Kidd steers surprising Bucks into unfamiliar territory

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Jason Kidd’s first season in Milwaukee wasn’t supposed to go this way.

He wasn’t supposed to lead his young Bucks to 40 wins and a playoff berth a year after they’d won just 15 games.

But ever since his playing days, when he transformed the New Jersey Nets from a 26-win team into a back-to-back Eastern Conference champion, it seems like Kidd has always found a way to surprise people.

On Sunday afternoon, Kidd’s Bucks completed their improbable mission, fittingly routing the Brooklyn Nets -- the same team that dealt his coaching rights to Milwaukee after he failed to gain additional control over player personnel decisions there -- 96-73 to clinch the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

“Hopefully the playoffs become the norm around here,” Kidd told reporters following the game.

Kidd, who certainly deserves consideration for Coach of the Year, even though the award will likely go to either Golden State’s Steve Kerr or Atlanta’s Mike Budenholzer, became the first coach in NBA history to lead two franchises to the playoffs in his first two seasons as head coach.

Given the way things have gone, it’s hard to say Kidd made the wrong move leaving the Nets for the Bucks.

In fact, fans chanted “Thanks for Jason!” toward the conclusion of the game.

He's quickly instilled a winning culture in Milwaukee, consistently preaching one word: “team.”

His players responded by buying in, working hard and excelling on the defensive end. They may not have any All-Stars or players averaging 20 points per game -- yet -- but the young Bucks have found a way to win games.

They have overcome the potentially devastating losses of No. 2 overall pick Jabari Parker (torn ACL), Kendall Marshall (torn ACL), Larry Sanders (mental health/retirement) and Brandon Knight (trade).

Ersan Ilyasova, O.J. Mayo, Jared Dudley, John Henson and Zaza Pachulia have all missed significant time due to various injuries, but the Milwaukee Bucks have overcome all of that, too.

The Bucks currently rank second in defensive efficiency. Giannis Antetokounmpo (20) and Khris Middleton (23) have become more complete players under Kidd’s watch, while trade deadline-acquisition Michael Carter-Williams (23) is finally starting to find his groove. In April, Carter-Williams is averaging about 17 points, seven assists and six rebounds per game while shooting 49 percent from the field.

Milwaukee’s starting lineup of Carter-Williams, Middleton, Antenokounmpo, Ilyasova and Pachulia has gradually developed solid chemistry and is outscoring the opposition by 8.5 points per 100 possession in the 317 minutes they’ve played together.

The shortest of the five is MCW, who stands 6-6. And their length has wreaked havoc on opposing offense, allowing them to turn steals into transition points at a high rate. And with a now healthy bench that features Mayo, Dudley, Henson and Jerryd Bayless, Kidd’s team possesses quality depth.

The future is bright. The Bucks have a dynamic young core that will only continue to grow. Middleton will be a restricted free agent and due a significant raise, so Milwaukee will need to pay to lock him up. They also have all their draft picks -- including potentially two first-rounders in 2017.

But first, their players will be able to gain some valuable playoff experience -- regardless of how they do.

“No one’s probably gonna pick us to do anything,” Kidd told NBATV. “But we have to believe in ourselves, stick to our principles and see what happens.”