Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Giannis Antetokounmpo is next

2 Comments

DETROIT – Giannis Antetokounmpo said the Bucks presented him with two choices for his rookie-scale contract extension in 2016:

  • A four-year, $100 million extension
  • A five-year extension that, by rule, would provide a max starting salary with max raises

Antetokounmpo took the shorter deal.

“I was 21 years old,” Antetokounmpo said. “My agent told me that was the best deal we could get and eventually you’re going to make more on the back end, but right now, that’s the best choice for you. And I trusted him.”

With that decision, Antetokounmpo set the timer.

In the likely event he makes an All-NBA team this season or next, Antetokounmpo will be eligible for a super-max extension during the 2020 offseason. If he doesn’t sign an extension, he’ll become an unrestricted free agent in 2021.

As superstars approach their first unrestricted free agency, those inflections points test their commitment to their current team. And everyone knows it. Other teams position themselves to poach the player. Reporters dig up details about the player’s and teams’ plans. Fans and media speculate. Every development feeds the every-expanding news cycle.

Anthony Davis is in the midst of it right now. Before him, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Dwight Howard, Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard had their turns.

Antetokounmpo is next in line.

Right now, his existence in Milwaukee appears happy. The Bucks’ record (38-13) and net rating (+9.6) lead the league. Antetokounmpo is an MVP candidate.

But how will he feel in a year or two?

In 2015, Antetokounmpo wrote, “Right now I feel like I want to play for the Milwaukee Bucks forever.” That quote has drawn plenty of attention since. Often forgotten is the perspective Antetokounmpo showed in that same 2015 blog post: “You never know how life turns out. … I don’t know how I’ll be feeling and thinking in 2, 3 or more years.”

So, a few years later, how does Antetokounmpo feel about playing for the Bucks forever?

“I still feel the same,” Antetokounmpo said. “As long as me and the Bucks are on the same page and we build an organization that’s all about winning and nothing more than that, I want to be here.”

Milwaukee obviously wants him there, too. Which warrants revisiting his 2016 contract extension.

At the time, it seemed the Bucks did well to secure Antetokounmpo for less than the max. C.J. McCollum had just signed a four-year, $106,633,450 extension with the Trail Blazers. Getting Antetokounmpo for only $100 million looked like a coup.

There was some consideration Milwaukee should’ve pushed him onto a five-year extension. Though such extensions required a max starting salary with max raises, locking up Antetokounmpo for an extra year held value, too. But he hadn’t even made an All-Star team at that point. The consensus was the savings during the four-year extension made it the right call for the Bucks.

In hindsight, it was a mistake. A five-year extension would have meant paying Antetokounmpo about an extra $4 million total* over the first four years in exchange for paying him about $30 million in the fifth year (2021-22). Now, Antetokounmpo projects to have a max salary of about $44 million in 2021-22.**

*That’s based on the max raises (7.5%) and max-salary calculation required by the previous Collective Bargaining Agreement, which was in effect when Antetokounmpo signed the extension. Had he signed a five-year extension, it’s possible the owners and players would have negotiated special rules for Antetokounmpo’s extension, which went into effect under the current CBA. The current CBA mandates a higher raise (8%) and uses a different max-salary calculation (resulting in a higher amount) for such extensions. Russell Westbrook and James Harden had special rules written for them due to the CBA change. When the previous CBA took effect between him signing an extension and it taking effect, Kevin Durant had his contract terms altered to reflect new CBA terms. Without special dispensation, Antetokounmpo could have wound up earning less during the first four years of his “max” extension than McCollum did on his extension.

If every ruling had gone in his favor, Antetokounmpo would have earned an extra $10,984,160 during the first for seasons of a five-year extension and had a $32,700,690 salary in the fifth year. It still would have behooved Milwaukee to have him on that contract.

**Based on the salary cap rising the same amount in 2021-22 as projected between 2019-20 and 2020-21 and if he makes an All-NBA team this season or next. Without either honor, his projected max in 2021-22 drops to $38 million – still far more than what his final-year salary would have been in a five-year extension.

Escaping that rabbit hole and returning to reality, Antetokounmpo is on the four-year extension. That is Milwaukee’s timeline to please him.

Right now, it looks great. But the future is filled with potential pitfalls.

Four Bucks starters – Khris Middleton, Eric Bledsoe, Brook Lopez and Malcolm Brogdon – can become free agents after the season. Re-signing all four could be difficult, especially if Milwaukee is unwilling to pay the luxury tax. The Bucks have paid the tax only once, the first year it was assessed, 2003.

Even if they re-sign all four, will that be enough? Middleton is 27. Bledsoe is 29. Lopez is 30. How much better will they get?

Milwaukee is also out two future first-round picks. One got sent to the Suns for Bledsoe. The other got traded to the Cavaliers to unload salary and acquire George Hill.

That’s one lingering cost of recent bad signings. The Bucks overpaid John Henson and Matthew Dellavedova then had to surrender that first-rounder to dump them. Larry Sanders’ stretched salary remains on the books through 2022. Milwaukee somehow turned Miles Plumlee‘s toxic contract into smaller pieces, but one of those pieces – Spencer Hawes – still has stretched salary counting through next season. At least the Bucks  dodged a bullet with Greg Monroe taking a three-year max contract in 2015, when he could’ve gotten a four-year max deal that ran through this season.

Still, Milwaukee also squandered the value of the No. 2 pick in the 2014 draft, as Jabari Parker provided little on the court then left in free agency. No. 17 pick Rashad Vaughn was a bust the next year. The No. 10 pick the following year, Thon Maker, barely plays and wants to be traded.

But, in the NBA landscape, these are first-world problems. Milwaukee is an elite team trying to take the next step. So many teams struggle to reach this level.

The Bucks already look championship-caliber. They might be unfortunate to exist at the same time as the super-charged Warriors. But if Kevin Durant and DeMarcus Cousins leave Golden State, Milwaukee could have a better title chance next year.

Yet, it’s impossible to overlook how high the stakes are with Antetokounmpo on the roster. All this success is possible only because of him. Any misstep that threatens his commitment to the franchise could undermine the operation.

But the Bucks keep getting everything right. Even a move some thought would sow unease with Antetokounmpo has done the opposite.

When Milwaukee’s mangled process for hiring a general manager in 2017 sparked talk about Antetokounmpo eventually leaving, he tweeted:

It helps that Bucks general manager Jon Horst, a compromise choice among ownership, has performed so well in his new job. Though he was supposed to signal Milwaukee’s discord, he has fostered stability. Horst helped attract Coach of the Year-favorite Mike Budenholzer and signed players, like Lopez and Ersan Ilyasova, who fit Budenholzer’s system. The Bucks look especially aligned.

It also helps that Antetokounmpo makes so few waves. He even said he could never see himself playing for Los Angeles – music to everyone’s ears in Milwaukee.

Yet, Antetokounmpo also expressed more-nuanced views on loyalty while explaining Durant’s move from the Thunder to the Warriors. A plugged-in former general manager reportedly said, “There’s no way in hell Giannis is going to stay in Milwaukee. I would bet everything that he leaves the Bucks.”

It’s simply impossible for Antetokounmpo to end speculation about his future. As he elevates into superstardom and heads closer to free agency, chatter will only increase.

“He has been incredibly loyal,” Budenholzer said. “I think that’s something that’s important to him. So, he’s a gift, for sure.”

Of course, Budenholzer isn’t taking anything for granted. He obviously always wants to win, but he knows that’s particularly important for the franchise right now.

“Most teams feel that pressure,” Budenholzer said. “Having Giannis does maybe heighten it, but it’s a great part. It’s great to be in Milwaukee with Giannis.”

More importantly, Antetokounmpo thinks it’s great to be in Milwaukee, too.

“It’s not about small market, big market,” Antetokounmpo said. “I don’t think about that. I don’t think about lifestyle. I just think about organization that has treated me well, my family well. And it’s all about winning.

“If the organization main goal is winning, I don’t care about the rest. I feel like my family is getting used to Milwaukee. I’m used to Milwaukee. So, it’s a great place to be.”

Rumor: Did Porzingis want out of New York because he didn’t want to play with Durant?

Getty Images
1 Comment

In less than a year, Kristaps Porzingis went from the anointed savior of the Knicks franchise to being traded to the Dallas Mavericks to make way for whatever and whoever is next. It was a turn of events that shocked and angered much of the Knicks fan base.

After the trade went down, the spin machines got busy. The Knicks said that Porzingis requested to be moved, and while there was some push back about that from KP’s camp there was no question he had his frustrations with the Knicks and might have looked around as a restricted free agent. Why did he want out? Did he not trust management? Or was it something else… like who the Knicks are reportedly targeting as a free agent? One Kevin Durant.

ESPN’s Zach Lowe floated that last theory on his podcast Friday:

“I don’t think he was psyched about playing with Durant. I don’t know how directly that was verbalized to the Knicks, but I’m confident that it wasn’t something that was his Plan A, he wanted to be the face of the franchise.”

That apparently was not said to the Knicks.

Expect push back from Porzingis’ camp on this.

There is a whole lot of speculation in this rumor, starting with the Knicks being able to land Durant (even though most sources I talk to around the league see that as the most likely outcome this summer). KD’s star would have been brighter than Porzingis’, but in New York there is plenty of spotlight to go around. Was sharing the stage really an issue?

Porzingis’ frustrations likely had many layers and cannot be defined by Durant alone. If he didn’t trust ownership and management, can you really blame him? We’ll never really know how much of a factor Durant was — or, was not — in that mix.

Where Porzingis landed, he and Luka Doncic are the face of the Mavericks going forward. Mark Cuban and Dallas bet big on them. The question now for Porzingis is was that a good gamble?

Watch Kawhi Leonard strip DeMar DeRozan, get dunk to put Raptors up for good

Associated Press
1 Comment

DeMar DeRozan was welcomed back to Toronto Friday night with a standing ovation — DeRozan is still the most beloved Raptor in franchise history.

But with the game on the line, Kawhi Leonard showed everyone why Toronto made the trade.

Leonard stripped the ball from DeRozan at midcourt and took it in for a dunk that put Toronto up for good.

The Spurs missed their next shot and a couple Leonard free throws after that iced it.

Leonard had 25 points in the game while Pascal Siakam added 22 — those are the two guys who can make this postseason in Toronto different from the previous ones.

Draymond Green reportedly to switch agents to Rich Paul

Getty Images
13 Comments

This summer, the Golden State Warriors need to deal with the free agency of Klay Thompson (expected by sources around the league to re-sign and stay) and Kevin Durant (those same sources think he leans toward leaving).

The following summer of 2020 it’s Draymond Green who is up. Will he have a max offer waiting from the Warriors?

In anticipation of what’s to come, Green is reportedly switching agents to Rich Paul, according to Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports.

Golden State Warriors star Draymond Green is close to hiring Rich Paul of Klutch Sports as his basketball representation, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

He was previously repped by Wasserman.

Paul most famously represents LeBron James and Anthony Davis, although he has a number of other clients.

I’ll say about this switch what I said when Davis switched to Klutch at the start of this past season: Rich Paul is not the guy you hire if the plan is just to automatically sign the contract put in front of you.

Green is a former Defensive Player of the Year and a two-time All-NBA player, and this season he is averaging 7.2 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 7.3 assists per game. However, there has been debate around the league about whether his next contract should be a max, or more accurately, should it be a max at the full five years? Or at the four years other teams can offer? The defensive versatility Green brings Golden State is unquestioned — the Warriors are not the Warriors without his ability to guard fives effectively — he is a fantastic passer, and he is the emotional bellwether for the team in many ways. However, he’s shooting 25 percent from three this season (and teams dare him to take that shot now), doesn’t really create on offense (the Warriors can easily hide that with their starters right now), and there are thoughts that he hits free agency at age 29 and his game will not age well. Green also has had a very public clash with Kevin Durant.

What the Warriors will do with Green may hinge in part on happens this summer. If Durant decides to re-sign with Golden State could they then look to trade Green? Also, Green is extension eligible this summer, but with the Warriors cap situation, the raise the Warriors could offer Green will be well below what he likely makes on the open market in 2020. There are a lot of moving parts in the Warriors’ future. And Green’s.

It looks like Rich Paul will be part of that future now as well.

Grizzlies’ standout rookie Jaren Jackson Jr. out indefinitely with deep thigh bruise

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Jarren Jackson Jr. looked like a future franchise cornerstone in Memphis this season. He’s averaged 13.8 points a game, shot 35.9 percent from three, grabbed 4.7 points per game, played good defense as a rookie, been improving, and as the Grizzlies enter a rebuild he will be what the team is building around in the paint.

However, he’s going to miss some time now with a thigh bruise, the team announced Friday night. From the official announcement:

Grizzlies forward/center Jaren Jackson Jr. suffered a deep thigh bruise and will be out indefinitely. He is expected to make a full recovery.

Expect the Grizzlies to be cautious and take their time bringing him back, he may no return this season. In part because they should be cautious with an injury to a future cornerstone, but also in part because they are trying to hang on to their draft pick this year, which is top eight protected (otherwise it goes to Boston). Currently the Grizzlies have the sixth worst record in the league and only a four percent chance of losing their pick, but fall farther back in the standings and the odds get even better they keep it.