Milwaukee Bucks: Can Khris Middleton make the most of a contract year?

BOSTON, MA - APRIL 15: (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - APRIL 15: (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) /

As Khris Middleton gets set to enter free agency next summer, can he maximize his worth with a contract year with the Milwaukee Bucks?

Holding a player option worth approximately $13 million for the final year of the five-year contract he signed with the Milwaukee Bucks back in 2015, it’s virtually a certainty that Khris Middleton will hit the open market as a free agent next summer.

That deal, which a vocal minority viewed as an overpay at the time, has since proved to be one of the NBA’s best value contracts, as the salary cap spiked and Middleton continued to flourish.

As we prepare for what should be a contract year for Middleton to get underway, the prospect of him returning to Milwaukee long-term doesn’t rank too far behind the likelihood of him opting out in the first place.

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Of course, a lot can happen in an NBA season, but Middleton’s situation is a little strange at this point thanks to just how predictable it’s shaping up to be.

The Bucks have given every indication of their intent to bring Middleton back, leaving the primary reason for his potential departure being the draw from elsewhere.

Even on that front, though, the current set-up suggests little drama on the horizon. If Middleton intends to take home the richest pay day possible, the Bucks will be the team with the freedom to offer him that, while if his preference is to play where he wants to play, it seems like that may also lead to the Charleston native prolonging his stay in Wisconsin.

Speaking to Michael Scotto of The Athletic back in May (which can be found here for Athletic subscribers), Middleton discussed the sense he’d been left with from front office and ownership that they wanted him around long-term, while also touching on how his comfort with the organization, Milwaukee fans, and the project the Bucks have in progress makes that an appealing notion to him too.

Having joined franchise cornerstone Giannis Antetokounmpo for a breakfast meeting with Mike Budenholzer, prior to his hiring as Bucks coach, and then later again joined Antetokounmpo and a host of franchise legends on stage for the opening of Fiserv Forum, it’s fair to say the Bucks have made their intentions clear when it comes to Middleton.

At the very least, you could say they’ve started their free agency pitch early by showing a player with good reason for feeling underrated in the wider NBA the kind of star treatment his play may well deserve.

A brutal hamstring injury, which saw him tear the muscle clean off the bone prior to the 2016-17 season, may have slowed Middleton’s momentum down just a little, but it’s fair to say he has made up for lost time since.

The 2017-18 season wasn’t without its ups and downs when it comes to the 27-year-old’s performance levels, but strong play following the All-Star break created an overwhelmingly positive final impression for a season that included a career-high mark in scoring, and a playoff coming out party.

The former Texas A&M Aggie’s truly phenomenal efforts in the Bucks’ seven-game, first round loss to the Boston Celtics indicated a step up in performance and perception for Middleton, and left plenty of cause for excitement about what comes next.

A notoriously slow starter, with the honor of participating in USA Basketball Training Camp earlier this summer behind him, the hope will now be for Middleton to come into training camp with the Bucks ready to hit the ground running.

Middleton’s career trajectory does little to indicate a career-year isn’t going to be on the horizon, and considering the financial motivations at hand, he’ll have every reason to make that a reality.

Another strong season from Middleton could see him fall into something close to a max salary bracket, just in time for what should be the most significant pay day of his career. Considering the wide open East should help the Bucks, and provide Middleton with a great opportunity to make his first All-Star appearance, his value is only likely to rise further too.

Under Budenholzer, Middleton may well be asked to do more and to be more consistent than he has been at times in the last two years or so, but that should all come under a framework and scheme that will not only suit his game, but should in fact make things easier for him on the court too.

Facing a pivotal year with the Bucks, logic suggests Middleton should put together a stellar season, ink a lucrative new deal in Milwaukee next summer, and then continue what’s been a fruitful relationship so far.

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Still, to make that a reality the onus is on Middleton producing his best basketball under that considerable pressure. The Bucks will be happy to cough up for a new deal, if he proves to be up to that challenge.