Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks were eliminated by the Toronto Raptors in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals on Saturday, and shortly thereafter a report surfaced that Antetokounmpo’s long-term future in Milwaukee could hinge on the Bucks making it to the NBA Finals next season. Via ESPN:
This week, Antetokounmpo qualified for a five-year, $247.3 million supermax extension, the largest in NBA history, by earning All-NBA honors for the second straight season. He can’t accept that agreement until next summer, once he has seven years of NBA experience, a timeline that clearly puts Milwaukee on the clock this summer.
Antetokounmpo has consistently made public proclamations of his love for Milwaukee, as he grew up and became acclimated to American culture in Cream City after moving from Greece. Antetokounmpo adores the Bucks medical staff. His mother moved to Milwaukee. But he is all about winning. In more concrete terms, a source close to Antetokounmpo said that getting to the NBA Finals is not just an ambition, it could tip the scales as he weighs his contractual future.
And if they can reach the NBA Finals next season, the Bucks can improve their chances of signing Antetokounmpo to the supermax in the summer of 2020.
Wow. Quite the bomb to drop on the heels of the Bucks’ elimination, but business is business and the Bucks indeed have a very interesting summer ahead of them to ensure they are able to put an elite team on the floor again next season. Khris Middleton, Malcolm Brogdon and Brook Lopez, all starters, are free agents this summer, as is key reserve Nikola Mirotic. George Hill also has a non-guaranteed contract for $18 million that the Bucks will have to decide whether they want to pick up.
A few months ago, paying Hill that money would’ve seemed out of the question. But he was huge for them in the playoffs and, well, let’s just say Eric Bledsoe wasn’t, at least not against Toronto. Middleton will almost certainly command something close to a max contract, and there’s a real chance that Brogdon will get a crazy offer from someone, too. Likewise, keeping Lopez will cost the Bucks. Can Milwaukee pay all these guys top dollar? Probably not.
But can they afford to take a step back?
Considering this Giannis report, probably not.
It’s worth noting that Giannis isn’t actually a free agent until 2021. So Milwaukee has him not just for next season, but also the season after. But if he doesn’t sign that gigantic extension next summer, it’ll be a pretty clear indication that he’s strongly considering leaving, and that would put Milwaukee in the precarious position of having to decide whether to keep Giannis and risk losing him for nothing in 2020, or to trade him a year before his contract is up so as to at least get something back for him.
It’s the same thing with Anthony Davis in New Orleans. He’s not a free agent until 2020, but here, in 2019, he has refused a contract extension and said he wants a trade from the Pelicans, and he’ll almost certainly get one. For a marquee free agent like Giannis, it’s not about the last year of the contract. It’s about the year before that. If a guy gets to his last year and has made no commitment to staying, small-market teams like the Bucks who can’t afford to lose players like that for nothing are suddenly in a real bind.
This is a huge summer for Milwaukee.
Next season is even bigger.