Milwaukee Bucks: Mirza Teletovic’s Tumultuous Summer

Jan 2, 2016; Sacramento, CA, USA; Phoenix Suns forward Mirza Teletovic (35) during warmup before the NBA game against the Sacramento Kings at Sleep Train Arena. The Kings won 142-119. Mandatory Credit: Godofredo Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 2, 2016; Sacramento, CA, USA; Phoenix Suns forward Mirza Teletovic (35) during warmup before the NBA game against the Sacramento Kings at Sleep Train Arena. The Kings won 142-119. Mandatory Credit: Godofredo Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports /

Since signing with the Milwaukee Bucks in free agency, Mirza Teletovic‘s summer hasn’t gone exactly how he would have planned.

There aren’t many better ways to start a summer than by putting pen to paper on a $30 million contract, but with all things considered, it seems fair to say that Mirza Teletovic’s offseason hasn’t gone entirely to plan in the time since.

Just like a number of his new Milwaukee Bucks teammates, Teletovic’s summer was never going to be just about getting some rest in before hitting the gym to get ready for the new season. For the 30-year-old his country called, as Bosnia and Herzegovina attempted to qualify for next summer’s EuroBasket tournament.

Teletovic is widely regarded as the best player ever to come out of Bosnia and having represented the national team for many years, now doing so as team captain, it always seemed like an honor and a privilege that the NBA veteran enjoyed.

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With the events of the past few weeks, it’s hard to tell if that’s still the case for the Bucks forward.

Drawn alongside Russia and Sweden in a competitive qualifying group, Bosnia and Herzegovina were always going to have their work cut out for them if they were to advance. More specifically, if they were to have any real chance they were always going to need their star player at his very best.

Unfortunately, from back before their opening game away to Russia it has seemed as if there were obstacles in place to prevent that from happening.

Mandatory Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports /

With a troubling history of blood clots and pulmonary embolism, when Teletovic’s national teammates embarked on their long journey to Russia, the Bucks forward was forced to stay behind. In spite of dealing with health problems of their own, Russia still had enough to come out on top by a large margin in a crucial opening game.

From there, Bosnia and Herzegovina returned home to Sarajevo where they prevailed in a three-point game against the Swedes. That win came in spite of Teletovic as much as anything else, in a game where the 30-year-old went 2-16 from the field.

Further shooting woes would plague Teletovic when Russia were the visitors a week later as his 23 points only came behind a 7-21 shooting night. Teletovic’s inefficiency didn’t help his team as Russia picked up an 11-point win, but there were much bigger problems to come out of that night in Tuzla.

Emerging star of Bosnian basketball Dzanan Musa was clearly frustrated by the way the game had played out, and in the closing minute of the game got involved in an incident with Timofey Mozgov that resulted in Musa falling to the floor in dramatic fashion.

Clearly not impressed by his young teammate’s flopping antics, Teletovic wasted no time in exchanging words with a clearly distressed Musa before things threatened to get physical and other players intervened.

In a candid post-game interview, Teletovic apologized for his behavior but also explained the cause of his ire.

"“I am sorry I reacted in this way. I am sorry and I don’t shrink from my responsibilities.Sometimes there are tensions like that in a team. I’ve spent my life representing the national team of Bosnia. I have been playing for 13 years for the team. I never behaved like that or provoked someone. I have always represented Bosnia in the best light. I wouldn’t want to present a wrong picture of myself.I don’t want to say who is to blame or whether someone is guilty. We played our game for 38 minutes and then we lost. But at the end of the game we had an opportunity to get a result on seven or eight possessions. This is men’s basketball on a senior level. You have to try and calm your passions, you have to try to win. I said to Dzanan (Musa) that everything is OK, urged him to calm down and told him that we’ve got some time to win the match. I am the captain of the national team and I’ve been here for 13 years. And he, the youngest player in the squad, begins cursing me and insulting me. It is simply impossible to continue after such an incident. But I am sorry I reacted the way I did. All I want to say is that such kind of things will never happen again, ever.”"

While Teletovic’s explanation seemed reasonable, even if his actions on the court were a mistake, his coach, Damir Mulaomerovic wasn’t prepared to hear about it.

"“First thing’s first: The captain of a team doesn’t have a right to behave in the way Teletovic did in the game against Russia. There are no excuses for his act, the press conference and the whole incident with Musa. We have to take into account how we behave either when we win or when we lose.”"

Even more alarming were the allegations that Mulaomerovic then sent in Teletovic’s direction.

"“How can we keep ‘order and discipline’ when the captain is the first who doesn’t comply? I don’t deny that he is one of our best players however Mirza is not travelling with us. He comes late for training, sometimes he doesn’t appear at all. He is late for lunch, in practices. How can we have discipline if he behaves like this? He also came to the camp overweight, something that you can easily notice.”"

The fallout from that game against Russia meant that Teletovic wasn’t considered for Bosnia and Herzegovina’s final trip to Sweden, which resulted in a two-point win on Wednesday. As a result, the Bosnians are technically still alive in terms of qualification hopes although they are relying on the results of others for them to qualify as one of the best second placed teams.

From a Bucks perspective, none of this screams out positives about a player who is expected to have an important role in Milwaukee’s plans this year, but it’s worth noting that Teletovic isn’t the only notable name having difficulty with the setup in the national team this summer.

Fellow Bosnian and Denver Nuggets center Jusuf Nurkic has impressed with his play throughout the four qualification games, but he has expressed his own doubts about whether he wants to represent his country in the future.

At this stage, Teletovic likely can’t wait to get to Milwaukee and start training camp, although it could take him some time to settle into the right mindset following such a chaotic spell of time.

Although the summer of international play ultimately ended in disappointment for Giannis Antetokounmpo, Matthew Dellavedova and Tyler Ennis, that trio has had much greater time to readjust since, and also have much fonder memories of their individual contributions to draw upon too.

Speaking on 105.7 FM The Fan on Wednesday, Jason Kidd mentioned the importance of Teletovic, a player who he’s worked with before, as something of a mentor on this team.

"“When you talk about Mirza, who we signed in free agency, he’s going to help Jabari and Giannis. He’s a shooter, but he’s also a guy who likes to compete and wants to win.”"

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Kidd knows Teletovic well so there should be little doubt that he’ll be able to work with him in terms of quickly getting his head in the right place to compete in training camp, but considering the summer the Bosnian big man has had it seems certain that he’ll need assistance in refocusing.