With their season now officially over, the New York Knicks have embarked on their latest coaching search, a process that has become quite familiar to them over the past two decades. Since Jeff Van Gundy resigned in 2001, they've had 12 different head coaches, and are about to make it 13.
Interim head coach Mike Miller earned himself a look at the full-time job with his work since taking over for David Fizdale, while several assistant coaches -- Mike Brown (Warriors), Ime Udoka (76ers), Pat Delany (Magic) and Chris Fleming (Bulls) -- are all expected to be interviewed. They also interviewed Tom Thibodeau, who was at one point considered an early favorite.
One name, however, has stood out among the Knicks' reported candidates: Jason Kidd. The Hall of Famer spent the last season of his playing career with the Knicks, and is now on the Los Angeles Lakers' bench as an assistant. He has largely underwhelmed as a head coach in his two previous stints with the Brooklyn Nets (44-38) and Milwaukee Bucks (139-152), but the Knicks aren't interested in his results so much as the relationships he built along the way.
In particular, the Knicks reportedly believe that Kidd could help them lure Giannis Antetokounmpo to Madison Square Garden in the summer of 2021. They aren't the first team to think this way -- there were reports that the Lakers had the same idea -- and it's no secret that Giannis looked up to Kidd.
All of this could be irrelevant if Giannis decides to re-sign in Milwaukee, an appealing option considering both financial incentives and the ability to compete for a title. But, assuming he does hit unrestricted free agency in 2021, would Kidd's presence really be enough to sway him to sign with New York?
In January of 2018, with the Bucks treading water and heading toward another .500 season, the team fired Kidd. Giannis was clearly on the ascent to superstardom, but the team was stagnant and its defense was a disaster. By the time he was let go, even Kidd knew his time was up.
The notion that Kidd could influence Giannis' free agency decision stems directly from comments and reports in the aftermath of his firing. Giannis was "devastated," according to a report from Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports.
Giannis offered to make some calls to get the team to reverse the decision, Kidd claimed in an interview with Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.
"He called me and said, 'Coach, this isn't right what they're about to do, but [they] are gonna let you go,'" Kidd told ESPN.
Kidd said he replied, "I had a feeling that was gonna take place."
To which Antetokounmpo responded, "'What can I do? I'll call the owners, I'll call my agent."
Kidd said he told him, "There's nothing you can do. All you can do is tell the truth. That's it."
In his first public comments about the firing, Giannis was effusive with his praise.
"He's a big part of my success in the league," Giannis said. "I'm loyal to the people I work with. I love him as a person. I care about him as a person."
"I was only 18. I didn't even know how the NBA worked. [Kidd's firing] hurts a little bit more because he was here for 3 1/2 years. He trusted me. He put the ball in my hands. He pushed me to be great."
This looks pretty good for Kidd, but if we're considering it evidence that Giannis would leave the Bucks to reunite with Kidd, we should take into account that ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Milwaukee wasn't worried about that.
"Giannis has a good relationship with Kidd," Wojnarowski said on "SportsCenter" at the time. "He's a respectful guy. He's going to be respectful of whoever the coach is. But the organization didn't see something there that was going to injure them long-term with Giannis. He wants to win. They feel like they've got a team that can do better."
In other words, winning matters most. But that isn't to say there's no bond between them. Kidd was the one who put the ball in Giannis' hands, let him play point guard and helped develop the ball-handling, passing and vision that have made him such a dynamic, dominant player. Kidd was there through Giannis' formative seasons, as the Greek Freak matured as a player and a person. Even now, Giannis has played more games for Kidd than any other coach.
For all the good things Kidd did, though, there were plenty of negatives. He barred Giannis from taking 3s, a mandate that crushed his young star's confidence, and looks even more foolish now than it did at the time. Via the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
After Antetokounmpo shot 34.7% on 118 three-point attempts as a rookie, Kidd told him to stop shooting from outside. That took a toll on Antetokounmpo.
"I think it was my second year he told me not to shoot the ball," Antetokounmpo said. "Then my third year, at the end of the year, he told me to shoot the ball a little bit. In my fourth year, he let me shoot the ball and in my fifth year he told me, 'You have the green light, do whatever you want,' but I wasn't comfortable enough. It's hard. When you're not shooting the ball, it's hard to get back [to shooting]."
Then there was Kidd's hard-nosed style. Though Giannis admitted he enjoyed it at the time, he's experienced enough now to know it isn't the way to long-term success.
"I was used to [former Bucks coach] Jason Kidd," Giannis told Yahoo Sports earlier this season. He was breaking us down, but I was happy about it. I think I was the only one that was embracing that. I came from nothing and worked hard every day. That's what I was used to.
"Having Jason Kidd was fun. Obviously, we didn't break through from the first round, but it's different. Like, if this is the middle, Jason Kidd was right here and Mike Bud[enholzer] is way over there [in coaching philosophy]. They're totally different. Mike Bud wants you to rest, he wants you to stay with your family, but the day we work out, he wants you to be there and he wants you to give everything."
On top of that, Kidd never built a team or system that maximized Giannis' skills, had the Bucks playing a foolish, outdated defense and couldn't get them out of the first round. With his combination of skills and determination, Giannis would have become an MVP candidate no matter what, but it's hard to imagine him turning Milwaukee into a perennial contender if he were still stuck with Kidd. On both ends, Budenholzer's Bucks have maximized his talent by playing a radically different style.
As much as Giannis respects and admires Kidd, he is surely smart enough to recognize how much better his basketball life has been with Budenholzer. This season, Giannis will likely win his second MVP and his first Defensive Player of the Year award, and Milwaukee has been the league's best team, at least in the regular season.
Why would he want to go back to the way things were?