Clinging to eighth place in the Eastern Conference with a roster ostensibly worthy of so much more, the Milwaukee Bucks are looking toward a coaching change to save their season.
As ESPN.com's Adrian Wojnarowski first reported, the team has relieved Jason Kidd of his duties, both due to its precarious place in the standings and "frayed relationships in [the] organization and general non-alignment."
This marks the Bucks' second significant leverage play of the year. They acquired Eric Bledsoe from the Phoenix Suns in November, a move that signaled a particular view of themselves: They have Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Cleveland Cavaliers look vulnerable, verging on hopeless. Neither of the East's current top-two seeds, the Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors, incite a sense of futility into those beneath them.
The Bucks, by making this change, are reinforcing the belief that not only can they win now, but they also should be winning now.
In the most fundamental sense, Kidd went from guiding the NBA's most promising upstart to becoming the scapegoat for one of its foremost underachievers. But does his absence, on its own, do enough to override their wrongs? And if it does, do the Bucks, with more than half the year gone, have time to incorporate and enjoy the effects of his departure?
The answers aren't so cut and dried. Nor can we say for sure whether the front office is even hoping for an immediate reversal.
For as much as Kidd's dismissal is about Milwaukee's 23-22 record, it seems heavily rooted in workplace politics, as Yahoo Sports' Chris Mannix pointed out:
Chris Mannix @ChrisMannixYS
Jason Kidd arrived in Milwaukee with a lot of influence with ownership. That influence--and the power that came with it--eroded significantly over the last year.2018-1-22 21:17:11
And then we have this from general manager Jon Horst:
Chris Mannix @ChrisMannixYS
Jon Horst says the team made the decision to fire Kidd "relatively quickly." Says he met with Kidd early this afternoon.2018-1-22 23:45:56
That the Bucks aren't swiftly scouring the market for Kidd's replacement is equally telltale. Assistant coach Joe Prunty will take the reins in the interim, per Woj, and ESPN.com's Zach Lowe hinted, even if inadvertently, at a summer search:
Zach Lowe @ZachLowe_NBA
I had expected an offseason change, but falling to 8th pushed the Bucks to act now. This will likely become most sought-after job in the league over summer. https://t.co/eDEUYXQfDd2018-1-22 21:02:40
Waiting to find and name a permanent successor isn't necessarily the wrong decision, but it says a lot about the Bucks' intent. They're not instantly hoping to be the next iteration of the Golden State Warriors, who didn't transform into what they are now until subbing out Mark Jackson for head coach Steve Kerr.
They're banking on a deviation from the norm—any one at all—improving their state of affairs.
And, in what is no doubt an indictment of the job Kidd has done, this approach has merit.
So many of the Bucks' material warts can be treated, perhaps remedied, with an extra dab of common sense. Kidd remained married to a hyper-aggressive defense scheme that, save for a brief spell in 2014-15, hasn't yielded results warranting continuity.
The Bucks are dead last in frequency of shot attempts given up at the rim and 28th in corner three-point defense, according to Cleaning The Glass. They're sixth in opponent turnover rate, so their "We have extra-long limbs" approach did its job to some extent, but they're 28th in points allowed per fast-break possession and 25th in defensive efficiency overall.
And still, Kidd, with the exception of warding off a few more corner treys, never fudged together a noticeably different strategy.
He was neither more flexible nor inventive on the offensive end either. Yes, the Bucks are eighth in points scored per 100 possessions, just ahead of the Los Angeles Clippers and Washington Wizards. But their success is tied more to individual talent than anything.
They don't shoot nearly enough threes, and their volume in transition doesn't always translate to substance. They're third in fast-break frequency but a so-so 13th in points per 100 of those plays, per Cleaning The Glass.
Again: How much of this gets solved by removing Kidd from the picture is up for debate. The Bucks should, at the bare minimum, have more wiggle room under Prunty.
Kidd's stubbornness so often felt like it came from a sense of superiority or overthinking—or both. He always tried to outsmart everyone, right down to his trying to prevent last-second four-point plays via missed free throws.
Still, penciling the Bucks in for an uptick now dramatizes what they have to work with.
Antetokounmpo is a top-five player. Bledsoe is a top-15 player at his position. Khris Middleton is a top-10 small forward. And the Bucks have some nice supporting pieces in reigning Rookie of the Year Malcolm Brogdon and Tony Snell. But they're not built to make a dent in the championship discussion. Not really.
Ditching Kidd doesn't give them the size or brawn to be more than a bottom-five rebounding team. It doesn't make their bench—which ranks 29th in point differential per 100 possessions—any deeper. It won't help Jabari Parker return any sooner or simplify his fit in the rotation. His absence won't make DeAndre Jordan or another star trade-deadline acquisition any more accessible.
The Bucks, make no mistake, shouldn't be fending off a lottery berth. Some of their most-used lineup combinations are statistical fireballs, and they're 16-11, to go with a top-five net rating, in games when they are ahead or behind by five points or fewer at any point in the final five minutes.
They should be a solid, surefire playoff team.
If Kidd is gone because they aren't, and because they want more from their coach as they develop Thon Maker, D.J. Wilson, Brogdon, Parker and even Antetokounmpo, then the Bucks were well within reason to make this call.
But if he's been sent packing because they're not something they aren't yet built to be, or for any reason not predominantly tied to the bigger picture, they're in for a rude awakening.