NBA news 2023: Joe Ingles on ACL injury comeback, Ben Simmons and Giannis Antetokounmpo

A year ago, Joe Ingles would have been forgiven for fearing for his NBA career.

He had torn his left ACL and been traded by Utah, the only team he had known in the US, leaving him to become a free agent who would be 35 by the time he could play again.

But the $US6.5m ($A9.6m) deal Ingles signed with Milwaukee last July wasn’t just a lifeline – it was a genuine chance to become the seventh Australian to win an NBA championship.

Now, with the playoffs just around the corner, the Bucks are the hottest team in the league on a 16-game winning streak, and Ingles is back on the court and daring to dream.

A ring and then a gold medal with the Boomers? In the twilight of his career, the stars might finally be aligning for one of the best players Australia has produced.

“At this point, I’m 35 now so it’s kind of year-by-year,” Ingles said.

“I feel good, my body feels good. The mental side of still enjoying it, I’m still there. So we’ll just see what happens.”

Ingles returned from his ACL injury on December 20 and has since established himself as a key playmaker for the Bucks off the bench.

In an interview after a trip to Brooklyn to take on his good mate Patty Mills, Ingles said he “didn’t know what I imagined” his role would be alongside two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo.

“My first ever time playing with Giannis and all these guys was in a game,” he said.

“That was tough, and then the hard part was that Khris (Middleton) was out, so I was coming back and then Khris was coming back. It’s been a bit messy … but it’s the NBA and that’s how we do it.

“Some days I play more, sometimes I don’t. It’s just one of those things when you’re on a really good team … I’m having a tonne of fun and my family is happy, which is the most important thing.”

For the ever-positive Ingles, that was the upside of his knee injury: the chance to see more of his wife Renae and their three children, and to set up their life again after leaving Utah.

“Once you get over the initial frustration of being injured, spending time with my family and my kids … I’d missed so much of their life, so spending 10 months with them was great,” he said.

“I hadn’t done that for 16 years since I signed with the (South) Dragons.”

Ingles has played about 22 minutes per game since his return, carefully managing his knee through the gruelling NBA schedule as the Bucks have hit their straps.

“It’s definitely exciting but it’s a step-by-step process,” he said.

“You don’t want to get too far ahead. Obviously we know the depth of our team, and what we can do when we play the way we want to play.”

Coach Mike Budenholzer said recruiting Ingles had “played out very much like we wanted”.

“Even while he was injured, the way he contributed in the locker room and the training room and at practices, he just brings an edge,” he said.

“He brings an IQ, a sense of humour … His playmaking, his shotmaking, his toughness – he’s just a winner.”

Winning, of course, is what Ingles wants to achieve with the Boomers as well. He and Mills are in regular contact about their mission for this year’s World Cup in Indonesia and then the Paris Olympics next year.

“I’m still so committed to that … We obviously have a goal of winning a gold medal and that’s right there in my mind,” he said.

With young Aussies Josh Giddey, Dyson Daniels and Josh Green impressing in the NBA this season, Ingles believes the Boomers are well placed to improve on their bronze medal effort in Tokyo – and he wants Ben Simmons alongside him in the green and gold for the first time.

“I do think that honestly for him, it would be a perfect situation,” Ingles said of Brooklyn’s three-time All-Star, who has struggled this season with form and fitness.

“Obviously a part of it for all of us is that you see how you feel … Some of us have done it every year kind of regardless of whether that’s good or bad – like with my knee, did that play a part, you never know.

“Having Patty every day talking to him about it probably helps … There’s no pressure, it’s obviously a hell of a lot of fun as we’ve shown from the outside. Great bunch of guys, great coaching staff, and I think we can put him in positions to be really successful.

“If he wants to do it, great, and if not then we go with the group of whoever is there. That’s what we’ve done every year.”

Ingles is itching to rejoin the national team, although with an NBA championship to be won in June, he admits he would not mind if his Boomers duties were slightly delayed this time.

“I would love to do it as late in June as possible,” he said.

Originally published as NBA news 2023: Joe Ingles on ACL injury comeback, the Bucks and Giannis Antetokounmpo

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