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Giannis Antetokounmpo says Jason Kidd helped him grow into dominant player

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MILWAUKEE (AP) — Giannis Antetokounmpo grew from a reed-thin, inexperienced teenager into one of the NBA’s dominant players under the tutelage of coach Jason Kidd, whom the Milwaukee Bucks fired earlier in the week with the team mired in mediocrity despite high expectations.

Kidd’s abrupt and surprising dismissal Monday has taken an emotional toll on the All-Star forward, affectionately known as the “Greek Freak.”

“He’s a big part of my success in the league,” Antetokounmpo said after Wednesday’s practice in his first public comments since the coaching change. “I’m loyal to the people I work with. I love him as a person. I care about him as a person.”

Informed by Bucks’ management of the planned firing even before Kidd learned his fate, Antetokounmpo called his soon-to-be ex-coach to break the news.

“It was one of the toughest calls I had to make,” he said. “We are going to miss him.”

Joe Prunty, a member of Kidd’s staff, has been named interim coach for the remainder of the season. He directed the team to a 109-105 win over Phoenix on Monday, just hours after taking over the team.

Kidd became Milwaukee’s coach a few months after a group led by co-owners Wes Edens and Mark Lasry bought the team in April 2014. The Bucks traded two future second-round draft picks to the Brooklyn Nets, where Kidd had been coach, as compensation. He inherited a team that won 15 games in 2013-14. Under Kidd, the Bucks had a regular-season record of 139-152.

Milwaukee is 9-12 since going a season-high five games over .500 on Dec. 9.

Asked whether he believed Kidd should have been fired, Antetokounmpo, who reportedly offered to go to the team’s owners to try to save Kidd’s job, said: “It’s in the front office’s hands. Whatever they can do to make this team a championship level team, it can happen. If it’s me being traded, or the coach being fired.”

Kidd is the second coach to be fired since the Bucks selected Antetokounmpo with the 15th overall pick in the 2013 draft. Antetokounpmo played one season under Larry Drew, who was dismissed in June 2014.

“I was only 18,” Antetokoummpo said. “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.”

Antetokounmpo is expected to return to action when the Bucks take on Brooklyn in Milwaukee on Friday. He sat out the past two games as he continues to manage chronic pain in his right knee.

“I feel great. I’m ready to go,” he said. “I feel energized.”

Prunty said his players “gave good energy” in the first full practice since he took the reins.

“These are a tough few days,” Prunty said. “We need to focus on whether we are getting better.”

The Bucks have said that Prunty will be considered for the permanent job after the season. The hire will be especially crucial as the Bucks prepare to move into a new arena.

“It’s hard to talk about that aspect of it right now,” Prunty said. “This isn’t about me, especially under these circumstances.”

Malcolm Brogdon, last season’s NBA Rookie of the Year, praised Prunty’s positive demeanor.

“In times of struggle, we tend to pout and take our foot off the gas. We can’t do that,” Brogdon said. “He’s a good coach to have when we are going through those struggles.”

Ray Allen, Jason Kidd, Steve Nash headline 2018 Hall of Fame finalists

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LOS ANGELES — It’s a good year for guards.

The Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame announced the Finalists for the class of 2018, and you could put together one heck of a modern NBA lineup: Steve Nash and Jason Kidd in the backcourt, Ray Allen on the wing with Grant Hill as your small-ball four and Chris Webber at center.

They were five of the 13 North American nominees for the Hall, men and women. Also very deservedly being honored with the 2018 Curt Gowdy Media Award: longtime and iconic NBA photographer Andy Bernstein, and ESPN basketball analyst Doris Burke. There are not two more deserving — or better — people.

The Hall of Fame Class of 2018 will be announced at the Saturday of the Final Four in April.

Here is who voters will be choosing amongst:

RAY ALLEN. Jesus Shuttlesworth should be a lock in his first time on the ballot, he has as pure a jump shot as the league has ever seen. Allen is a two-time NBA Champion (2008 Boston Celtics and 2013 Miami Heat), was named an All-Star 10 times, and (for now at least) is the NBA career leader in three-point field goals made. Before getting to the NBA he was a 1996 First Team All-American at UConn. Just to add to the resume, he has an Olympic gold medal (2000). But when you think of Allen, you’ll think of this shot.

JASON KIDD. Another lock to get in first ballot. Kidd one of the greatest point guards of his generation, he’s got an impressive resume as an NBA champion (2011 Dallas Mavericks), five-time All-NBA First Team, four-times All-Defensive First Team, a 10-time NBA All-Star, and the 1995 NBA Co-Rookie of the Year. At the University of California, Kidd was named Pac-10 Player of the Year and a consensus First-Team All American in 1994.

GRANT HILL. If all you remember is the post-2000, post-injury Grant Hill, you missed out. He was the 1995 Co-Rookie of the Year (with Kidd), five-times All-NBA, a seven-time NBA All-Star, and in college at Duke was a member of two NCAA national championship teams (1991, 1992). Hill also has a gold medal in the 1996 Olympic Games, and he’s been very active in philanthropic efforts off the court.

STEVE NASH. Born in South Africa and raised in Canada, Nash is a two-time NBA MVP who helped revolutionize the NBA with the seven-seconds or less Suns. He’s an eight-time NBA All-Star, and three-time All-NBA First Team member. Hie is third in all-time assists and holds the NBA record for highest career free throw percentage (.904).

MAURICE CHEEKS. A lock-down defender for most of his 15-year career, Cheeks is an NBA champion (the 1983  Philadelphia 76ers) and a four-time NBA All-Star. Cheeks is still involved in the game and is currently an assistant coach for the Oklahoma City Thunder.

CHRIS WEBBER. Nominated again, we’ll see if he gets in this time, considering his college and NBA impact he should be. Webber is a five-time NBA All-Star, three-time All-NBA, and the 1994 NBA Rookie of the Year. In college at Michigan he was a key member of the “Fab Five,” that revolutionized the college game.

CHARLES “LEFTY’ DRIESELL. Driesell is the only coach in NCAA history to win 100 games at four different schools and just one of 11 coaches to lead four schools to the NCAA Tournament. He is remembered as the coach at Maryland for many years as well as the inventor of the “Midnight Madness” concept.

HUGH EVANS. He was an NBA referee for 28 seasons, officiating nearly 2,000 regular season games, 170 NBA Playoff games, 35 NBA Finals games and four NBA All-Star games. In the summer he used to ref at Rucker Park in New York.

RUDY TOMJANOVICH. Tomjanovich coached the Houston Rockets to NBA Championships in 1994 and 1995 and is one of three coaches to win an NBA championship and an Olympic Gold Medal. He led USA Basketball to a gold medal in the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia.

From the women’s committee:

KIM MULKEY. Mulkey has led the Baylor Bear to two NCAA National Championships (2005, 2012) and 16 NCAA Tournament appearances.

KATIE SMITH. The WNBA Finals MVP (2008) and a two-time WNBA Champion with the Detroit Shock (2006, 2008), she also has three Olympic gold medals. Smith played for the Ohio State University (1992-1996) and was the first female Buckeye athlete to have her number retired.

TINA THOMPSON. Thompson is a four-time WNBA Champion with the Houston Comets (1997- 2000) and a nine-time WNBA All-Star. She is one of the greatest WNBA players in the league’s history.

WAYLAND BAPTIST UNIVERSITY. Long before women’s college basketball became an NCAA sport in 1982, the Wayland Baptist University women’s basketball team won 131 consecutive games from 1953-58 and 10 AAU National Championships overall.

 

Joel Embiid having fun, will compete in three events All-Star Weekend

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LOS ANGELES — Joel Embiid is going to enjoy his weekend in Los Angeles. And his first All-Star Game.

Embiid played 9 minutes for the World in its dominating Rising Stars Challenge win (which is more than most people expected him to play). He’s scheduled to take part in the All-Star Saturday Skills Challenge, then is a starter on Team Steph in Sunday’s All-Star Game.

Like he always is, Embiid is just trying to enjoy himself.

“When I have fun, that means I’m dominating on the court, kicking someone’s ass, and I need that,” Embiid said Friday afternoon in Los Angeles. “Every time I have fun that’s what I do. One thing that I told myself when I came back (from injuries), just go out there and have fun because that’s another way for me to dominate the game. If I’m frustrated, usually it doesn’t go well. It can go both ways, but usually, it doesn’t go well.

“Social media, on the court, it’s all about having fun.”

When he returns to Philly, he’s got to focus on the fun of making sure the Sixers make the playoffs. But for a weekend, he’s soaking up the sun and fun in Los Angeles.

LeBron James responds to Laura Ingraham: #wewillnotshutupanddribble

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A month before the latest school shooting and mass killing in a Florida high school, Kevin Durant and LeBron James recorded a video for the Uninterrupted where they vented that president Donald Trump does not care about most people not does he try to unite them. That video dropped just after the school shooting, where the president took heat for his comments on the situation.

Taking a lazy intellectual path designed to fire up her base, Fox News host Laura Ingraham took the “stick to sports” argument to an  offensive level, saying LeBron and KD should “shut up and dribble.”

Jaylen Brown of the Celtics had already done an excellent job taking down Ingraham’s misguided attack, Durant had responded as well and called the comments ignorant and racist.

Now LeBron has responded on Instagram.

#wewillnotshutupanddribble

A post shared by LeBron James (@kingjames) on

LeBron and Durant are citizens with the right to speak out, and they should.

Hopefully, this can be the end of this “controversy,” only because Ingraham isn’t worth it.

Team USA turned Rising Stars into dunking exhibition (VIDEO)

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Nobody tunes into the Rising Stars Challenge on All-Star Friday night to see a tight defensive shell and quick rotations to help the helper. We want the game’s great young players to entertain us with their skills.

Team USA may have gotten blown out in the game, but they put on a show — they were dunking everything. As you can see above.

The best dunk of the game? Had to be Donovan Mitchell‘s self alley-oop. Which a good sign heading into Saturday’s dunk contest.