“I’m a Milwaukee Buck, but most importantly I’m a winner… If there is a better situation for me to win the Larry O’Brien I have to take that better situation.”
A couple of times this summer, two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo has said that or something similar, taking a shot across the bow of a Bucks organization after it just spent big this summer to retain the players he won a ring with and bring in the coach he wanted. Next summer, the Bucks will put the largest contract extension offer in NBA history in front of Antetokounmpo and it feels like he is laying the groundwork for something.
Khris Middleton’s reaction? A shrug. From Tim Bontemps of ESPN:
“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.”
Maybe all his headline-grabbing comments were simply how Antetokounmpo motivates and challenges his teammates and the organization — and it’s understandable Middleton would see it this way. As Middleton is clear to say, everyone in Milwaukee wants Antetokounmpo to stay with the organization long term. That’s no secret.
It also feels like what Antetokounmpo will do will depend upon how this season goes and how that projects to the future. The Bucks enter the season as a clear title contender, they had the best record in the NBA a season ago and return that same core (but with a new, first-time head coach in Adrian Griffin). Milwaukee also got bounced in the first round last season, and the core in Milwaukee outside Antetokounmpo is older — Brook Lopez (35), Jrue Holiday (33) and Middleton (32) — which means some kind of pivot is coming in future years.
Antetokounmpo has made it clear that winning is his priority. Do that in Milwaukee this season and he will likely grab the biggest bag any NBA player has ever taken and stay home. If not, things get interesting. Maybe all his words are simply a challenge to the Bucks and nothing more, but if the wins are not there, Antetokounmpo’s actions could merit more than a shrug.