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NBA PM: Pressure on Jason Kidd and the Bucks

With the Eastern Conference weakening, pressure is on Jason Kidd and the Bucks to perform, writes James Blancarte.

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The Cleveland Cavaliers made it to the NBA Finals for the third straight year and LeBron James just went to the Finals for the seventh straight year. Yet James and the Cavaliers are currently dealing with an alarming amount of internal discord. In addition, other Eastern Conference playoff stalwarts took huge steps back – including the Chicago Bulls, Indiana Pacers and the Atlanta Hawks – while many others failed to improve. More so than years past, the Eastern Conference is wide open for teams to break into the playoffs or significantly improve their previous playoff rankings. A team in position to do just that is the Milwaukee Bucks.

The Milwaukee Bucks are led by one of the most exciting young players in the league, Giannis Antetokounmpo.  The Bucks finished the 2016-17 NBA Season with a record of 42-40 and the sixth seed in the East. Although they lost that that first round playoff series to the Toronto Raptors, this still marks progress. The Bucks have not advanced to the playoffs in back to back seasons in nearly 15 years and haven’t finished with a winning record since the 2009-10 season. Much credit is given to young head coach Jason Kidd. Now the Bucks sit on not only potential but the expectation of taking a significant step forward, and Kidd will be tasked with helping Bucks make that next leap.

A little over a year ago Kidd signed a three-year extension to remain as the head coach, which will keep him in this position until the 2019-20 season. The renewal of Kidd’s contract demonstrates a commitment to continuing an investment that began with a trade. After Kidd’s rookie head coaching year ended with a Game 7 victory for his Brooklyn Nets team over the Raptors, the Bucks secured Kidd’s coaching services in exchange for two conditional second round picks in 2015 and 2019. Like many coaches before, Kidd is a former star player turned head coach and Kidd made the rapid transition the season after retiring from the NBA.

With the Bucks, Kidd has overseen the development and play of a number of young players, none more important than Antetokounmpo. The team received much attention when award season came around. First, Antetokounmpo came out as the Most Improve Player. A huge part of the success of last year’s campaign is credited to Kidd for his decision to allow Antetokounmpo to take over ball handling and playmaking duties as a point forward. This helped to unleash Antetokounmpo’s full repertoire on the court.

Antetokounmpo recently espoused a belief that he might win a Most Valuable Player award in a recent interview with Bucks play-by-play announcer Jim Paschke. Antetokounmpo pushed back when told that he probably wouldn’t win another Most Improved Player award.

“Why? I might be MVP this year,” Antetokounmpo responded. “Ok, but…if I win the MVP, I can be most improved.”

In addition, the team’s second round draft pick from last year, guard Malcolm Brogdon, emerged as the Rookie of the Year after an underwhelming year from the rookie class overall. Add to the mix the unexpected emergence of athletic big man Thon Maker. Maker, like Antetokounmpo years earlier, is a player with raw potential and the hope is that he will maximize that potential similar to how Antetokounmpo has. His emergence in last year’s playoffs gave hope that with continued development and improvement, he too could be franchise cornerstone which Kidd will be asked to oversee as he did with Antetokounmpo.

Also, reliable mainstays such as forward Khris Middleton and center Greg Monroe will continue to be relied upon. Unclear is when and in what condition forward Jabari Parker will come back in. Parker is recovering now from a second ACL tear in the same knee and the team is rightfully being cautious in his recovery. As a reminder, Kidd only had Middleton returning from injury and Parker who had not yet torn an ACL again for one game. When Kidd will have the full breadth of his talent at his disposal is unclear.

With the rapid development of the Buck’s young players, part of Kidd’s job will not only be to manage the talent at his disposal but to manage the Buck’s chances of moving up into the upper echelons of the East.

Looking back again at the trade for Kidd’s coaching services, his departure from the Nets organization came with a bit of controversy. Reports indicated that Kidd had sought more managerial power in the organization.

Enter new Bucks General Manager Jon Horst. Horst comes into the franchise after the franchise’s leadership group couldn’t initially agree on whom to hire after the departure of long-time GM John Hammond. Horst comes in both as the youngest GM in the league at age 34 but is not without experience as he has been with the organization for a number of years. In an interview with NBA.com, Horst was specifically asked who would have the final say regarding personnel moves.

“Jason Kidd is our coach,” Horst responded. “Ultimately, I’ve been hired to run the basketball operations for the Milwaukee Bucks, to have final say and to make the final decision.”

With that statement, it appears that Horst has been given not just the title but the final say in personnel moves. If there had been a notion that the hiring of someone so young might allow for a situation where that power might be shared, that notion has been removed for now.

The Bucks now have mature and talented players. They have depth, experience and one of the most dynamic players in the league leading them. They also have a new front office leader in Horst. But even with all of this, the attention is and should be on Kidd. Kidd has been up and down in his short coaching career and has at times struggled to get the most out of his roster. With the top of the East showing signs of vulnerability, arguably no team is better positioned to take a significant step forward than the Bucks. Much of the Bucks’ success next season will come down to how well Kidd puts things together and manages his young and dynamic roster.

James Blancarte is a writer for Basketball Insiders. He is also an Attorney based in Los Angeles, California.

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