There’s little doubt that Giannis Antetokounmpo, reigning and likely repeat MVP, has every reason to stick around in Milwaukee over the long term. The Bucks have a sparkling new downtown arena and a state-of-the-art practice facility, a long way from the state of play when Antetokounmpo arrived—back then, the Bucks were in the mostly moribund Bradley Center and practiced on the grounds of a Catholic Diocese headquarters in St. Francis, a few miles south of Milwaukee.
The Bucks are also the best team in the league, working on what will be their second straight season of 60-win performances under Mike Budenholzer, now widely acknowledged as one of the league’s top coaches. They’ve even brought Thanasis Antetokounmpo, Giannis’ brother, on board.
Oh, and Milwaukee can give him a supermax contract that other teams can’t, probably coming in at around $250 million over five years, compared to $160 million over four years.
As one general manager told Heavy.com, “It’s hard to imagine him leaving the situation he is in. It’s a longshot he leaves. They’ve been very confident all along that he will want to stay in Milwaukee. They’ve never acted like a team that was panicking to make things happen.”
Still, the rumors persist that when Antetokounmpo hits free agency in 2021, he could have eyes for other markets. Those rumors are based in the transitive property of small NBA markets: We’ve seen what happened with Anthony Davis in New Orleans, Kevin Durant in Oklahoma City, Kawhi Leonard in San Antonio and Paul George in Indiana, so it could happen in Milwaukee.
Heck, we saw it with LeBron James in Cleveland, Chris Bosh in Toronto and Dwight Howard in Orlando.
Each of those players signed one big contract after their rookie deals, then either forced their way out by trade or left in free agency. Their original teams got seven or eight years with the player and they moved on (though James, of course, did go back to Cleveland).
The Bucks have made things very easy for Antetokounmpo to stay. According to several executives around the league, though, other teams do think they have a shot at prying him from Milwaukee and have made plans around a potential play for Antetokounmpo.
We’ve identified five teams in the ring for Antetokounmpo on the slim chance he wants out of Milwaukee. Two are legitimate contenders for Antetkounmpo. One is a pipe dream mostly driven by the media. One is a longshot, but possible.
The fifth is (ahem) the Knicks.
The Heat have every intention of making a pitch for Antetokounmpo and while they’re not out there tampering about it, they’re not hiding it, either.
Miami has $36 million committed to Jimmy Butler in 2021-22 but almost nothing else. They’ve have to pay Bam Adebayo and it can be presumed that players like Kendrick Nunn and Duncan Robinson figure into the future, but the Heat won’t give out any money that might interfere with their ability to bring in Antetokounmpo.
Of course, it’s not just the Greek Freak that Miami has on the brain. Players like Leonard and George could be on the market, though they’re unlikely to leave the Clippers. But more realistic targets like Rudy Gobert, Victor Oladipo, Jrue Holiday and, possibly, Gordon Hayward could be around, too. Miami wants to be well-positioned for the Class of 2021.
“Everything they’ve done, any call that goes through them, it starts with, ‘How does this affect 2021?’” the GM said. “They want to be able to make that good pitch, with Jimmy Butler and Spo (coach Erik Spoelstra) and Pat Riley, that’s important to them. And it starts with Giannis.”
If the Raptors hoped to make a low-key pitch to Antetokounmpo, it’s not a very well-kept secret. Toronto will have the cap space to sign Antetokounmpo, who would fit nicely alongside another long-limbed, multi-faceted All-Star forward, Pascal Siakam.
Toronto will have to pay out for Fred VanVleet this summer and will look to keep players like Chris Boucher and Terence Davis on cost-friendly contracts, but with only $31 million committed in 2021-22, that shouldn’t interfere with the Raptors’ ability to attack the free-agent market.
It helps that Toronto general manager Masai Ujiri has a long-standing connection with Antetokounmpo and his family, reportedly having helped them immigrate to Greece from Nigeria.
“I don’t think he leaves the Bucks,” one league executive said. “But if he does, Toronto has to be the front-runner. Staying in Milwaukee, that’s No. 1. But if he can stand the cold, Toronto is the perfect situation for him, the next best thing.”
It wouldn’t be easy for the Lakers to bring Antetokounmpo to L.A. but it is possible. Certainly, his comments that he would like to play with his two brothers in, “Milwaukee, LA, whatever,” sent the internet into full-on hyperventilation about a possible move to the Lakers.
The Lakers would need to make sure there is space for him. Lakers star LeBron James has a player option in 2021-22, worth $41 million. Anthony Davis should be signed then, too, and will likely be lined up to make about $38 million for that season.
If the salary cap comes in around $120 million, the Lakers will be perilously close to not being able to give Antetokounmpo a full max contract, even if the team renounces everyone but James and Davis, including draft picks, ahead of July 1, 2021. That’s one reason the Lakers were at least willing to explore a trade of Kyle Kuzma this month—committing to a contract for Kuzma could interfere with the team’s ability to give a max deal in 2021 free agency.
James could alleviate that problem by opting out of his contract and accepting less than the $41 million he is scheduled to make. James will be 36 and with the focus, potentially, on keeping the Lakers’ championship hopes alive and setting the franchise up with Antetokounmpo in place, he may be willing to do that.
Again, it’s a longshot. But the Lakers at least have the ability to make it happen.
Golden State Warriors
Few inside the Warriors’ operation take the notion of signing Antetokounmpo seriously. Still, every time Antetkounmpo so much as carries on a conversation with Steph Curry, it triggers chatter.
It’d be nice, of course, but much would have to happen to even make it an outside possibility, starting with the trade of two major contracts: Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and/or Andrew Wiggins. Even that might not be enough. Best of luck on that front.
The presumption, mostly driven by the media, is that Golden State would somehow make it work because they managed to make seemingly difficult deals work in the past, like bringing in Andre Iguodala and Kevin Durant. But the Warriors didn’t have to create nearly the cap space ($23 million) to get Iguodala to the Bay Area and were aided by a spike in the salary cap to get Durant.
The front office is good and ownership is willing to spend money. But they can’t create something from nothing, which is what an Antetokounmpo pursuit would require.
New York Knicks
Maybe this will be the next Next Big Thing that the Knicks can sell to their fans, as they’d done with the Kevin Durant-Kyrie Irving pipe dream. Think back a decade, too, and you may remember that the Knicks had fans convinced that James himself was coming to play at Madison Square Garden.
It ain’t happening, though. Next!