The assertion from Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo made in the New York Times, in which he stated pretty clearly that he will not make his next contract decision based on blind loyalty to Milwaukee but, rather, on what will set him up best to contend for championships, gave a slight boost to what has been a bummer of a late summer—how much Damian Lillard-James Harden unpleasantness can we stomach, after all?
Antetokounmpo, speaking to the Times, said, “I would not be the best version of myself if I don’t know that everybody’s on the same page, everybody’s going for a championship, everybody’s going to sacrifice time away from their family like I do. And if I don’t feel that, I’m not signing.”
That, of course, has gotten the league and its observers in a tizzy, not only for the potential of a seismic shift should Antetokounmpo, who can be a free agent in 2025, be on the move in the next two years, but also for the shift in topics worth discussing.
The Lakers and Knicks, as potential landing spots for Antetokounmpo, came up immediately. Veteran reporter Marc Stein mentioned the two on Monday, writing, “The Lakers and the Knicks are already being mentioned as franchises presumed to interest Antetokounmpo down the road if he does decide to move on from Milwaukee.”
Indeed, Antetokounmpo could attempt to force his way to either of those two teams, if he so chooses. Players are getting increasingly selective in their choice of teams, and we’ve seen Anthony Davis push to Los Angeles four years ago, and more recently, we’ve seen Harden get himself to Philly (before falling out) and Kevin Durant nudge himself to Phoenix last year.
But the sagas of Harden and Lillard are showing us that there are limits to player empowerment. Antetokounmpo could, indeed, focus on moving to the Lakers and Knicks, and free agency could allow him to do that. A forced trade, though?
“We don’t know how it will play out but this summer is really about the assets,” one Eastern Conference GM told Heavy Sports. “Miami does not have them, so they don’t have Dame yet. The Clippers don’t have what Philly wants, so there is no Harden deal. These teams are holding out and most of the league is behind them because we all know we could be in that spot, and we want to know we can get a fair trade if that is what it comes down to. That is going to have implications for these situations beyond this year.”
Knicks, Lakers Do Not Have Assets for a Giannis Trade
The Knicks, he said, do not have the assets for an Antetokounmpo deal.
“They will need to get lucky somewhere along the line if there is going to be a trade, and the fact is, it’s always a trade now, it’s never really free agency,” the GM continued. “But everyone talks like the Knicks have this giant pile of picks. They don’t. They have three heavily protected picks and probably none of them get you in the Top 10. Those are nice, but that kind of protection is not going to get you Giannis.”
The Knicks have a first-round pick from Dallas, Top-10 protected this year and next. They have a first-rounder from Detroit protected for the Top 18 this year, which gradually drops to Top 9 protection in 2027. And there is a pick from Washington whose protection goes from Top 12 in 2024, to 10 in 2025 and 8 in 2026.
The Knicks’ stockpile looks less impressive in that light, but at least there are picks there. The Lakers can trade no first-rounders until 2029. If L.A. were to acquire Antetokounmpo, it would almost have to be via free agency—unless Milwaukee were to take back Anthony Davis as part of a trade, which is unlikely.
“If LeBron decides to stay with the Lakers and he’s there past 2025–which is probably going to happen–you really can’t get Giannis to the Lakers in that situation,” the GM said. “It’d be tough.”
Look to the Small Markets for a Giannis Suitor?
Another executive, with a Western Conference team, pointed out that Antetokounmpo is less enamored of big markets than other major stars, and that the teams poised to make a trade for him—if it comes to that point—are not in places NBA fans might normally expect a star trade.
The ever-rebuilding Thunder, for example, are sitting on a pile of talent–Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Chet Holmgren, Josh Giddey, Jalen Williams, plus rookie Cason Wallace–and future draft picks.
“No one would be in better position to go after him than OKC,” the exec said. “Not to say they would, but they’d have to be a starting point. They have the young talent, they have, I think it is nine (first-round) picks in the next three years. If Milwaukee decides, OK, we’ve got to move on here, that is the first team you call. There aren’t many guys who are going to make the Thunder think about a big move, packaging the assets. But Giannis is one, if he’d want to go there.”
Two other darkhorses are out there, too: San Antonio and Toronto. The Spurs are not on the Thunder’s level, asset-wise, but they are loaded with cap space and could be a threat to sign Antetokounmpo if rookie big man Victor Wembanyama lives up to his hype. They could likely package enough picks and young players to give Milwaukee a trade package at least worth considering.
The Raptors have team president Masai Ujiri, who has long sought to acquire Antetokounmpo, and with star-caliber assets on hand—some combination of Scottie Barnes, OG Anunoby and/or Pascal Siakam—Milwaukee could be tempted into a deal. We know from the Kawhi Leonard experience that Ujiri is not afraid to take risks on star players, whether they’re committed to staying or not.
“I think you can’t rule out those kinds of teams,” the executive said. “Giannis has always carried himself like he is all about winning, like that is what matters most to him. He is a little different. I mean, that is the reputation, anyway. If that is really the case, then wouldn’t he want to go play for (Gregg Popovich), play alongside Wemby there? If Toronto can give up only one of its guys and brought back Giannis? They would really have something there.”
Not the obvious landing spots for Antetokounmpo, certainly. But should he leave Milwaukee—and we do not know that is going to happen—his will be a different situation than most.