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Middleton not concerned about Giannis' future

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Published in Basketball
Thursday, 21 September 2023 10:37

Milwaukee Bucks star Khris Middleton has heard the comments Giannis Antetokounmpo has made over the past several weeks. But unlike the rest of the NBA universe, which has been caught off-guard by Antetokounmpo's open acknowledgement of uncertainty about his future, Middleton said it was simply an extension of the things Antetokounmpo has consistently been saying for years.

"I think it's kind of business as usual either way," Middleton told ESPN in a phone interview. "It doesn't affect me personally. I don't think it affects us as a team. I think this is something he said almost every year he's come up in contract extension talks.

"We always want him back for sure. Let's be for sure and let everyone know that. We want this guy to come back because he's one of the best players in the world. He's one of the best players in franchise history. So when he says things like that, I think he just wants to challenge the team, the organization, to keep putting us in position to win championships.

"But I think it's just something that he just wants to keep putting pressure on everybody. And that's himself also. He's not just pointing a finger at everybody else saying, 'You guys have to do this for me. I think he's putting that pressure on himself to be better, to come in and be great every year. So there's no pressure on, there's no added pressure when he says that to us as a team, or me as a person, that I have to be better."

Antetokounmpo's comments have been the capper of an atypically hectic summer for Middleton and the Bucks, who have been among the league's championship contenders for the past five seasons. But, after a stunning loss as the top seed to the eighth-seeded Miami Heat in the first round of the playoffs, the Bucks went on to fire longtime head coach Mike Budenholzer - eventually hiring former Toronto Raptors assistant Adrian Griffin to replace him - as well as re-signing Middleton and Brook Lopez after both hit unrestricted free agency.

Middleton admitted that, after losing that series to the Heat, he knew something was going to change, but was unsure what it would wind up being - including himself, given he was entering free agency.

"I think you could always feel some change can happen when you lose in the first round when you're expected to contend for a championship," Middleton said. "And whether that's coaching, whether that's players moving, I didn't have a feel of what was gonna happen.

"I was a free agent also, [and a player] that was coming off two injuries. I didn't know if I was gonna be the one that, you know, was going to move on, or a coach or another player. I think this time it just happened to be Bud, which kind of caught us by surprise a little bit. But I think we kind of knew something was gonna happen.

"Something was gonna have to change for us to get to that next level as a team, as an organization."

But while Budenholzer was let go, both Middleton and Lopez eventually returned, allowing Milwaukee to remain among the handful of teams with legitimate championship aspirations. The next several months will now be full of speculation about the other half of the team's longtime championship core, as not only will Antetokounmpo be one year from unrestricted free agency next summer but star point guard Jrue Holiday can become an unrestricted free agent next July, as well.

And Middleton believes that, despite he, Holiday and Lopez all being in or entering their mid-30s, if this group can stay together it has a runway to compete for championships for several more seasons.

"I'm heading towards older age, but you know, Brook and Jrue have me by a couple years," Middleton said with a laugh. "But I think both of those guys have a couple more years to play at a high level and prove themselves.

"I know Jrue's a guy that he still has a lot left in the tank no matter his age. He is just like Brook, and I hope he's excited to come back, to sign an extension and be with us for a couple more years. Because I feel we have a team that can keep playing, that can play ... I wish I could say we could play til we're 40, and compete for championships. But I think we have a good amount of years left where we could play at a high level and be a contender.

"And that doesn't happen unless we have Jrue back also."

As for Middleton himself, he's excited to be healthy after enduring a series of a nagging injuries for more than a year. He missed Milwaukee's second round loss to the Boston Celtics with a knee injury in 2022 before undergoing offseason wrist surgery, and then played only 33 games this past season before undergoing a knee surgery earlier this offseason.

But Middleton said he's been on the court working out for a couple of months, and is excited to go into next season with a clean bill of health.

"The last year and a half, two years, they've been kind of strange dealing with different type of injuries that weren't nagging injuries," he said. "There are real things that needed surgery and needed time to heal and whatnot. So this summer's just been kind of about getting myself back together into being back to my old, natural self, as healthy as I can be, which I think I'm headed in that direction.

"So it's been a good productive summer for me thus far where I didn't have to feel like I was starting all over ... I was able to focus on my whole body, and start to work on my game here these last couple months."

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