MILWAUKEE — To teammates, Jabari Parker looks as if he is ready to get back on the court for the Milwaukee Bucks.
Parker speaks cautiously as he moves closer to a return from the second major knee injury of his young career.
“Within these couple weeks. I think it’s in the air for now,” Parker said. “I’ve got to keep on talking it over with the medical staff and by that time I should be good.”
He will come back to a team with a renewed sense of urgency following the firing of coach Jason Kidd this week.
Parker was drafted by the Bucks with the second overall pick in 2014, the same season that Kidd began his three-plus year tenure in Milwaukee. The master plan for the rebuilding franchise included Kidd guiding emerging forwards Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo as the core of a club that could contend by the time a new downtown arena opened in fall 2018.
The arena is on schedule and Antetokounmpo has blossomed into a two-time NBA All-Star. But Kidd was fired Monday after midseason struggles left a team thought to be a rising power in the wide-open East in eighth place in the conference standings.
“We’re down a man, that’s a guy that’s been involved with us for the longest (time) and we look up to him as a leader,” Parker said after practice Thursday. “We have to figure something out as quick as possible because that was the captain of the ship.”
Assistant Joe Prunty has taken over as interim coach for the rest of the season. General manager Jon Horst said Friday that Prunty would be considered as part of the “widespread offseason search” for the next coach.
For Parker, it’s the first coaching change that he has had to deal with going back to his one-and-done season in college at Duke in 2014. There is familiarity at least with Prunty, who was Kidd’s top assistant and stepped into the head-coaching role in the past when Kidd was away for health or personal reasons.
But Frank Johnson was one of three assistants to leave the staff in the wake of Kidd’s dismissal. Johnson, in particular, had been mentoring Parker, and the forward said he plans to keep in touch with him.
“It was kind of hard for me to accept because that’s a guy I came forward every day, seeing him every day,” Parker said, “and to not have him by my side is really going to be hard for me.”
As for a return, it appears that a timeline revealed Kidd to come back the week before the All-Star Game on Feb. 18 is still in place. That would put Parker back on the floor a year after the second major surgery of his NBA career on his left knee. Parker has been practicing without restrictions.
“You can see he’s getting antsy to play. He looks ready to play if you ask me,” teammate Khris Middleton said. I can’t wait to have him out there.”
Parker’s return could give the Bucks a midseason boost to get back into contention for a top-four seed in the East.
“Even when I come back at some time, it’s still going to be a journey for me, taking it step by step,” Parker said. “I’m not there, so every moment is an opportunity to get better.”
Note: The Bucks added Vin Baker to Prunty’s staff on Friday. A first-round draft pick by the Bucks in 1993 and four-time All-Star as a player, Baker will join four holdovers who worked for Kidd: Greg Foster, Sean Sweeney, Stacey Augmon and Josh Broghamer.
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