors!
But fall turns into a bitingly cold winter in the midwest. Brownies get stale. Let’s see how that young talent holds up in a division with LeBron James’s Cleveland Cavaliers and Derrick Rose’s Chicago Bulls. It’s all fun and games until Jason Kidd gets someone fired.