Giannis on Signing Bucks Contract Before 2021 FA: 'I Didn't Want the Pressure'

Tyler Conway@jtylerconwayFeatured ColumnistJanuary 6, 2021

Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) looks up as he walks onto the court before the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Miami Heat, Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2020, in Miami. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

Giannis Antetokounmpo knows people wanted the 2020-21 season to be filled with drama for the Milwaukee Bucks as he headed toward unrestricted free agency.

However, the two-time reigning MVP said he hoped to quell the spotlight on his teammates by signing a five-year supermax extension last month. 

"I didn't want the pressure. Not me, personally; I can deal with pressure," Antetokounmpo told ESPN's Cassidy Hubbarth (begins at the four-minute mark). "I didn't want the pressure on my teammates and my coaching staff. Going out there and losing a game, and people are talking about 'Oh, he's leaving. Oh, he's staying. Oh, they didn't play well. Oh, he's out of there.' That's adding more pressure to what we're trying to accomplish here.

"The goal is to win a championship. So going through a year of pressure is almost throwing out the year while I'm entering my prime. I'm not throwing out a year."

Antetokounmpo's free agency was set to be one of the most anticipated in recent memory, with teams lining themselves up to have cap space for the summer of 2021 in pursuit. Had he departed, Antetokounmpo would have joined LeBron James and Kevin Durant as former MVPs who recently jettisoned small-market life in pursuit of a championship.

The Bucks went all-in in their attempt to sway Antetokounmpo's decision during the offseason, trading three first-round picks and rights to swap two future picks in 2024 and 2026 (along with George Hill and Eric Bledsoe) to New Orleans for Jrue Holiday. The move was roundly criticized as being an overpay for a non-All-Star but showed the pressure Milwaukee was under to improve the team around Giannis.

The fact that Antetokounmpo re-signed after Holiday's signing wound up justifying the opportunity cost, but the pressure won't be stopping anytime soon unless the Bucks wind up hoisting the Larry O'Brien trophy.