'He Could Be on the Warriors in 3 Months': How Giannis Can Control His Destiny

Eric Pincus@@EricPincusLA Lakers Lead WriterSeptember 9, 2020

Milwaukee Bucks' Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) gestures upward before the start of the first half of an NBA basketball conference semifinal playoff game against the Miami Heat, Monday, Aug. 31, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

And now we wait.

With the Milwaukee Bucks eliminated from the NBA playoffs on Tuesday, what exactly is on the mind of Defensive Player of the Year and likely back-to-back Most Valuable Player Giannis Antetokounmpo?

Is he committed to Milwaukee? Is he frustrated by the team's step backward from last year's Eastern Conference Finals appearance?

His first reaction upon losing was to reaffirm his commitment to the Bucks.

"It's not happening. That's not happening," Antetokounmpo told Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports with regard to whether he'll demand a trade this offseason.

And that might be true, though the emotion of the moment also may have gotten the best of him.

Antetokounmpo is still under contract for the 2020-21 season at $27.5 million, but that's right about where Kawhi Leonard, Anthony Davis and Paul George were before they made it clear to their respective teams that they wanted to spurn supermax contracts and move on, each pushing for and receiving trades before they hit free agency.

Whenever the offseason starts, the Bucks can officially offer Antetokounmpo a supermax extension, which could be worth roughly $225-250 million over five seasons. The exact figure won't be finalized until the start of the 2021-22 season, but Milwaukee's offer will be about $85 million more than what any other franchise can pay.

That's too much money to turn down, provided Antotokounmpo intends to stay. If he means what he told Haynes, he'll accept the extension. 

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But if he doesn't? The Bucks may be in trouble.

Ben Margot/Associated Press

Does Antetokounmpo tell the team he needs more time but will consider signing an equal offer as a free agent in 2021? Can Milwaukee afford to be patient?

"If he doesn't sign the [supermax] this offseason, I think the Bucks have to look at exploring the trade market," one Eastern Conference executive said.

The franchise could wait for Antetokounmpo's decision, but that's how the Oklahoma City Thunder approached Kevin Durant, who ultimately chose to join the Golden State Warriors in 2016 free agency. The Bucks are in one of the NBA's smallest markets and are not a top-flight free-agent destination. They can't afford to let Antetokounmpo walk without getting significant value in return.

Multiple executives around the league echoed the sentiment, noting Antetokounmpo's future is entirely up to him. The Bucks have only so much say in what comes next.

"He could be on the Warriors in three months," a former Western Conference executive said.

The basic assumption, if he decides to leave, is that Antetokoumpo will want to play in one of the NBA's major markets on a contending team. That's why Golden State, with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, is an obvious fit (at least on paper).

The Warriors can offer the massive contract of Andrew Wiggins ($94.7 million over the next three years), along with the No. 2 pick in the 2020 NBA draft, a lightly protected future Minnesota Timberwolves first-rounder and Eric Paschall. Wiggins' contract is far from ideal, but the Bucks may feel compelled to make the best out of a bad situation. High picks can be extremely difficult to come by.

One former general manager views the Warriors as "the only leverage opportunity" for Milwaukee. 

"Time is on their side," he said. "They would get a huge deal."

The Eastern Conference executive floated the idea of flipping Green instead of Wiggins, but the former executive shot that down.

"They won't trade Green," he said.

The Brooklyn Nets are another big-market contender. They don't have nearly the same high-level picks as Golden State to offer, but they can try to package Caris LeVert and Spencer Dinwiddie with multiple draft picks (both No. 19 in this year's draft and future selections).

"That could happen," the former executive said.

Bebeto Matthews/Associated Press

The buzz around the league has the Toronto Raptors and Miami Heat as the most likely free-agent destinations in 2021, but neither has an obvious path to trade for Antetokounmpo.

If Antetokounmpo is partial to playing with Pascal Siakam, he isn't going to green-light a trade to Toronto that includes Siakam in return. The Heat lack a significant number of draft picks to offer.

Antetokounmpo doesn't have a no-trade clause, but if he tells an inquiring team that he isn't interested in staying there long-term, that team is likely to drop out of negotiations with Milwaukee.

It isn't difficult to go through the league's 29 other teams to find packages that might make sense for the Bucks. Would the Phoenix Suns be willing to give up some of their young core, starting with Deandre Ayton?

The only question that matters is where Antetokounmpo wants to play for the prime of his career. If that isn't Phoenix, the Suns likely aren't making Ayton available for a one-year rental.

"The Bucks may find they only have one or two suitors," the Eastern Conference executive said. "That's what happened with the New Orleans Pelicans and [Davis]. He only wanted to go to the Lakers. They were the only team at the table."

The Bucks will understandably do whatever they can to entice Antetokoumpo to stay. With the Oklahoma City Thunder and head coach Billy Donovan parting ways, per Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN, perhaps the Bucks make a run at acquiring Chris Paul via trade (with a package starting with Eric Bledsoe).

 

The sooner Milwaukee has clarity, the better. If the 2020 draft is a significant factor in an Antetokounmpo trade, the Bucks would need an early answer from him about whether he intends to sign the supermax extension.

A trade may not be financially feasible until the 2020-21 league year begins, but the Bucks can agree to a deal before the draft to be executed at a later date.

Milwaukee's time in the bubble has come to an end. As the NBA community eagerly awaits a champion, rival front offices have their eyes on what's next for Antetokounmpo and the Bucks.

               

Email Eric Pincus at eric.pincus@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter, @EricPincus.