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Giannis Antetokounmpo touts loyalty to Bucks amid questions about his future

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In light of Gordon Hayward leaving the Jazz for the Celtics, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN discussed the new Collective Bargaining Agreement – specifically bringing up Giannis Antetokounmpo, whose Bucks just completed a mangled process for hiring a new general manager.

Wojnarowski:

It just shows how hard it is at that mid-size market.

There are plenty of small-market owners and mid-size GMs who said, “We didn’t go far enough. I can’t keep guys.”

Milwaukee is going to go through this with the Greek Freak. That day is coming, right?, where he’s going to look and say, “Where is this organization? What are they doing here?” You don’t think Giannis has been watching what went on there for the last several months, of what they allowed to go on with the front office? He’s watching it, and the clock has started. Everybody in the league is trying to figure out how they’re going to get him out of there. That has started.

And so, Milwaukee – I don’t want to hear in three years or four years when they lose him, “Jeez, we can’t” – Utah did everything right, everything right from an organization. They lost their guy. And you look at a team like Milwaukee and say financially they’ll be able to do more. But you better have your organization in great shape, because then you have no chance with a guy like that.

The Jazz didn’t do everything right. In 2014, they forced Hayward – then a restricted free agent – to bring back an offer sheet. He did, a 3+1 max deal from Charlotte, which Utah matched. Had the Jazz just given Hayward a five-year deal outright, he wouldn’t have even been a free agent this summer. Whether they should have known to do that in 2014 is an interesting question. In hindsight, it was clearly a miscalculation.

But Wojnarowski’s larger point stands. Utah did a lot right, including drafting Rudy Gobert at No. 27 and hiring Quin Snyder. It wasn’t enough. Smaller markets have less margin for error.

Don’t tell that to Antetokounmpo, though.

With Wojnarowski’s comments swirling, Antetokounmpo – who once said he wanted to play for the Bucks forever – took to Twitter:

A lot of young players believe they’ll stay with one team their entire careers. It rarely works out that way.

Could Antetokounmpo be an exception? Sure.

But he might also wake up one day and realize he never picked the Bucks. His loyalty was founded on them picking him in a draft system that removes choice from labor. Even if he’s commitment-oriented, if he could have originally chosen a franchise to devote himself to, what are the odds it would have been Milwaukee? Just because the Bucks have seemingly treated him well, that doesn’t mean he should remain beholden. The Jazz treated Hayward great. He also made the forward-looking decision that the Celtics would be better for him in coming years than Utah would have been. Antetokounmpo might someday make a similar determination.

But the Bucks ought to feel good Antetokounmpo keeps pledging his loyalty to them. The more committed he feels now, the less likely he is to leave later.

Plus, Milwaukee could have an advantage in retaining Antetokounmpo the Jazz didn’t with Hayward – the new designated veteran player.

If Hayward made an All-NBA team this season, he might still be in Utah.

If Antetokounmpo makes an All-NBA team in either of the next two years, he’ll be eligible for a designated-veteran-player extension in 2020. That could pay him a starting salary of 35% of the cap with 8% raises over five years. Another team could offer just 25% of the cap with 5% raises. It’d be hard for Antetokounmpo to turn that down.

As we’ve seen with DeMarcus Cousins and Jimmy Butler, teams might hesitate to commit so much money to sub-superstars. But Antetokounmpo might be a superstar by 2020. Even if he’s not, he’ll be just 26 when that extension would kick in. Because he entered the league so young, the concerns about Cousins and Butler aging poorly by the end of super-max extensions don’t apply to Antetokounmpo. So, the Bucks will probably offer a designated-veteran-player extension if they can rather than preemptively trade him.

Maybe Antetokounmpo remains loyal to Milwaukee regardless. But that extra money sure wouldn’t hurt.

David Griffin on possibility of keeping Anthony Davis: ‘We can be Oklahoma City with Paul George’

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New Pelicans lead executive David Griffin wants to sell Anthony Davis on staying in new Orleans.

Even with the Pelicans landing the No. 1 pick and ability to draft Zion Williamson, Davis reportedly still wants to be traded.

But New Orleans doesn’t have to acquiesce. No matter what Davis wants, he’s still under contract next season. The Pelicans can keep him and spend the season trying to convince him to re-sign in the summer of 2020.

Griffin, via Zach Lowe of ESPN:

“We can be Oklahoma City with Paul George,” he said. “We can hold onto [Davis] and let him see what we really are. [Winning the lottery] changes how quickly he can buy into it. It gets us closer. Every day, maybe he believes a little more. As much as elite talent likes to play with elite talent, I can’t imagine any elite player in his prime looking at our situation and saying to himself, ‘There’s a better grouping to play for’ than ours.”

George had his eyes on the Lakers when the Thunder traded for him in 2017. But he enjoyed his time in Oklahoma City and re-signed.

The big difference between George and Davis: Davis requested a trade from the team trying to keep him. George didn’t.

In fact, George didn’t even request a trade at all. George merely told the Pacers he wouldn’t re-sign the following year. Obviously, he knew that made them more likely to deal him. But he was content playing out the the final year of his contract in Indiana or anywhere else.

Davis told New Orleans he wanted out. He’s not coming to a new team, let alone with an open mind.

Still, the Pelicans have changed significantly since Davis’ trade request. Griffin and Williamson significantly improve the the franchise’s outlook. Depending what offers he receives for Davis, Griffin keeping the superstar and attempting to change his mind throughout the season could make sense. New Orleans can always deal Davis before the trade deadline if it’s not working, though trading him later likely lowers the return.

Of course, Griffin could have no intention of keeping an unhappy Davis. Saying he might only increases Griffin’s leverage in trade negotiations.

But if they truly want to keep Davis and pitch him throughout the season, the Pelicans are facing a much steeper hill than the Thunder had with George.

Report: Damian Lillard, Trail Blazers expected to sign super-max extension

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Damian Lillard and the Trail Blazers entered this postseason with an opportunity to prove themselves to each other. Portland had gotten swept in the first round the last two years, including a devastating sweep as the No. 3 seed last season. Lillard would be eligible this offseason for a super-max extension that projects to be worth $193 million over four years.

Everyone feels good now.

Lillard hit one of the biggest shots ever, and the Trail Blazers advanced to their first conference finals in 19 years. Both sides want to continue their partnership.

Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports:

Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers are expected to come to terms over the summer on a four-year, $191 million supermax contract extension, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Lillard is under contract two more seasons. So, his extension would take effect in 2021, when it’s exact value would be determined. I project it at $193 million over four years.

As an All-NBA lock this year, Lillard will be eligible to sign a super-max extension this offseason or next. If he waits until 2020, he could sign a five-year extension. That deal would carry the same terms as the four-year extension for the first four years but would add a fifth year worth a projected $57 million – bringing the total projected value to $250 million. But there’s no guarantee Portland will offer the megadeal next year.

Already, this is a real risk for the Trail Blazers.

It’s probably one they must take. Lillard is an excellent player who does so much to set the team’s culture.

But paying someone projected salaries of $43 million, $46 million, $50 million and $53 million from ages 31-34? Nearly no player can assure he’ll warrant that. Build a winner around a single player earning so much is quite difficult. Portland’s ownership situation after the death of Paul Allen, who frequently paid the luxury tax, only adds to the uncertainty.

This could be a litmus test for the designated-veteran-player-extension rule altogether. If it doesn’t work with Damian Lillard – who exudes so many traits you want in a superstar – who will it work with?

Meyers Leonard delivers all-time out-of-nowhere playoff performance

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In 1967, Richie Guerin retired. The former Knicks star had been the St. Louis Hawks’ player-coach a few years, and he shifted fully into coaching. He even won Coach of the Year that season. As the Hawks moved to Atlanta the next year, he occasionally returned to the lineup, but played sparingly while focused on coaching. He played even less the following season, scoring just seven points in eight games.

But when the Hawks were facing injuries, inexperience and a 3-0 deficit to the Lakers 1970 Western Division finals, a 37-year-old Guerin stepped up on the court. He scored 31 points in Game 4, though Los Angeles completed the sweep.

Afterward, Hawks publicity director Tom McCollister called in the game’s stats to the league office:

”Guerin played 35 minutes,” reported McCollister, quietly, ”made 12 of 17 field goal attempts, 7 for 7 free throws, had 5 rebounds, 3 assists and 4 personal fouls. Thirty-one points.” Pause. ”They are burying him tomorrow morning at 10 o’clock.”

That was a rare time someone with a lower scoring average than Meyers Leonard scored 30 points in a playoff game.

Leonard – who averaged 5.9 points per game in the regular season – scored 30 points in the Trail Blazers’ Game 4 loss to the Warriors last night. He scored 25 in the first half!

This was the same Leonard who was in and out of the rotation all season, who had a DNP-CD in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals, who had a previous career high of 24 points. That came in 2015, preceding a much-maligned four-year, $41 million contract.

But when Portland needed a more-mobile defender at center, Leonard started. He played well in Game 3, scoring 16 points and dishing four assists. That wad already an unexpectedly good night for him.

Yet, Leonard upped the ante yesterday. For a while, he was going shot-for-shot with Stephen Curry. Though he couldn’t keep up with Curry (37 points), Leonard went 12-of-16, including 5-of-8 on 3-pointers.

Here are the players to score 30 points in a playoff game with the lowest regular-season scoring averages:

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The only other player besides Guerin to drop 30 in a playoff game after scoring so little in the regular season was Daniel Gibson. Boobie averaged 4.6 points per game his rookie year then scored 31 points on 5-of-5 3-point shooting in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Pistons, helping send the Cavs to their first NBA Finals.

“If I’m dreaming, please don’t wake me up,” Gibson said. “This was perfect, to win it for Cleveland.”

The most recent player to crack the leaderboard was CJ McCollum, who averaged 6.8 points per game in 2014-15 then scored 33 in a season-ending Game 5 loss to the Grizzlies in the first round. McCollum won Most Improved Player the next year and has remained a near-star ever since.

Could Leonard make a similar jump for the Trail Blazers? Don’t count on it. McCollum was in only his second season. Leonard, who just finished his seventh season, has been in the league even longer than McCollum now.

But appreciate Leonard’s scoring binge for what it was – one heck of an outlier.

Giannis Antetokounmpo pays for basketball court in fire-ravaged Greece

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ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greek NBA star Giannis Antetokounmpo has agreed to fund the construction of an indoor basketball court in a fire-ravaged area outside Athens where at least 100 people were killed last year.

The mayor of the Rafina area where the fire occurred last July said on Monday the local authority accepted the offer from the Milwaukee Bucks player to build the court at a new recycling park that is being planned. The mayor, Vangelis Bournous, gave no details of the construction cost but said the venue would ready at the end of this summer.

The blaze gutted the seaside resort of Mati, east of Athens, and other coastal areas, destroying more than a thousand homes.

Antetokounmpo’s Bucks are leading in the NBA Eastern Conference finals 2-1 over the Toronto Raptors.