One of the NBA's biggest offseason questions is still lingering: Will Giannis Antetokounmpo agree to a five-year supmermax extension to remain in Milwaukee?
"I have a lot of respect for Giannis. In my situation last year, he told me how he felt, and that's all I can do in return," Middleton said. "I think we're more than friends at this point. We've spent eight years together. We've been through a lot together also, so, at the end of the day, I want him to do what's best for him and his family.
"He knows that I deeply want him to return and sign this extension, but at the same time, I know he's got a big decision that he's got to work through himself and with his family at home because those are the most important people," he continued. "Whatever he does, he knows that I'll support him to the fullest, so I've talked to him. I give him my two cents and my opinion or try to convince him, but at the end of the day, I'm going to always love him and appreciate whatever he has to do."
Antetokounmpo has until Dec. 21 to sign the five-year, $228 million supermax extension. The back-to-back reigning MVP and Defensive Player of the Year winner can also sign the same deal with the Bucks next summer. But, if he chooses to leave Milwaukee, the maximum contract available to him would be worth $145 million over four years, a difference of $83 million.
He traveled from Greece back to Milwaukee this week as the Bucks prepared to enter training camp. Even while he was back in his homeland, the communication remained frequent between him and the organization.
"The conversations with Giannis have been great this summer. He's incredibly supportive of us and everything we're trying to do to make this team the best it can be, and the same for us to support him," Budenholzer said. "It's a big decision. I think the communication between he and I has been really good, really productive, fruitful. Same with [general manager] Jon [Horst], so we feel really good about the communication with Giannis throughout the summer and offseason."
Antetokounmpo is entering the prime of his career after logging the highest single-season player efficiency rating of all time (31.86). He put up career-best numbers of 29.5 points and 13.6 rebounds in just 30.4 minutes per game. Milwaukee also finished with the best regular-season record for the second year in a row but fell short of the ultimate goal, which was reaching the Finals.
Still, Budenholzer would not categorize it as a championship-or-bust situation for the Bucks this season.
"We always embraced and feel fortunate that we feel we have the roster, we feel like we have players that are incredibly talented on both ends of the court and we're in the mix to be the last team standing," Budenholzer said. "But, there's a process that every team's got to go through to get there. I think the goal is real, the opportunity is real, but I think that if you're an organization or a team that doesn't embrace that, you're probably maybe in the wrong business, but at the same time, to think that a season is championship-or-bust is certainly not the way we've approached it. We really embrace competition, we embrace the playoffs, we embrace the opportunity and we want to be that last team standing, but that phrase is just something that doesn't resonate with me or, I think, our group or organizationally."
After having time to reflect on that regular-season success not translating to the postseason, Middleton didn't shy away from expressing disappointment in the outcome. Milwaukee hopes to come back a better team with the addition of one-time All-Star Jrue Holiday plus D.J. Augustin, Bryn Forbes, Torrey Craig and the re-signing of Pat Connaughton.
"Find a way to make that regular-season success into postseason success. Find a way to do that. Like I said, it was a disappointing season last year the way we went out," Middleton said. "I think it always is when you don't win and you're not that last team standing, but you've got to find a way. We're a great team. We've added a lot of nice pieces that can help us improve and get to that goal. I'm excited for the season.
Middleton added: "There's always a sense of urgency to win, especially these last couple years. We know we're in a great position. We have a great opportunity ahead of us after we lost a couple opportunities behind us, so we've gotta take advantage of this time while we can because that window is not as big or open as it used to be. It's not as easy. You've got to take advantage of those years when you can."