As preseason games tip-off, the entire NBA keeps one eye on Giannis Antetokounmpo: Will he or won’t he sign the $228 million max contract extension the Bucks have put in front of him? If he doesn’t, Antetokounmpo becomes a free agent next offseason.
Antetokounmpo, an intense competitor, is not debating whether he wants to live in New York or Miami or Los Angeles — it’s all about the winning, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski said on his podcast (hat tip Real GM).
“I know this about Giannis: his decision is not about wanting to be in a big market and have all the trimmings that come with Los Angeles or New York or wherever it is. I don’t think that’s part of his decision making. I think at his core he’s immensely loyal. I believe he loves the people in Milwaukee. Loves that community. He loves the organization. But he wants to win and that’s what he’s weighing.”
Antetokounmpo didn’t grow up in the United States dreaming of wearing a Heat or Mavericks or Knicks or whatever team jersey. Milwaukee is the only city he’s lived in since coming to the states, it’s where his son is, and after a challenging upbringing as a poor immigrant in Athens, Milwaukee is the first place he and his family have ever truly felt safe and embraced. Milwaukee is his home, but that alone is not enough to keep him in a Bucks uniform.
It’s about winning. For Giannis, he can get the exact same contract from the Bucks if he waits until next offseason, and not signing keeps the pressure on the organization to build up the roster around him. He is following the playbook LeBron James used in Cleveland. Antetokounmpo met with Milwaukee ownership after the Bucks were eliminated from the Orlando playoff bubble, a meeting where the Bucks told the Greek Freak they would pay the tax to contend. The team made steps in the offseason trading for Jrue Holiday (and they almost also had Bogdan Bogdanovic, but the sign-and-trade fell apart).
Did the Bucks do enough? That’s Antetokounmpo’s call.
Sources have told NBC Sports they expect him to eventually re-sign and stay in Milwaukee — and a recent poll of agents found the same thing — but as time slips by confidence that will happen before the December deadline fades. And if the Bucks have another disappointing playoff run, then the door is open to a lot of possibilities.