Khris Middleton

Bucks Notes: Giannis, Budenholzer, Offseason, Korver

Star forward Giannis Antetokounmpo badly wanted to play in Game 5 on Tuesday night despite his right ankle sprain, expressing a willingness to play on one leg. However, as Matt Velazquez of The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel writes, the Bucks prioritized Antetokounmpo’s health over any potential short-term gain, and the reigning MVP appreciates the decision to protect him.

“We have people in the team sometimes that have a bigger say than you and they have to protect you,” Antetokounmpo said. “They have to protect your health no matter what and it’s good. There’s a lot of cases, previous cases in the past that put the team over the player’s health and I love my organization for that, I appreciate that they protected me.

“… I wanted to play. Everybody – you know I wanted to play, I know I wanted to play, my coach knows I wanted to play, but at the end of the day, our organization put my health over Game 5 and that’s big for me.”

With the Bucks’ season now over, all eyes will be on Antetokounmpo’s future. As we detailed late on Tuesday night, Giannis has already said he won’t ask to be traded, but we still don’t know whether or not he’ll sign a super-max extension when the club offers it this fall.

Passing on that extension would result in all sorts of Giannis-related trade speculation, writes Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report. However, as ESPN’s Bobby Marks (Insider link) outlines, it’s possible Antetokounmpo may prefer to wait on finalizing an extension even if he wants to remain with the Bucks. The same deal – a five-year max with the Bucks worth 35% of the cap and beginning in 2021/22 – would be available for Giannis during the 2021 offseason.

For now, teams are projecting no salary cap increase for the next couple years, per Marks. But by the ’21 offseason, Antetokounmpo and the Bucks would have a better idea of the cap outlook going forward. It’s possible at that time that the Defensive Player of the Year would want to sign a shorter-term contract to maintain flexibility and to potentially capitalize on a cap increase down the road by waiting to lock in a longer-term contract.

Here’s more on Giannis and the Bucks:

  • Michael Scotto of HoopsHype spoke to a pair of GMs, two team executives, and a scout about the Bucks’ outlook, including Giannis’ future, Mike Budenholzer‘s status, and the rest of the club’s roster. The consensus among Scotto’s sources is that it’s hard to read too much into bubble results and that Milwaukee shouldn’t be in a rush to make major changes. “I think they’re good enough to win,” an Eastern Conference GM said. “We definitely overreact to certain things. They’re a contending championship team. It’s like OKC back in the day. Play it out. If Giannis leaves, he leaves. His brother is on the team, for crying out loud.”
  • Another Eastern Conference executive who spoke to Scotto offered the following assessment: “If it were my decision, I think you run it back next year with the same squad. I think over the summer, Giannis will learn to extend past the 3-point line consistently. Then, if things aren’t looking good at the deadline next year, you see what you can get for (Khris) Middleton, (Eric) Bledsoe, (Donte) DiVincenzo.”
  • John Hollinger of The Athletic isn’t convinced that Budenholzer’s coaching style is destined to fail in the postseason. Hollinger concedes that the Bucks head coach made some mistakes against Miami, but contends that a bad matchup and some bad luck largely contributed to the club’s early playoff exit.
  • Veteran sharpshooter Kyle Korver, whose contract with the Bucks is expiring, told Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated (Twitter link) that he’ll talk to his family before making a decision on his NBA future. His teammate Marvin Williams announced on Tuesday night that he has decided to retire, but it’s not clear if the 39-year-old Korver will follow suit.

Shutdown Notes: Woj, Testing, McCollum, Antetokounmpo

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski is the latest media figure to share pessimism that the NBA season can be saved, writes Adam Zagoria of Forbes. During an appearance on SportsCenter this morning, Wojnarowski said the league is doing everything it can to resume play — gathering ideas from teams, executives, sports science and medical staffs and the players’ union — but the situation doesn’t look promising.

“There’s also a level of realism that is starting to sink in it,” Wojnarowski said, “that it’s going to be difficult to return to play this season, that a runway for how many days it would actually have to be able to have a representative rest of the season, a few regular-season games at minimum and then a playoffs that would crown a legitimate champion, that would have a playoff structure, that would be enough to have someone to wear that crown and do it without an asterisk, that’s the challenge around the league right now. And they know they’re up against it, they’re up against the clock and there’s certainly a lot of concern about whether this league will be able to return to play or not.”

There’s more on the shutdown:

  • The NBA won’t be able to resume play until it can quickly provide coronavirus tests for a large number of people, states Steve Bulpett of The Boston Herald. Not only does the league have to be able to ensure the safety of everyone involved, he adds, it must do so without the perception that it is receiving preferential treatment. That happened early on when entire teams were being checked while the test wasn’t widely available to the public. “There are certain lines that can’t be crossed, and everyone knows where they are,” a league executive said. “We’re hearing from a lot of different corners, including from doctors, that would love to see the games return, just for the sign it would give. But you have to be able to do it right.”
  • Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum tells David Aldridge of The Athletic that “everything is on the table” regarding talks with the league about the financial gap that will be created if the rest of the season is canceled. There was a report this week that up to 25% of remaining salaries could be placed into an escrow account that would help players and owners deal with potential losses. “Not playing basketball for the rest of the year means we lose 23 and a half percent of games played, regular season and a complete playoff run,” said McCollum, a vice president with the NBPA. “Not to mention the issues we’ve had with (Rockets general manager Daryl Morey) in China. That affected the (Basketball Related Income) as well … a lot of money is at stake.”
  • Bucks stars Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton are among the NBA stars with no way to play basketball during the shutdown, according to Eric Woodyard of ESPN.

Central Notes: Dunn, Doumbouya, Middleton, Melo

Fourth-year Bulls point guard/wing Kris Dunn will be a restricted free agent this summer, and after a competent defensive showing during his 2019/20 tenure with the club, he may be an appealing, affordable bench addition for a number of teams on the market, according to Rob Schaefer of NBC Sports Chicago. Though Chicago tried to move Dunn as recently as August 2019, Schaefer suggests that he may be worth keeping around.

Schaefer considers Dunn potentially netting an annual price tag in the range of $8-11MM this summer. The former No. 5 pick’s all-defense, almost-no-offense game may make him a better fit for a contender (the Clippers are reported to have interest in adding him) than for a rebuilding team like the Bulls.

There’s more out of the Central Division:

  • Sekou Doumbouya, the No. 15 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, became a more essential piece of the Pistons rotation than they had initially anticipated due to a rash of injuries, as Pistons.com writer Keith Langlois details. The 6’8″ forward out of France appeared in 38 games during the abbreviated 2019/20 season for Detroit.
  • Bucks All-Star wing Khris Middleton was in the midst of a spectacular year when play was paused amidst the escalating COVID-19 pandemic, according to Eric Woodyard of ESPN. Middleton had a chance to join rarefied air with a potential 50/40/90 season in play. He was averaging 21.2 PPG for the 53-12 Bucks. Middleton was shooting 49.88% from the field, 41.8% from deep and 90.8% from the charity stripe. “I’ve never been on pace for 50/40/90,” he told Woodyard. “That’s just an elite scorer and elite shooter with those type numbers and efficiency.”
  • While speaking with his former Olympic teammate Dwyane Wade on Instagram Live, Trail Blazers power forward Carmelo Anthony claims he would have won multiple NBA championships had the Pistons drafted him instead of Darko Milicic with the No. 2 pick in 2003, as Nicola Lupo of Sportando notes. Anthony, a 10-time All-Star, was drafted by Denver with the No. 3 pick out of Syracuse. The Pistons went to two straight NBA Finals in 2004 and 2005, winning the title in ’04.

More Teams, Players Pledge To Support Arena Workers During Hiatus

The list of teams and players who have vowed to help support arena workers who will lose wages during the NBA’s hiatus continues to grow. Here are several of the updates from the couple days:

  • The Bulls‘ ownership group, along with United Center ownership, announced that it will pay day-of-game employees through the remained of the originally scheduled season. The Nets issued a press release indicating they’ll do the same for hourly employees who worked games and events at Barclays Center. A team official said the Sixers are doing so too, tweets John Clark of NBC Sports Philadelphia.
  • The Spurs announced the formation of a fund totaling $500K+ that will be used to pay its part-time employees through the rest of the season. The Hornets also established a fund to assist the organization’s part-time employees who had been scheduled to work Hornets and Greensboro Swarm games through the end of their respective seasons.
  • The Nuggets‘ ownership group pledged to pay its part-time and hourly employees for the next 30 days, per a press release.
  • Madison Square Garden has committed to paying event-driven employees, including those who work at Knicks games, through March 22 and is working to come up with a longer-term plan, per a memo obtained by Ian Begley of SNY.tv. The Suns, meanwhile, are paying their employees who were scheduled to work their two home games in March, noting that the staffing for their four home games in April hadn’t yet been finalized.
  • The Raptors said in a press release that they have joined forces with Toronto’s other sports franchises to create a fund for arena and stadium workers. “Being a good teammate means looking out for our neighbours, friends and the people we work with,” Raptors president Masai Ujiri said in a statement. “Through this fund, we all pledge to be good teammates to our arena, stadium and support staff. We want to be here for them, the way they are always here for us.”
  • Following the lead of stars Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton, the rest of the Bucks‘ roster has also committed to making donations to impacted Fiserv Forum workers, per the team (Twitter link). Magic center Mohamed Bamba vowed to do the same for Amway Center employees (Twitter link).
  • Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony Towns is making a $100K donation as well, but his money will be going to the Mayo Clinic, which is rolling out a test to detect the virus that causes COVID-19.My hope is that we can fight this virus quicker and more efficiently by increasing the testing capabilities and availability and Mayo Clinic’s overall COVID-19 response,” Towns tweeted.

USA Basketball Announces 44 Finalists For 2020 Olympic Roster

USA Basketball has formally announced a preliminary group of 44 players who are candidates to be part of the program’s roster for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

The final roster will only consist of 12 players, so most of these finalists won’t actually play for Team USA at the Olympics. Some will likely withdraw from consideration, while others simply won’t make the final cut. However, these players have all expressed interest in being involved in the process.

“This is the first step in USA Basketball identifying the 12 players who will represent the United States as members of the 2020 U.S. Olympic Men’s Basketball Team in Tokyo,” said USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo.

“… Over the course of the remainder of the NBA season we’ll continue to monitor all of the athletes. Selecting the 12-man USA roster will obviously be an extremely challenging and difficult process, and we will again attempt to select the very best team possible to represent our country and who we hope will be successful in our difficult mission of repeating as Olympic champions for a fourth consecutive Olympics.”

Although the U.S. men’s team has won three consecutive Olympic gold medals, the program had a disappointing showing at last year’s World Cup, finishing in seventh place. Team USA will be looking for a bounce-back performance in Tokyo this summer, with many players from that World Cup squad among the 44 finalists announced today.

Here’s the full list of players who are candidates to play for Team USA at the 2020 Olympics:

  1. Bam Adebayo (Heat)
  2. LaMarcus Aldridge (Spurs)
  3. Harrison Barnes (Kings)
  4. Bradley Beal (Wizards)
  5. Devin Booker (Suns)
  6. Malcolm Brogdon (Pacers)
  7. Jaylen Brown (Celtics)
  8. Jimmy Butler (Heat)
  9. Mike Conley (Jazz)
  10. Stephen Curry (Warriors)
  11. Anthony Davis (Lakers)
  12. DeMar DeRozan (Spurs)
  13. Andre Drummond (Cavaliers)
  14. Kevin Durant (Nets)
  15. Paul George (Clippers)
  16. Draymond Green (Warriors)
  17. James Harden (Rockets)
  18. Montrezl Harrell (Clippers)
  19. Joe Harris (Nets)
  20. Tobias Harris (76ers)
  21. Gordon Hayward (Celtics)
  22. Dwight Howard (Lakers)
  23. Brandon Ingram (Pelicans)
  24. Kyrie Irving (Nets)
  25. LeBron James (Lakers)
  26. Kyle Kuzma (Lakers)
  27. Kawhi Leonard (Clippers)
  28. Damian Lillard (Blazers)
  29. Brook Lopez (Bucks)
  30. Kevin Love (Cavaliers)
  31. Kyle Lowry (Raptors)
  32. JaVale McGee (Lakers)
  33. Khris Middleton (Bucks)
  34. Donovan Mitchell (Jazz)
  35. Victor Oladipo (Pacers)
  36. Chris Paul (Thunder)
  37. Mason Plumlee (Nuggets)
  38. Marcus Smart (Celtics)
  39. Jayson Tatum (Celtics)
  40. Klay Thompson (Warriors)
  41. Myles Turner (Pacers)
  42. Kemba Walker (Celtics)
  43. Russell Westbrook (Rockets)
  44. Derrick White (Spurs)

Central Notes: Middleton, LaVine, Cavaliers, Budenholzer

Sharpshooting Bucks All-Star wing Khris Middleton has been a key part of Milwaukee’s blistering 31-5 season start. He spoke with The Athletic’s Sam Amick at length about his tenure in Milwaukee, his chemistry with 2019 MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, and the team’s outlook.

“So far, we’ve been special this season,” Middleton relayed to Amick. “But we know it’s just the regular season. That end goal of being the last team standing is our main focus.” The Bucks finished the 2018/19 season with a league-best 60-22 record, but fell to the eventual champion Raptors in the Eastern Conference Finals.

“We lose Malcolm [Brogdon, to the Pacers in free agency], a big piece of what we did last year,” Middleton continued. “But the guys we had in the locker room were guys who we still felt could get the job done.” Antetokounmpo’s offensive improvement this season has helped, too. His play with the Bucks has already put him in the driver’s seat for earning repeat MVP honors.

There’s more out of the Central Division:

  • Despite an intimidating January schedule, optimistic Bulls guard Zach LaVine remains confident in his team’s ability to compete for a playoff spot in the East. “We understand the position we’re in,” LaVine said, according to Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times. “I think we’ve thrown some games away. I think we should be right in that hunt. As poorly as we’ve played some nights, we can still make up for it.”
  • The Cavaliers continue to struggle in late-game situations this season, Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com writes. They coughed up a lead in the fourth quarter yet again tonight, this time in a 109-106 loss to Charlotte. Fedor notes that this failure to close games is a symptom of the team’s young, relatively green roster.
  • Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer was named the NBA’s Eastern Conference Coach of the Month for December, according to Bucks.com. Milwaukee boasted the league’s best record at 13-2, and led the NBA in offensive rating (115.5) and defensive rating (99.3).

Central Notes: Middleton, Thompson, Holidays, LaVine

Khris Middleton is making his new five-year, $178MM contract seem like a wise investment, writes Matt Velazquez of The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Middleton has become more efficient, putting up numbers close to his career averages in just 27.8 minutes per game, the fewest since his rookie season. The 29-5 Bucks have been so dominant that they haven’t had to rely as heavily on their top players.

Middleton is averaging 18.7 points, 5.6 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game, and his numbers rise to 24.1/7.2/4.9 on a per-36-minute basis. He is making a strong bid for his second straight All-Star appearance, even though he’s not as well known as many other stars.

“I think that’s the way he likes it; he’s going to go out there and do his job every night regardless of if people recognize him or not,” teammate Brook Lopez said. “It’s not important to him. I think – I don’t think, I know – the guys in the locker room and on the coaching staff appreciate what he does, no question, night in and night out. That’s what matters to him. He’s just trying to go out there and win.”

Here’s more from around the Central:

 There’s more from the Central Division:
  • Tristan Thompson is too important to the Cavaliers‘ future to be traded away, argues Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com. Thompson is one of four expiring contracts left on Cleveland’s roster after this week’s trade of Jordan Clarkson, and Fedor thinks the Cavs should try to re-sign him to help stabilize the rebuilding process. Not only is Thompson excelling on the court, averaging 12.8 points and 10.1 rebounds per night, but he is seen as a leader by his young teammates and was an outspoken defender of John Beilein after reports surfaced earlier this month that many players had lost confidence in their new coach.
  • History was made last night in New Orleans as Pacers guards Aaron Holiday and Justin Holiday were on the court at the same time as their brother, Jrue, notes Scott Agness of The Athletic. Justin opted to sign with Indiana as a free agent over the summer so he could play alongside his little brother. “He’s just being there and helping me feel more comfortable,” Aaron said. “He’s been in the league for a while so he knows the ropes, and I’m pretty much just following his lead. He’s obviously a leader at heart and in the way he works.”
  • Zach LaVine is thinking about returning to the dunk contest to try to reclaim his title, relays Joe Cowley of The Chicago Sun-Times. The Bulls guard won the competition in 2015 and 2016. ‘‘I know I’ve still got some dunks left, and my legs have been feeling good,” he said. “Maybe I’ll have to go practice, but I don’t know yet. I’ll probably have to let the NBA know soon.’’

Khris Middleton Ready To Return

Bucks forward Khris Middleton said he’ll return to action on Wednesday for a home game against Atlanta, the team’s PR department tweets.

This comes as a surprise, even though coach Mike Budenholzer indicated that Middleton might be ahead of his projected timetable to return from a left thigh contusion. Middleton was expected to miss 3-4 weeks after suffering the injury on November 10. He has gone through contact work in practice and played in 5-on-5 scrimmages in recent days.

The 28-year-old All-Star is averaging 18.5 PPG, 5.7 RPG and 2.9 APG after posting averages of 18.3/6.0/4.3 in the same categories last season.

The career 38.8% three-point shooter signed a five-year, $178MM contract in free agency this summer to remain Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s sidekick. The Bucks have continued to thrive despite the absence of their second-best player. They have won eight straight and have the best record on the Eastern Conference.

Injury Updates: Winslow, Thomas, Middleton, Vucevic

Justise Winslow has been sidelined most of the month with a concussion but he’s closer to returning, Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun Sentinel tweets. The Heat’s point forward is expected to practice on Tuesday. Winslow hasn’t played since November 5. He suffered the brain injury in a collision with Nuggets forward Paul Millsap. Coach Erik Spoelstra said Winslow formally remains in the protocol, Winderman adds.

We have more injury updates:

  • Raptors guard Matt Thomas has a fractured left middle finger and missed Monday’s game, Lori Ewing of The Canadian Press tweets. The rookie suffered the injury at Atlanta on Saturday. Thomas, a shooting guard out of Iowa State, is averaging 4.8 PPG in 11.3 MPG while making 53.8 percent of his 3-point attempts over 12 games.
  • Bucks forward Khris Middleton has gone through contact work in practice and played 5-on-5 as recently as Monday, coach Mike Budenholzer told Matt Velazquez of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (Twitter link). Middleton suffered a left thigh contusion on November 10th and was expected to miss 3-4 weeks. Budenholzer said Middleton might be ahead of the original timetable for his return.
  • Magic center Nikola Vucevic said his right ankle sprain is not as severe as he originally feared when he suffered the injury last Wednesday, Josh Robbins of The Athletic tweets. However, he also has a bone bruise that will take some time to heal. He hasn’t been able to do any kind of running, Robbins adds. Vucevic is expected to miss a minimum of four weeks.

Khris Middleton Out Several Weeks With Leg Injury

Bucks forward Khris Middleton is expected to miss multiple weeks with a left leg injury, Shams Charania of The Athletic tweets. There’s no serious damage to the leg, Charania adds.

The injury is a thigh contusion and is expected to cost Middleton three or four weeks, Matt Velazquez of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel tweets.

The 28-year-old All-Star was injured during the team’s win over the Thunder on Sunday. He’s averaging 18.5 PPG, 5.7 RPG and 2.9 APG after posting averages of 18.3/6.0/4.3 in the same categories last season.

The career 38.8% three-point shooter signed a five-year, $178MM contract in free agency this summer to remain Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s sidekick. With Middleton on the shelf, the Bucks will likely have to go a little smaller at the wing spots with Sterling Brown, Pat Connaughton and Donte DiVincenzo picking up additional minutes.