Maybe you were surprised by Monday’s news that the Milwaukee Bucks had fired head coach Jason Kidd after 3 1/2 seasons; maybe you kind of saw it coming. (There’s certainly an argument to be made that the future Hall of Fame point guard’s tenure in Wisconsin had just run its course.) Either way, you were probably pretty surprised when Kidd responded to his ouster by telling ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne that, just 15 minutes before he was officially given the axe, Bucks superstar forward Giannis Antetokounmpo called him and offered to try to save his job.
I mean, coaches get fired all the time — well, not last season, but this one, for sure — and while they often follow it up with some kind of down-the-middle statement to a friendly reporter or two, they don’t typically make a point of revealing the contents of a private conversation they had with their former franchise’s most important player moments before they got shown the door. So Kidd telling his tale out of school surprised a lot of people around the NBA … including, it seems, the guy on the other end of that phone call.
Speaking with reporters on Wednesday, Antetokounmpo — who last week was voted an All-Star starter for the second straight year, but who has missed the Bucks’ last two games with right knee soreness — confirmed that he did call Kidd before the coach got official word from Bucks management. He described the awkwardness of feeling stuck between his commitment to the organization that drafted him out of Greece in 2013 and handed him a nine-figure contract in the summer of 2016, and his loyalty to the coach under whose tutelage he grew into a do-everything All-NBA marvel of a point center. From Matt Velazquez of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
“It’s kind of uncomfortable, especially for a guy like me that is — as I said, one of my characteristics is that I’m being loyal to the people around me,” Antetokounmpo said Wednesday afternoon in his first public comments since Kidd’s firing. “That’s one of my characteristics, but it’s kind of uncomfortable knowing before it happened.”
With that knowledge, Antetokounmpo made a phone call that he considers one of the toughest he’s ever had to make. He called Kidd, doing so about 15 minutes before Kidd was officially informed of the franchise’s decision to go in another direction. […]
Antetokounmpo, speaking at the team’s practice facility Wednesday, acknowledged that the conversation happened but declined to elaborate.
Specifically, according to Eric Nehm of ESPN Milwaukee, Antetokounmpo said, “Whatever private conversations happened between me and Coach, I’m going to keep it to myself.”
“As a person, I like to keep my conversations private,” Antetokounmpo said. “It’s out there. Part of the conversation is out there, but there are other parts that are not out there, so I’m going to try to keep it to myself […] I care about Coach Kidd as a person, not just as a coach.”
The 23-year-old star lavished credit on Kidd for the role he played in expanding his game and horizons, according to ESPN:
“He was a big part of my success,” Antetokounmpo said of Kidd. “He trusted me, he put the ball in my hands, he motivated me on a daily basis, he pushed me to be great and not to be mediocre. …
“I was 19 when he came and he said he was going to put the ball in my hands. The first time I wasn’t ready. I told him, ‘Coach, I’m not ready to create and make plays for the team.’ He said, ‘OK, we’re going to take our time.’ The next year, he put the ball in my hands and I was ready.”
Even so, though, Antetokounmpo recognized that, with the Bucks underachieving at 23-22 despite his MVP-caliber first-half production, the organization had decided a change was necessary. While he could have swung his superstar stick to try to sway the outcome, ultimately, he decided to express appreciation for the past while turning his face to the future.
“That’s in the hands of the front office,” Antetokounmpo said, according to Velazquez. “Whatever they think or they can do to make this team better and make this team a championship-level team, it can happen. If it’s me being traded or the coach being fired or whatever move they think is the right move to make this a championship-level team, I think [it] is the right move for it to happen.”
It’s a pretty safe bet that Giannis doesn’t have to worry about finding himself in trade talks any time soon. But given his status as a $100 million superstar, and if the way the Kidd decision was handled offers any indication, it seems like Bucks ownership and general manager Jon Horst are going to make sure he’s looped in on matters of major importance … like, say, which coach winds up succeeding Kidd. (Horst said Monday that interim coach Joe Prunty will finish out the season and get the chance to earn a crack at the job this summer.) It might not always be comfortable to have those conversations, but that’s part of being the hub around which a franchise revolves; over time, Giannis will adapt to that, just as he has to everything else that’s been thrown his way since coming to the NBA.
One pro-tip for whoever winds up getting the reins of the Bucks after this season: don’t put Giannis’ business out there in the street. It’s not impossible that he’ll keep on liking you, but he’s now pretty firmly on record about not liking that.
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