Rewind back to the acquisition of Jason Kidd, when the head coach was introduced briefly to the Milwaukee media in mid-summer. He was asked how he would handle losing. After all, the Bucks were coming off a 15-game season, and the plan was to continue the rebuild.
Fast forward through the rest of the summer, and training camp, and Kidd – again – was asked about how he would manage a young roster destined for the high lottery.
For his part, in his always monotone delivery, Kidd never accepted such prognostications as a fact.
San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was told of this, and he smiled a little smile. He’s won five NBA championships, appeared in one other finals, and hasn’t had a team miss the playoffs since 1996-97.
Except for a brief respite from 2001 through 2007, Popovich and his Spurs went head-to-head with Kidd’s Dallas Mavericks and Phoenix Suns on a regular basis in the Western Conference.
"Pop" watched from afar as Kidd led the New Jersey Nets to back-to-back Finals appearances in 2002 and 2003, and saw first hand the future Hall of Fame point guard guide the Mavericks to a title in 2011.
Jason Kidd, accepting failure?
"Jason’s probably laughing inside if you asked him that, because he’s not somebody who even thinks about losing," Popovich said when his Spurs were in Milwaukee. "He’s a competitor of the highest rung. And, at the same time, he’s knowledgeable and he knows what it takes. And, he’s comfortable in his own skin. He’s going to demand. He’ll be fair, but he’s going to demand. And any kind of battle, as far as doing it the right way, he’s going to win the battle.
"I think a young team is probably a great situation in that regard because they’re in need of knowledge and learning and how it all comes together. And he’s a guy who knows how that works. I think it’s a good marriage."
It has been, thus far, and while the Bucks enter the final 10 games of the season with a .500 record, they have an opportunity to nearly triple their win total from a year ago and make the Eastern Conference playoffs.
With the bottom quarter of the conference doing a thorough job tanking on purpose, the Bucks emerged as a likely playoff participant after posting a .500 record through December, and then becoming the first franchise in league history to double their previous season’s win total by the All-Star break with a 30-23 mark.
Despite the team’s recent struggles, they remain in prime spot to clinch a spot, and talk has had to turn to the valuable lesson that Michael Carter-Williams, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, Tyler Ennis and Miles Plumlee will gain from a playoff berth – the first of their careers.
"I think it’s a big accomplishment because that’s what they wanted to do as far as training camp. The players wanted to make the playoffs," Kidd said. "They put in the work, but you’ve got to finish marathon.
"It is a good accomplishment when you do make the playoffs because that’s when the great players step up and the best teams win championships. It’s a lot of fun. It’s not fun to be on the outside watching it on TV and wondering what you could have done to help the team get there."
But is there a truly tangible effect on the "young guys" gaining playoff experience when, in all likelihood, it’s a one-and-done scenario where the Bucks are sent home after one series.
According to the one "young Buck" who just went through it, there is.
"You can’t trade that experience," said 24-year-old John Henson, who was a rookie when the Bucks made the playoffs in 2013 and were summarily swept by the soon-to-be-champion Miami Heat, who bested Popovich’s Spurs in seven games.
Henson averaged just 8.3 minutes per game in that series under interim coach Jim Boylan, with nearly as many personal fouls (1.3) as points (1.5) per game.
But for him, it did matter.
"We were in the city for a week," Henson said. "I got my little playoff booklet. The film, which is something that maybe the guys haven’t done. I know coming into games, we lose game one, we gotta make adjustments for game two. I think it’s a comfort level. I don’t know it’s experience but ta comfort level with being in that situation. Especially we were playing the Heat, which at the time they had won, so I think its’s going to help me a little bit."
Henson readily admits he doesn't have the breadth of playoff knowledge of say, Zaza Pachulia (40 games), to impart on anyone, but he felt that for his other teammates who have yet to play in the postseason, it will only be useful going forward.
"I think it does a little bit," he said. "I mean, I’m not saying I’m the most experienced and I’ll be able to tell guys what’s going on but I have been there and seen it eye to eye, the best team we’ve played against.
"It was a playoff experience, playoff feel, playoff atmosphere, playoff pressure. At the time we didn’t have that much pressure because we were plying the number one seed so nobody thought we would win. This year I think it’ll be a little different. People will think we’ll have a chance and I think we’ll have a chance, too, whoever we play. It’ll be good."
Jim Owczarski is an award-winning sports journalist and comes to Milwaukee by way of the Chicago Sun-Times Media Network.
A three-year Wisconsin resident who has considered Milwaukee a second home for the better part of seven years, he brings to the market experience covering nearly all major and college sports.
To this point in his career, he has been awarded six national Associated Press Sports Editors awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, breaking news and projects. He is also a four-time nominee for the prestigious Peter J. Lisagor Awards for Exemplary Journalism, presented by the Chicago Headline Club, and is a two-time winner for Best Sports Story. He has also won numerous other Illinois Press Association, Illinois Associated Press and Northern Illinois Newspaper Association awards.
Jim's career started in earnest as a North Central College (Naperville, Ill.) senior in 2002 when he received a Richter Fellowship to cover the Chicago White Sox in spring training. He was hired by the Naperville Sun in 2003 and moved on to the Aurora Beacon News in 2007 before joining OnMilwaukee.com.
In that time, he has covered the events, news and personalities that make up the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, NCAA football, baseball and men's and women's basketball as well as boxing, mixed martial arts and various U.S. Olympic teams.
Golf aficionados who venture into Illinois have also read Jim in GOLF Chicago Magazine as well as the Chicago District Golfer and Illinois Golfer magazines.