Giannis Antetokounmpo is in the first year of his $100 million rookie contract extension and will not be a free agent until the summer of 2021 — he has this season and three seasons after this one under contract with the Milwaukee Bucks. At that point, the Bucks very likely will be able to offer him the designated veteran max, meaning Milwaukee can offer 35 percent of the salary cap, while other teams can only offer 30 percent. (He would have to qualify by making All-NBA teams or being an MVP, but that seems likely).
Still, with the way Antetokounmpo is exploding — he leads the league, scoring 31 points per game this season — teams are circling 2021 on their calendars. The goal will be to lure him out of Milwaukee to maybe a better team or a better lifestyle, the way it has been done with other stars in smaller markets.
Except, Antetokounmpo loves Milwaukee. He’s Tweeted about this before.
And look at what he told Marc Stein in a fantastic profile at the New York Times.
“I’m a low-profile guy,” he said. “I don’t like all these flashy cities like L.A. or Miami. I don’t know if I could be the same player if I played in those cities.”
The recent passing of his father, Charlie, who he had moved to Milwaukee and was very close with, only adds to this.
“I can feel the love from the city every day I step on the floor,” Giannis Antetokounmpo said. “For me, what I’m going through now, I appreciate it even more.”
No doubt Antetokounmpo loves Milwaukee now, but we have heard Kevin Durant express his love of Oklahoma City and how much he loved playing there. That is what fuels teams thinking ahead.
Four years is a couple of NBA lifetimes. Antetokounmpo likely will still love Milwaukee in four years, but how will he feel about the Bucks’ organization? Where will the team be in the NBA pecking order at that time? Maybe he has no interest in leaving, but maybe the frustration builds. It’s far too early to predict.
The cautionary tale is in New Orleans right now, where the Pelicans have one of the five best players in the NBA in Anthony Davis on their roster but have not been able to put enough around him to even make the playoffs (they were swept out of the first round in 2015, the only time Davis has seen the postseason). Davis has two seasons plus a player options season on his contract after this one, but already there are a lot of teams drooling at the idea of the Pelicans feeling they have to trade him next summer or in the year after that instead of letting him bolt as a free agent in 2020, even though New Orleans will them be able to offer him the designated veteran super-max contract, too. (If the 4-5 Pelicans continue to stumble enough to miss the playoffs in the West, expect a basketball operations house cleaning to bring in people who can keep Davis in New Orleans.)
For now, we should sit back and enjoy the must-see TV that is Antetokounmpo. But know teams are planning, and know Antetokounmpo doesn’t seem to care. Right now.