For those with a vested interest in the Milwaukee Bucks, it finally happened! It’s time to crack open some Miller High Life and rejoice. Jason Kidd is no longer the head coach of the Milwaukee Bucks. Per Adrian Wojnarowski, the Bucks made the decision yesterday afternoon “based upon dropping into the 8th seed in the East, frayed relationships in [the] organization and general non-alignment.” Assistant coach Joe Prunty will be the interim coach.
This setup sounds all too familiar, right? An article on Holyfield about a coach being fired during the season, and both the article’s title and image are recognizable. It’s almost as if I’ve done this before. That’s because I have, and I’m going to reiterate this point until it actually happens: Becky Hammon should be a head coach in this league — more specifically, of the Milwaukee Bucks.
Unlike the lowly Phoenix Suns, the Bucks actually have talent, a more stable front office/ownership, and most importantly, Giannis Antetokounmpo. You could make the case that this young Milwaukee team is the most intriguing coaching opportunity in the NBA. This is a team that is in need of creativity and intelligence on offense and less chaos/more discipline on defense. Hammon fits these criteria well.
If you have listened, watched, or read anything on Hammon, you already know that she is more than qualified to coach. Her resume speaks for itself. “She’s right in the middle and she knows how to do it and our players really respond to her,” Popovich told NBA TV last season. “She’s just a natural… She talks the game. She understands the game. So for all those reasons, you really know she’s got that same sort of Avery Johnson, Steve Kerr, [Mike] Budenholzer-type thing.” Talk about some fantastic company to be in. Even Avery Johnson won an NBA title as a head coach.
To avoid becoming overly repetitive with my praise for Hammon (just read the older article and come back, it’s fine), let’s focus a bit more on the Bucks and Kidd. See, unlike the Suns, where they would be honored to have someone the likes of Hammon coach the team, the Bucks situation is trickier despite how promising the roster is set up. This isn’t to say that Milwaukee wouldn’t be ecstatic either. The “trickiness” derives from this relationship Kidd had with the Bucks.
Kidd’s first year with Milwaukee was the 2014–15 season. The Bucks went 41–41, had the 4th best defense in the league (102.2 DRTG), and made the playoffs. Unfortunately, there hasn’t been much progress since then. Milwaukee hasn’t posted a positive net rating since 2014–15, and despite offensive improvement — Bucks have a 108.9 ORTG, which is 12th in the NBA versus the 102.7 ORTG back in Kidd’s first season — the swarming, suffocating, and long defense has suffered, dropping down to 25th in the league. Milwaukee’s defense is still swarming and long, but their aggressiveness and lack of discipline is used against them.
The improvement on offense, however, can be attributed to the growth and improvement of Antetokounmpo. This is where things get tricky. Antetokounmpo has shown major strides and growth since his rookie season. From true shooting percentage to offensive BPM, all the numbers back that up. The eye test also backs that up. And if the Bucks currently weren’t a struggling 8th seed in the Eastern Conference, we would be talking about The Greek Freak as an MVP candidate. He’s been simply fantastic.
But does this growth happen without Jason Kidd? From all accounts, Antetokounmpo loved Kidd. And in a league where the happiness of your franchise player is ever-so-important, this could sour the relationship. Here is Ramona Shelbourne detailing the Antetokounmpo-Kidd relationship:
Kidd may have had a stale, predictable offense, a refusal to tone down the defensive intensity for the betterment of the overall team defense, and be not the best at math, but Giannis trusts and respects him. In the NBA, that goes a long way in a player-coach relationship. Kidd had a profound impact on Antetokounmpo, and Giannis more than likely isn’t the player he is without Kidd.
Because of this dynamic, Milwaukee cannot afford to get the next coaching choice wrong. This is reminiscent of the Golden State Warriors when they fired Mark Jackson. Stephen Curry was crushed to see his coach fired. Why didn’t that player-team relationship sour? The Warriors hired Steve Kerr and became arguably the best team of this generation. The Bucks truly need to focus on winning more games and progressing as a team in order to help Giannis get over the Kidd firing. Winning cures everything. If they don’t win or improve, well, that’s a discussion for another time.
Even though the stakes of this next coaching hire are high, I firmly believe that Becky Hammon is that next up-and-coming coach that can take the Bucks to the next level. The greatest coach in NBA history respects the hell out of her. More importantly, the Spurs players respect the hell out of her. Hammon is a damn fine coach and she’s worth the risk.
With that said, there is also risk for Hammon if the gamble doesn’t pay off. If the Bucks do not improve under her and Antetokounmpo leaves in free agency in 2021, she may very well be the scapegoat. And if she does become the scapegoat and Milwaukee fires her, does she get another head coaching opportunity? Will a team like Milwaukee be patient or can Hammon persevere as soon as the organization faces the slightest adversity?
It’s difficult to answer right now; however, the opportunity to coach Antetokounmpo and this Bucks team is too good of an opportunity to pass up, especially for potentially the first female NBA head coach. Both Hammon and Milwaukee should strongly consider one another and embrace the risk. Let’s avoid a coaching retread and make history! Milwaukee just needs to be brave when crashing on impact as they break this glass ceiling. Becky Hammon is the answer for the Bucks. Let’s make this happen.
San Antonio Spurs