There was something that struck me before Milwaukee played the Knicks at home the other night. Something I thought about when I watched Milwaukee Bucks players run over to pick up Brandon Knight after his missed layup ended the first overtime Wednesday night. Something I thought about when I saw Kendall Marshall wrap Knight in a big hug after the point guard turned from rattled to relieved.
Before each game, the affable and reliable Charles F. Gardner typically asks Jason Kidd what his starting lineup will be. Well, Charles wasn’t on the road when the Bucks played in Orlando and Miami last weekend, so there was a chance his most common question would go unasked. But Fox Sports Wisconsin’s Telly Hughes apparently picked up the slack in Orlando and asked Kidd who would be on the court for Milwaukee when the game began.
None of that is what struck me. What struck me was Kidd’s explanation of Hughes stepping up to Gardner.
“He represented you,” Kidd said in a rare lighthearted moment with the media. “He said this is for Charles. That’s a good teammate. That’s a really good teammate.”
It was kind of a throwaway moment, but it struck me as a consistent Kidd moment. All he’s talked about since arriving in Milwaukee has been family, trust and the value of teammates. This is the guy that supposedly couldn’t keep the respect of his players in Brooklyn? That seemed curious to me. These same guys who, according to that report, were losing respect for him a year ago are now saying things like “we shouldn’t forget what he did in Brooklyn and Jersey” and “once we got going, it was great.” Huh.
The Bucks under Kidd have been a very, all-for-one and one-for-all type atmosphere. For example, when Larry Sanders was saddled with foul trouble a week ago against the Thunder, I asked Kidd if he was happy with Milwaukee overcoming Sanders’ absence on defense.
“We can’t just rely on one guy,” he said. “We’re not billed as a one-man team. We’re the Milwaukee Bucks, everybody pitches in.”
He rarely singles anyone out, even when asked about specific players. He went on to speak about how important trust is to his group when addressing a question about a pass from Nate Wolters.
“The biggest thing is trust,” Kidd said. “Trusting Nate (Wolters) is going to make a play for a teammate or for himself that is the right play. Trusting the pass, being unselfish. Everybody on our team believes that and is trying. In the first quarter we had some turnovers with the intent of trying to get teammates the ball.”
He’s talking about a very tactical execution of trust, but trust and family are things I’ve heard Kidd and his guys talk about all season.
Days before that quote above we saw Giannis Antetokounmpo pleading with the refs to not give Larry Sanders a technical in a game against the Memphis Grizzlies. That’s something Sanders noticed and he talked about it after the game.
“We look out for each other,” Sanders said. “That’s what it’s all about. That’s what the family is all about. We got to keep having each other’s backs, on the court and off the court and be there for each other, have each other to lean on. You lose and you win with the team. We all put the jersey on, we all lose and win together. Everyone has to feel apart of that and coach Kidd does a great job of making everyone feel apart of the team.”
Kidd seems to be breeding trust both between the players in the locker room and between his staff and his players. While Kidd’s rarely been smiles and laughs with us folks in the media, he’s had a consistent message about how he wants his team to play and how he wants this group to be an unwavering team. And that message hasn’t been empty rhetoric. He’s playing 12 guys over 10 minutes per game and he’s rolled out a variety of starting lineups. A guy like John Henson could get three minutes one night and close out an overtime game the next. All of his players are playing hard and appear to have bought into his program.
So the players, it seems like he has them on his side. The old ones, the new ones. All of them. And it seems like that’s all he really cares about. Those are the guys that drive results. Everyone wearing suits above him? I’m not so sure he cares if he turns them into enemies or friends. Famously he left Mark Cuban, of all people, hanging to the point where Cuban couldn’t seem to let it go. He spoke to reporters before the Nets game and referred to a report that said the team was interested in firing him last December:
“I think it really helped me to see what I was dealing with, what type of people I was dealing with,” Kidd said. “Give me a fair chance to coach a team that had injuries, we make a big trade. But I think –understand that they did want to fire me in December — I think it just shows what type of people I was dealing with.”
We don’t really know what happened. We have a take from yesterday that said the Nets supported Kidd. We have the story from December that says he was on his way out. Both stories come from national, reputable reporters.
Maybe Brooklyn did want to fire him, maybe they didn’t want to fire him. Regardless, media has largely jumped into bed with the Nets on this story. They were out in front of it and have had national and local media in New York eating out of their anonymously placed hands since July. I won’t pretend like I really know Jason Kidd. But our actions and words do mean something. A consistency between the two means even more. Since he’s arrived in Milwaukee, we’ve seen a consistency in what he’s said and how he’s had his team go about its business. So for now, while Kidd is the bad guy to everyone off the court, he seems to be something else to the players.
To his players, he’s someone who did a lot for the Nets when he played and led them to the second round when he coached them a season ago. He’s someone who is sitting on a 7-5 record with a team led by teenagers. They seem to think he has their back and will have it when they need him to have it. I mean, look at this quote from OJ Mayo after the emotional win over Brooklyn. They wanted it for themselves, but for their coach too:
“We understand what this game meant. Coach Kidd is our guy. He’s helped all of us in here. He helped us believe that we’re a good team, a team that is going to be able to compete every night with energy and effort.”
It sure seems like his guys are on his side and I think that’s all that matters to Jason Kidd.