In recent years, we’ve seen teams go from fighting for a championship to losing their franchise cornerstone the next year. Whether the decision to take things in a different direction came from the player or was a mutual one, these moves always make waves around the league.
It happened with Anthony Davis, who recently moved out to Los Angeles to play with Lebron, leaving New Orleans in the dust. All-Star Andre Drummond was also recently dealt and sold for pennies after word got out around the league that they were looking to move on. In that situation, the Pistons were nowhere near trying to contend for a title, but in order to fast-track the rebuilding process, they decided to ship the league leader in rebounding off to Cleveland. Russell Westbrook is another great example where Oklahoma City was unable to get over the hump and decided to move on from him. And everyone remembers Kevin Durant leaving the Thunder after a painful playoff exit. All of these scenarios are drastically different, but they do have the same underlying theme: if we can’t win, it’s time to move on.
For Giannis Antetokounmpo, a decision is on the horizon.
Life is good in Milwaukee though...right?
The Milwaukee Bucks are in an incredibly interesting position. They have been on the rise for some time and in the last two years, they’ve held the first seed in the East. In the 2018-2019 season, Milwaukee finished 60-22, with Giannis winning the MVP award. Prior to last season, the Bucks hadn’t made it past the first round of the playoffs in nearly two decades.
Giannis went on to lead the Bucks on a tear, knocking out Detroit and Boston until eventually losing in six games to the Raptors in the Eastern Conference Finals. This season, Giannis was the odds on favorite for another MVP while helping the Bucks run the East with a record of 53-12. This season’s playoffs were going to be a real test to see if the Bucks had finally put the pieces together to win a title.
While Giannis has said that he loves playing for a lower-market team like the Bucks because it allows him to stay out of the spotlight, things are about to change. Prior to the coronavirus outbreak, it was expected that Milwaukee would offer Antetokounmpo the super-max contract (“Designated Player Exception”) this summer, a five year contract worth up to 35% of the salary cap. With the future cap in flux with revenue likely down in coming seasons, it’s no longer clear that taking a super max deal with be in the best interest of Giannis.
Everyone is anxiously awaiting the summer of 2021 where he will be an unrestricted free agent and every light on the planet will be pointed directly at him. While I, along with many others assumed that there was no way he would leave Milwaukee, I can’t help myself but wonder.
Time is ticking
This season has been unlike any other with COVID-19 taking the world by storm. If the rest of the NBA season were to get cancelled, the Bucks would lose out on a huge opportunity to prove to Giannis that he can win a championship in Milwaukee. Former NBA players and NBA analysts have suggested that if Antetokounmpo were to leave, Dallas should be at the top of his list. Giannis could play with two other young, European stars in Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis while being a part of a team that has great organizational stability. A move like that would definitely start a “not 6, not 7, not 8…” conversation.
While I don’t know that the Mavericks would actually be at the top of his list and I don’t know if he would even consider leaving the Bucks, this particular consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic puts the Bucks in a very tough position. The NBA is in a player empowerment era where if a player wants out, he’s going to get out. And if a team can’t win with high expectations, superstar players have often wanted out.
Can the Bucks make it happen before time is up? The Mavericks and the rest of the NBA will keep a close eye on the Bucks and Giannis Antetokounmpo this summer and throughout the 2020-21 season.