MILWAUKEE — Speaking publicly for the first time since the Milwaukee Bucks fired head coach Jason Kidd earlier this week, Giannis Antetokounmpo admitted that he has had a hard time adjusting to the news.
Speaking to reporters after practice Wednesday, he confirmed an ESPN report from earlier in the week that said he received the news from the Bucks and called his coach approximately 15 minutes before Kidd was formally notified of the decision.
“He was a big part of my success,” Antetokounmpo said. “He trusted me, he put the ball in my hands, he motivated me on a daily basis, he pushed me to be great and not to be mediocre. …
“I was 19 when he came and he said he was going to put the ball in my hands. The first time I wasn’t ready. I told him, ‘Coach, I’m not ready to create and make plays for the team.’ He said, ‘OK, we’re going to take our time.’ The next year, he put the ball in my hands and I was ready. …
“But coming from a guy like Jason Kidd is big. He’s going to end up — whatever if he got fired or not — he’s going to end up in the Hall of Fame. Having Jason Kidd as our coach was big.”
Antetokounmpo wasn’t with the Bucks on Monday night as they kicked off the post-Kidd era with a 109-105 victory over Phoenix, but he is expected to return from a two-game absence Friday night when Milwaukee welcomes the Brooklyn Nets to the Bradley Center.
The NBA’s leader in minutes per game this season (37.4) and second-leading scorer (28.2) sat out Milwaukee’s last two outings to rest and receive treatment on a sore right knee that had bothered him since the summer.
“I feel great, I’m ready to go,” Antetokounmpo said of his time off. “(I’m) feeling energized.”
Nets coach Kenny Atkinson knows firsthand how hard it is to keep Antetokounmpo in check; he coached the “Greek Freak” during the Risings Stars Challenge at the 2015 All-Star Game.
“He had a mentality that was just amazing,” Atkinson said. “His focus — he didn’t take it like an All-Star Game, he took it like a Game 7. So, right then, it gave you a sign that this guy, he’s a got a different mentality than most guys. It gave you some evidence that he wants to be great.
“He’s just at another level, he’s desperate to be great.”
The Nets come to Milwaukee looking to bounce back from a 109-108 heartbreaker at Oklahoma City earlier this week. Spencer Dinwiddie gave Brooklyn a one-point lead, converting a driving layup in the closing seconds, but Russell Westbrook returned the favor and Dinwiddie’s attempt at a game-winning 3-pointer fell short.
Dinwiddie has been a pleasant surprise for Brooklyn this season, averaging 13.4 points and 6.6 assists per game. That performance has also made him a prime trade candidate, though the four-year vet is hoping to stick around Brooklyn for a while.
“I would love to be here long term. I’m fully indebted to Brooklyn,” Dinwiddie told WFAN Radio this week. “Honestly, my very first impression of Brooklyn was the culture of development. I thought they were very invested in the guys they chose to be a part of that.”
The Bucks have won eight in a row against Brooklyn and have taken five consecutive meetings at the Bradley Center.