Heat’s Game 1 win gets Giannis Antetokounmpo rumor mill churning

0 Comments

It’s been a favorite parlor game around the NBA for a year now (at least): Will Giannis Antetokounmpo leave the Milwaukee Bucks? If so, where does he land?

The volume of that chatter grew louder the last 24 hours after Jimmy Butler dominated the fourth quarter and the Heat knocked off the Bucks in Game 1. That suddenly has everyone picking apart everything Antetokounmpo said and people around the league throwing around scenarios (as Sam Amick does at The Athletic with a front office exec).

Milwaukee is going to offer Antetokounmpo a max contract this summer, but if the Bucks are out in the second round he likely will not sign it. And then every crazy theory comes into play.

The conventional wisdom around the league has been that Antetokounmpo would re-sign in Milwaukee, any planning was more of a “just in case” scenario.

There were three key reasons for Giannis Antetokounmpo to stay — and the Heat could be blowing up one a key of them. Let’s break down the three reasons:

1) $222 million guaranteed.

We don’t know what the league salary cap will be in the 2021-22 season when Antetokounmpo’s new contract kicks in (the above $222 figure is based on the cap staying flat). We do know this: Milwaukee can offer more guaranteed money than any other team.

The Bucks can offer a fifth year; no other team can offer more than four years. It’s something the owners put in the last CBA as a “Kevin Durant” rule to help small- and middle-market teams keep stars, but it hasn’t worked out that way. It’s just sped up the clock on the decision making process.

For elite stars like Antetokounmpo, the guaranteed fifth year doesn’t matter much. The final year of that contract will be Antetokounmpo’s age 31 season — he will still be at his peak and can expect to get paid max money from someone else for that season. While he loses the guarantee on that fifth year, he’s not losing that much money (slightly larger raises that the Bucks can offer). As we have seen with a lot of stars (most recently Anthony Davis), it’s not enough money to make him stay if Antetokounmpo wants to out.

2) Milwaukee is his home.

This does not change and it is a huge draw. Milwaukee is the only real home Antetokounmpo has ever had in the United States, this is not going to be a LeBron James back to Cleveland/Kawhi Leonard to the Clippers situation. He likes Milwaukee, his girlfriend Mariah Riddlesprigger is there, as is his son, Liam.

More to the heart of the matter, Milwaukee is the first place Antetokounmpo and his family ever felt safe together.  He grew up poor and an outsider in Athens, and while he is from there in many ways Milwaukee is home. It’s a draw, a reason for him to stay.

3) Milwaukee is a contender.

This is the one Miami might blow up.

The Bucks have unquestionably been the best defensive team and the best team overall in the regular season the last two years. Last season, that did not translate to beating the Raptors in the playoffs, which led to questions about whether the team learned its lessons from them.

Game 1 suggested not. Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez stepped up when the defense built a wall and focused on Antetokounmpo but it was not enough. Late in the game it was Butler, not Giannis Antetokounmpo taking over. Milwaukee’s base defense allowing threes is going against the best three-point shooting team in the bubble and that’s an issue. Then there’s the matter of adjustments and a Plan B for the Bucks — why wasn’t Antetokounmpo on Butler late in the game? Why didn’t Antetokounmpo ask to be?

If Milwaukee goes on to lose this series, and Giannis Antetokounmpo surveys the East and sees a Boston tea on the rise, a Brooklyn team about to get a lot better, and Miami still there with Butler locked in, does he see himself on a contender?

If not, will he want to go to one? Will the Bucks be forced to trade him or risk him walking for nothing? (Much like OKC with Kevin Durant, it’s hard to picture Milwaukee making a trade unless Antetokounmpo tells them he will not re-sign, as big of a risk as losing him would be, it’s too hard for a market like Milwaukee to get a star like this. They have to try and win him over until the last minute.)

That idea has fans from Golden State to New York dreaming and planning. If Antetokounmpo is available, 29 other teams want to get in on the action.

That loss to the Heat was one game, and maybe on Wednesday night the Bucks and Antetokounmpo answer all those questions and quiet the rumor mill down. At least for a few days.

But people around the league are watching the Bucks and thinking things could get very interesting this summer.

Are struggling Mavericks on the clock with Luka Doncic?

0 Comments

Luka Doncic is in the first year of a five-year, $215.2 million contract. More than that, when asked recently if Mavericks fans should be worried about him wanting out as the team has stumbled at points to start this season, Doncic didn’t sound like a guy looking to bolt:

“I don’t think they’re worried about it right now. I got what, five years left here, so I don’t think they should be worried about it.”

The Mavericks’ front office should be worried about it — teams are always on the clock with a superstar.

The Mavericks let Jalen Brunson get away in the offseason, then brought in Christian Wood (whose defense is an issue and he is coming off the bench). This remains a team a player or two away from contending despite having a potential MVP in Doncic carrying a historic offensive load.

That doesn’t mean Doncic will ask out at the deadline or this summer (he won’t), but if his frustration grows over the next couple of years… who knows. Tim MacMahon of ESPN put it well on the Hoop Collective podcast (hat tip Real GM):

“I think they have a two-year window. This season and next season going into that summer [2024]. I think they have a two-year window where, you know, like Milwaukee did with Giannis [Antetokounmpo], I think in that window they really need to convince Luka that he has a chance to contend year in and year out right here in Dallas. If they can’t get it done in that two-year window, I’m not going to sit here and tell you that he’s going to force a trade or ask for a trade. I’m just saying at that point if he’s not happy, he has all the leverage in the world if he would be looking to leave..

“I don’t think Luka will look for reasons to leave. I think he’d be perfectly happy spending his entire career in Dallas. But if he doesn’t have to look for reasons and they’re slamming him in the face, then that’s a problem. He’s also a guy who is a ruthless competitor, which means he loves winning. He’s used to winning. He won championships with Real Madrid. He won a EuroBasket championship with the Slovenian national team. He also detests losing. Like can’t handle it.”

The Mavericks made the Western Conference Finals last season, knocking off the 64-win Suns in the process — this team is not that far away. Not with Doncic handling the ball. But it feels like a team that has taken a step back from those lofty levels this season. There are many more questions than answers, and it’s impossible to guess how Doncic will feel after this season’s playoffs, let alone the ones ending in the summer of 2024.

But the Mavericks stumbles this season have to put the Dallas front office on notice — this team is not good enough. And if we know it, you can be sure Doncic knows it.

Curry thinking retirement? ‘I don’t see myself slowing down any time soon’

2022 Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year Awards Presented by Chase
Kimberly White/Getty Images for Sports Illustrated
0 Comments

Stephen Curry is playing at an MVP level this season: 30 points a game, hitting 43.2% from 3 with a 66.4 true shooting percentage, plus pitching in seven assists and 6.6 rebounds a game. He remains one of the best-conditioned athletes in the sport.

In the face of that, even though he is 34, asking him a retirement question seemed an odd choice, yet a reporter at the Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year award ceremony — Curry won the award, if you didn’t know — asked Curry about it seems he’s not interested.

Curry should not be thinking of retirement, but there is a sense around these Warriors that this era, this run is coming to an end in the next few years. Curry may be defying father time, but Draymond Green and Klay Thompson (especially post injuries) are not. There is a decline in their games (and this season, the role players have not stepped up around them the same way). With that comes a certain pressure to take advantage of the opportunities, there aren’t going to be as many.

Which is why the Warriors are a team to watch at the trade deadline (and will they sell low on James Wiseman to a team that still sees the potential in him?).

As for Curry, he will still be around and producing for a few more years. Nobody is ready to think about his retirement. Including Curry himself.

Block or charge: Alperen Sengun dunks on Zach Collins

0 Comments

To borrow the catchphrase of the great Rex Chapman:

Block or charge?

The Rockets’ Alperen Sengun caught a body and threw one down on the Spurs’ Zach Collins but was called for the offensive foul.

NBA Twitter went nuts.

Rockets coach Stephen Silas challenged the call, but it was upheld (from my perspective, the replay officials are always looking to back the in-game officials if they at all can).

By the time Collins slid over and jumped, Sengun was already in the air — if anything that was a block. What the officials called was Sengun using his off-arm to create space.

I hate the call — that’s a dunk and an and-one. Not because it’s a great dunk — although it is that, too — but because Collins literally jumped into the path of an already airborne Sengun, Collins created all the contact. It’s on him. Under the spirit of the rules, Sengun’s off-arm is moot at that point — Collins illegally jumped in Sengun’s way and caused the collision.

Terrible call by the officials.

It was a good night for the Spurs, overall. San Antonio played its best defense in a while and Keldon Johnson — one of the few bright spots in a dark Spurs season — hit his first nine shots on his way to a 32-point night that sparked a 118-109 San Antonio win over Houston, snapping the Spurs 11-game losing streak.

Three things to know: Watch Jamal Murray drain game-winning 3 to beat Blazers

0 Comments

Three Things is NBC’s five-days-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA. Check out NBCSports.com every weekday morning to catch up on what you missed the night before plus the rumors, drama, and dunks that make the NBA must-watch.

1) Watch Jamal Murray drain game-winning 3 to beat Blazers

This game felt like a 2019 playoff time capsule, with Damian Lillard and Jamal Murray trading blows in a dramatic game.

Lillard landed more of them, he finished with 40 points — and his final three were vintage Dame Time.

But Murray had the final word.

The final minutes of this game were insane.

It was a needed win for a Denver team that some nights look like they can compete with the best in the league, then turn around 48 hours later and mail in a loss to a tanking team. Nikola Jokic scored 33 against Portland (with 10 boards and nine assists) — he is again putting up numbers that will have him in the MVP conversation (even if it’s a longshot he wins it). However, the Nuggets’ bottom-five defense makes them inconsistent night to night.

Portland revamped their roster to get younger and more athletic around Lillard this past offseason, but one of the results of that is the inconsistency of youth. The Blazers don’t bring the same level of execution every night. If they don’t learn that lesson, they may be different in makeup but the results will be the same as many Portland teams of the last decade — an early playoff exit.

2) Brittney Griner is home on U.S.soil

After spending 10 months in Russian jails — including being convicted and sent to a penal colony — on trumped-up drug charges that made her a political pawn in a massive geo-political battle, Brittney Griner is finally home on U.S. soil, her plane landed in Texas overnight.

The Biden administration worked out a prisoner exchange with Russia that brings Griner home to be with her wife, family and friends — that is something to be celebrated.

Of course, there was some pushback online/in the media from people who care only about trying to score political points for their selfish ends. Fortunately, we had the family of Paul Whelan — a Michigan corporate security executive who has been behind bars in Russia since December 2018 on trumped-up espionage charges — who praised the president for bringing Griner home and making “the deal that was possible, rather than waiting for one that wasn’t going to happen.”

An American citizen is home. She happens to be a WNBA star and a two-time Olympic gold medalist, but those things are not what matters most, and are secondary to her family who are just happy to hug her and tell her they love her again. We all hope that day comes soon for American political prisoners held around the globe (including Whelan), but we should celebrate the big victory of Griner being back on U.S. soil.

3) Spurs snap 11-game losing streak behind 32 from Johnson

Keldon Johnson — one of the few bright spots in a dark Spurs season — hit his first nine shots on his way to a 32-point night that sparked a 118-109 San Antonio win over Houston, snapping the Spurs’ 11-game losing streak.

“This has been the first game in a while where we were clicking defensively,” Johnson told the Associated Press after the game. “You can tell when we get stops, get out and run and be able to get out front. If we can keep that mindset of defense first, get stops and we let the offense take care of itself, we’ll be in great shape.”

All of that is interesting, but the real debate of the night: Was this an offensive foul by Alperen Sengun, or a block by Zach Collins?

Sengun was in the air when Collins came over, but he also used his off hand to create space for the dunk. This is a bang-bang call and the challenge of the block/charge call — I think that’s a block by Collins, but that’s not how the referee or many others have seen it. How would you have called it?