With a new season upon them, the Milwaukee Bucks return to the court with nearly their entire roster from last year’s team intact and a sharp focus on winning a second NBA title in three years. Sixteen members of the 2021-22 Bucks squad that lost to the Boston Celtics in seven games in the Eastern Conference Semifinals are back with championship aspirations. Training camp is set to begin Monday at the Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin Sports Science Center with the first practice of the season.
The Bucks are preparing to host the Memphis Grizzlies in a pre-season game at Fiserv Forum on Saturday before traveling to the United Arab Emirates to take on the Atlanta Hawks on Oct. 6 and Oct. 8 in Abu Dhabi. The games will be the first for the NBA in the Middle East.
The Bucks held Media Day on Sunday and over the course of more than three hours the team’s owners, coaches and players spoke about their expectations for the upcoming season. One thing is clear – the team wants to bring the Larry O’Brien Trophy back in Milwaukee. The Bucks captured the NBA crown during the 2020-21 season behind an astounding post-season performance from Giannis Antetokounmpo, who earned NBA Finals MVP.
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A two-time regular-season MVP, Antetokounmpo, who is affectionately known as the “Greek Freak,” spent part of the summer leading the Greece national team in EuroBasket, the main international basketball competition. “It was a great experience representing my country,” Antetokounmpo said. “People were following us on the road everywhere we went and cheering for us. Cheering for the flag. Representing your national team is not easy, because you are representing the whole country.”
Antetokounmpo admitted that it’s been mentally and physically fatiguing playing so much basketball without much of a break the past couple years. Time away from the game is needed, he said. “Just go away from the game and spend time with your family and do what you love and sit on the couch and eat Doritos,” Antetokounmpo said. “You need that.”
Even without much down time, Antetokounmpo said he’s prepared for the upcoming season and excited that so many of his teammates from last year are back in the fold. “I know how they operate and what kind of people they are,” he said. “It’s good to have the same people around. I think we are a team full great human beings and great players.”
Veteran Joe Ingles, first-round draft pick MarJon Beauchamp and fellow rookies AJ Green and Marques Bolden are the only new faces on this year’s training camp roster. “It’s really hard to bring back a team, particularly when you have a team that’s really good,” Bucks’ General Manager Jon Horst said. “You have good young players that the rest of the league wants. It’s also hard to add impactful players when you have (salary) cap implications.”
Antetokounmpo dismissed talk of him being the world’s greatest basketball player. “Do I believe that I’m one of the best players in the league in the way I help my team be great and win games? Yeah, I do believe,” he said. “Do I believe I’m the best player in the world? No. I think the best player in the world is the person who is the last one standing. The person who takes his team to the final, to the finish line and helps them win games and become champions. Two years ago, when we did that and I was sleeping in my bed and I said maybe I’m the best player in the world, but now, no. In my opinion, the winner is the best. I believe the best player in the world is Steph Curry.”
Curry led the Golden State Warriors to last season’s NBA title and earned Finals MVP for his performance, just like Antetokounmpo did the previous season when he led the Bucks to their first NBA crown in 50 years.
Antetokounmpo said he desperately wants to bring another title to Milwaukee, something he said is far more important to him than individual accolades like the MVP honor. “It’d be nice to have my storage room another trophy that I don’t really see,” he said. “But I try not to focus on that. But the joy of winning a championship for this city was 20 times more.”
Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton are set to begin their 10th season as teammates and have seen the low- and high-points for the franchise.
Middleton, who missed the entire series against Boston in last season’s playoffs due to a knee injury, had surgery to repair a damaged ligament in his left wrist in the off-season and isn’t expected to be ready to return at the start of the season.
“Hopefully soon after that,” Middleton said.
Another key off-season move was the re-signing of fan favorite Bobby Portis, an emotional on-court leader and a highly productive player.
“It’s a big-time honor to have the love and support of the fans here,” Portis said.
The city “helped me really take off in my career, and essentially change my life on and off the court,” he said.
“Being able to be here is great for me and I don’t take that lightly or take it for granted. It’s definitely a city that doesn’t get much attention, but it gets attention from me,” Portis said. “I love being a part of the city. I love what it stands for. The blue-collar mentality that everybody has here is what keeps me going.”
The upcoming trip to Abu Dhabi is generating considerable excitement throughout the Bucks organization.
“I think it’s a huge opportunity,” Bucks’ co-owner Wes Edens said. “It’s a great opportunity for our players to see another side of the world that they wouldn’t see otherwise. It’s a long way to go. It’s a 16-hour flight from here. But for us, it’s a great chance for us to show the brand of the Bucks and the NBA.”
Bucks’ fifth-year coach Mike Budenholzer, who showed up at the Media Day gathering getting around with the assistance of a scooter after recently having right-ankle replacement surgery, said the trip will be a chance for the players to bond.
“The more time we spend together in the pre-season as a coach that’s trying to create some bonds, doing trips like this help,” Budenholzer said. “And just learning and growing and experiencing another culture and learning about the world, I think all those things, although they don’t feel like basketball, we do feel like they do go into us becoming a more together team. We think that is important.”
The Bucks will tip off the regular season on Oct. 20 at Philadelphia against the 76ers with the home opener set for Oct. 22 versus the Houston Rockets.