During a recent interview with ESPN, Middleton addressed Antetokounmpo bluntly stating he could see himself being a Bucks lifer as long as the team stays committed to winning another championship. To some, the comments seemed to be a veiled hint at a potential future exit, but in Middleton’s estimation, the two-time MVP was, instead, shedding light on a business mindset he’s maintained for years.
“I think it’s kind of business as usual either way,” Middleton said. “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.”
As a member of the Bucks for all 11 of the Greek Freak’s seasons, Middleton, who’s been limited by injuries the past two seasons, also shared that he interpreted Antetokounmpo’s remarks as a challenge to himself and the team to keep getting better.
Antetokounmpo, a potential free agent in the summer of 2024, could reset the balance of power should Milwaukee, the 2021 NBA champions, fail to ink him to another deal. The 28-year-old has two years remaining on his current contract, along with a player option for a third year, and will be eligible for his next extension on Friday.
Said Middleton, “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.”
While Middleton may be stating the obvious in some regards, the decisions made by Bucks brass over the next few months will likely loom large with Antetokounmpo, and another key player in Jrue Holiday, potentially hitting free agency in July.
Following a season ended by the Heat in a stunning first-round upset, Milwaukee has since made several moves, including replacing coach Mike Budenholzer with Adrian Griffin and signing Middleton and center Brook Lopez—starters on the ’21 title team— to three- and two-year extensions, respectively.