Jason Kidd is the picture of calm at postgame press conferences.
He’s never animated when talking to the media after games, whether the Bucks won by 20 or lost by 20. If he had problems with the officiating, he rarely discusses it. If he took exception with behavior from a player on his team or the other, he doesn’t do much to address the matter publically. He speak with one tone and occasionally smirks during his responses if he thinks the questions he’s answering are a bit silly.
After Milwaukee caught a 122-97 loss at the hands of the New York Knicks on Wednesday night, he spoke like a guy who was coaching a team with high expectations. But he also talked like a man who knew any expectations – for a team built heavily around what he called “a group of 20-year-olds” – were a ridiculous thing. It seemed like he started taking back the conversation about the Milwaukee Bucks. Kidd doesn’t want to be answering questions about expectations all year. Expectations seem to mean little to a guy so focused on player development and growth.
A reporter asked if he saw glimpses of the team he wanted to see on Wednesday night and he quickly answered no. Then he continued and explained that the team wasn’t whole, so that’s why he didn’t see the team he envisioned this season. But he wanted to make it clear that when the team became whole, there would still be work to do.
“We have to get whole, and it’s going to be another work in progress when we have Michael, Khris, Jabari, Giannis and Moose out there at the same time,” he said. “They haven’t played together. This is a group of 20-year-olds who don’t know how to play the game of basketball yet. They’re learning.”
And they have lots to learn. Even the veterans do. Milwaukee looked terrible on Wednesday night. Guys looked like they had no idea where they were supposed to be on defense. They played tentatively. Kidd saw that coming. He said in the pregame press conference that the Bucks were going to look great on one possession and bad on another. The bad possessions came far more frequently than the great ones, but his point was that it was going to take time. Getting Giannis and Jabari back won’t fix everything, especially since Jabari hasn’t played a game for almost a year.
Kidd continued to discuss the work in progress that is his Bucks team when he a question came about how the team will fare when Jabari returns.
“The game is different than practice … as much as we try to simulate in practice,” he said. “And he’s been out for a while. It’s not going to be fixed when Jabari comes back, it’s going to take some time. And we all understand that, so that’s why there’s no panic.”
It’s obviously too early to panic, but it’s not premature for people to start re-thinking what would make this season successful. Kidd has been clear since media day on the team’s real goal since training camp: Get Better. He didn’t mention the word championship. He didn’t predict the team would finish third in the East. Kidd doesn’t care about the expectations, the backlash to the expectations or the backlash to the backlash to the expectations.
In the past few weeks the Bucks Community has become attached to win totals. Maybe they’re buying into Milwaukee’s marketing messages, subtle and overt, a bit too much. I suggested the Bucks may not win more than 43 games, and I heard about it quite a bit.
Zach Lowe made a prediction that the Bucks may sputter this season, and he had to slip in a subtle “settle down” to Bucks fans in the next thing he wrote. Fans of the Milwaukee Bucks haven’t had a nice thing for a while, and it seems like many of them are ready to come for the throat of anyone who suggests the thing they have now might not quite be ready for the NBA’s limelight. The Bucks won’t win a trophy for winning 46 games and getting fourth in the East this season. But they will be set up for future success if Jabari and Giannis improve significantly by May.
That’s why Kidd is focused on his guys getting better. Right now he cares about guys getting healthy and building good habits defensively.
“We can’t rely on us being a team that’s going to score over 100 points on a nightly basis to win to win,” he said, as he’s consistently said since he’s taken over in Milwaukee. “We gotta rely on our defense and tonight they didn’t show.”
If the Bucks get healthy and that defense becomes reliable again, everything else will take care of itself. He can’t do much to help the team’s health, but he’s going to be hard at work trying to get the Bucks back to where they were last year defensively.