MILWAUKEE (AP) — Giannis Antetokounmpo is trying to eliminate the drama around whether Jabari Parker will return to the Milwaukee Bucks.
It doesn’t sound like he wants Parker to leave as a restricted free agent.
“Jabari ain’t going nowhere,” Antetokounmpo said with a smile. “He’s going to be here and he’s going to be ready for the next season.”
It’s just one of two big decisions facing the Bucks this offseason. They might be hiring a new coach, too.
The organization has arrived at a crossroads. A new arena is opening in the fall, while Antetokounmpo is a budding NBA superstar because of the athleticism that earned him his “Greek Freak” nickname.
However they proceed, the Bucks have grown beyond being a feel-good story. They’ve established a baseline of success with the Antetokounmpo-led group, having gone to the playoffs three times in the last four years.
The next step is to get beyond the first round for the first time since going to the Eastern Conference finals in 2001. The best way to do that is to play more consistently in the regular season in order to secure a top-four seed and home-court advantage in the first round. The Bucks were eliminated on Saturday night by the Boston Celtics in seven games, with all four losses coming on the road.
“Clinching the playoffs, going to Game 7, somewhat of an accomplishment. Not really what we set out to do,” guard Malcolm Brogdon said Sunday as players had exit interviews with coach Joe Prunty at the team’s downtown training facility and packed up for the offseason.
Whether Prunty is back when the Bucks reconvene for training camp remains in question. The veteran assistant was promoted to replace the fired Jason Kidd in late January.
General manager Jon Horst said at the time that the team would conduct a search after the season and that Prunty would be a candidate. That’s still the case, Prunty said, although the team has not detailed when it will conduct interviews.
“To be honest with you, I think at this stage we all thought we would still be playing and were hoping that we would be playing,” Prunty said.
Milwaukee was 21-16 under Prunty in the regular season after starting 23-22 with Kidd. Getting to Game 7 in the first round was a small measure of progress after Milwaukee was eliminated in six games the previous season by Toronto.
But issues that plagued the Bucks during the regular season contributed to their demise against the Celtics. Milwaukee finished last in the NBA in rebounding (39.8 per game) and 25th in opponent 3-point shooting (37 percent). The Bucks excelled on the break and were sixth in the league in 2-point shooting (53 percent) but 22nd from 3-point range (35 percent).
A full year with Parker might help. He averaged 12.6 points in 31 games after returning in February from the second left knee injury of his four-year career.
Antetokounmpo thinks his teammate’s return is a done deal.
“And we are going to be all excited, playing in a new arena and everyone is going to be having fun,” he said.
Other notes and highlights as the offseason begins:
Khris Middleton can get overshadowed sometimes by the high-flying Antetokounmpo. But the sixth-year forward is making a name for himself with his all-around game. After scoring a career-high 20.1 points per game in the regular season, Middleton averaged 24.7 in the playoffs. He’s also capable of guarding every position but center.
Eric Bledsoe played the last three games of the series with a wrap protecting his left thumb. The right-handed Bledsoe said Sunday that he hoped to avoid surgery, but that he might have to wear a brace for a couple months.
Veteran guard Jason Terry wants to return to Milwaukee for his 20th NBA season. The NBA’s active career leader in 3-point field goals will be 41 when the next season tips off in October. Averaging 16 minutes a game, Terry’s most important role was to bring energy off the bench. He’s also a respected voice in the locker room.
“Obviously I know my impact. I’ve been here two years now. I want to see the process, the finished product, because I know the potential,” Terry said.
By GENARO C. ARMAS , AP Sports Writer