By JIM HOEHN
MILWAUKEE (AP) _ Milwaukee Bucks coach Jason Kidd looked ahead to what he sees as a bright future, rather than dwell on the disheartening final 48 minutes of this season.
The Bucks improved from an NBA-worst 15 victories last season to 41 in their first season under Kidd. Their surprising season come to an abrupt halt with the worst defeat in franchise history, a 120-66 loss to the Chicago Bulls on Thursday night in Game 6 of their first-round playoff series.
“I think we had a great season,” Kidd said Friday. “We still have a ways to go, but the process has started and we have a foundation to build on.”
But, getting as far as they did was an accomplishment for a team that lost rookie Jabari Parker, the second overall pick in the draft, to a season-ending knee injury in mid-December; played most of the season without troubled center Larry Sanders, who was eventually released; and got rid of their leading scorer, point guard Brandon Knight, in a trade-deadline deal when the Bucks were seven games above .500.
Against the Bulls, the Bucks lost the first three games, including an overtime loss at home in Game 3, but bounced back to win two games, before the season-ending blowout loss at home.
“The guys that were here before the trade worked very hard to put us in a situation where we could make the playoffs,” said point guard Michael Carter-Williams, acquired from Philadelphia in the three-team trade that sent Knight to Phoenix.
“We were able to get enough wins to sustain the sixth seed and I was a small piece of the puzzle. I’m looking to be a larger piece next year being here from the beginning of the season.”
In addition to Williams and a healthy Parker, the Bucks’ corps includes forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, the 20-year-old Greek player who made significant strides in his second season; third-year center John Henson, who played his best ball in the playoffs; and 6-foot-7 shooting guard Khris Middleton, who averaged a career-high 13.4 points during his third regular season.
The youthful roster was balanced by a veteran mix of center Zaza Pachulia and forward Ersan Ilyasova and reserves O.J. Mayo, Jared Dudley and Jerryd Bayless.
Middleton is a restricted free agent and Dudley has a player option for the same amount in 2015-16.
“I definitely feel like everybody wants me back here, but at the end of the day, it is a business,” Middleton said. “So, you’ve got to make the right decision for you, but I would just love to be here.”
Antetokounmpo, who has grown 2 inches to 6-11 since being drafted, increased his scoring average from 6.8 to 11.5 and rebounds from 4.4 to 7.0. He was ejected from Game 6 against the Bulls for a flagrant foul on Mike Dunleavy.
“I’m sure there were some cheap shots, but it was a bad play by me,” an apologetic Antetokounmpo said Friday. “It’s not going to happen again. From the intensity of the game, the cheap shot, down 30 _ you know, you live, you learn. It was a bad mistake by me.”
Parker, who was averaging 12.3 points and 5.5 rebounds at the time of his injury, said his recovery from surgery on his left knee is on schedule and he could possibly be ready for training camp.
“I have to go step-by-step because who knows how my body is going to react, because this is the first time for me,” Parker said. “Really just have to take my time. I can’t really focus on a date, just take it step-by-step.”
Kidd said the Bucks’ biggest area of improvement did not show up in the stat sheet.
“(It’s) being a team, understand what it means,” Kidd said. “It’s not an individual who wins a game or loses a game: team wins, team loses. Understanding the culture, changing that for the better, being professional on and off the court. For a young team I thought they made great strides and they had fun while they played. Those are the things we tried to accomplish, besides playing defense. Again, they did a really good job with all those things.”
The Bucks also are in negotiations for funding for a new arena under new owners Marc Lasry and Wesley Edens, who bought the team in April 2014.