By GENARO C. ARMAS, AP Sports Writer
MILWAUKEE (AP) — For the most part, the Milwaukee Bucks kept the status quo this offseason — and that just might be the most significant change of all going into training camp.
There were rumors of the team looking into big deals or making a splash in free agency. But for an organization that not too long ago used to add and subtract significant pieces each year, the offseason was about roster stability.
And with high-flying forward Giannis Antetokounmpo leading the way, that’s not a bad plan for one of the NBA’s rising teams.
“His journey is just starting,” coach Jason Kidd said Monday. “Just hitch on and enjoy the ride.”
And what a ride it during Antetokounmpo’s breakout 2016-17 season.
The league’s Most Improved Player. Second-team All-NBA. A triple-double threat every night with averages of 23.2 points, 8.9 rebounds and 5.5 assists as the 6-foot-11 primary ball-handler. A second playoff appearance in three seasons .
“Just trying to improve overall, be a better basketball player. I think last year I could see the court better because (this time last year) I never noticed how much attention I drew on defense … I just hope I’m able to make the right pass, so I’ve been working some on that.”
The NBA has taken notice judging by the early-season schedule. The Bucks open the season at the Boston Celtics on Oct. 18 before returning to Milwaukee for the home opener against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers two days later.
That’s both of last year’s Eastern Conference finalists, each of whom had major offseason changes, right out of the gate.
The Bucks have their entire rotation back, starting with the core of Antetokounmpo, forward Khris Middleton and Rookie of the Year guard Malcolm Brogdon. Sixth man Greg Monroe is back, too, along with 3-point and defensive specialist Tony Snell on the wing.
“A lot of people say the East is wide open, a lot of trades have happened, a lot of people are going from the East to the West” Antetokounmpo said.
“But we have the same core, the same players back,” he added, “and that gives us an advantage. The first game, the first tipoff, we’re going to be ready.”
The biggest change in Milwaukee is what’s going on around the Bucks.
There’s a new general manager in Jon Horst , though Horst had already been with the organization for a decade as director of basketball operations.
A new arena is on schedule to be completed for the 2018-19 season. They’ll hold their first preseason practice on Tuesday at the new, state-of-the-art practice facility across the street from the arena construction site.
Gone are the days of driving over the Milwaukee River inlet across the Hoan Bridge to get to the old training center, an antiquated facility by today’s NBA standards.
“This just gives you new life,” said guard Jason Terry, who is going into his 19th year in the league. “You open the door, everything smells fresh. The kitchen is new. The floors are clean, it’s shiny. It just makes it that much easier to come to work.”
The team is on the rise and money is being poured into facilities since a new ownership group took over in 2014. While the Bucks seem to be on or just ahead of schedule in terms of long-term goals, the expectations haven’t changed for the owners.
“What’s become clear is we now have a Top 10 player. The goal and the dream of winning a championship I think today is far more real than … when we first bought the team,” co-owner Marc Lasry said. “That was our hope. That’s still our hope, but today you can see that there’s a great foundation there.”
NOTES: Horst said there were no lingering concerns with the right knee pain that Antetokounmpo had over the summer, forcing him to sit out the European championship for the Green national team. Antetokounmpo’s rehab has gone well, and “there will be no setbacks for training camp as we go into it,” Horst said. … The team is still planning for the return of forward Jabari Parker in February. He is rehabbing from his second knee injury in three seasons.
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