Giannis Antetokounmpo decided to stay home in Milwaukee, signing a super-max extension, in part because he believes he can win there (his biggest concern). The fact the Bucks can guarantee him $228.2 million over the next five years didn’t hurt.
Antetokounmpo’s decision was the most impactful player decision in the NBA since LeBron James decided to come to Los Angeles, and there have been reactions and reverberations around the league. As with every big move, there are some winners and losers, and while there are far more winners in this case let’s break it down.
Winner: Giannis Antetokounmpo
Duh. The man just locked in $228.2 million. Even Steve Ballmer thinks that’s a lot of money. Antetokounmpo also gets to stay in the only city he has called home in the United States — he’s said he’s not drawn to the bright lights of Los Angeles or Miami — and the first city he and his family ever felt safe, comfortable, and welcomed.
Antetokounmpo used his leverage to pressure the Bucks to upgrade the roster and only signed this deal after being convinced that the Bucks were serious about winning — and willing to spend to do it. Antetokounmpo knew what he wanted and got it.
Winner: Milwaukee Bucks and Bucks’ fans
The Milwaukee Bucks locked up the two-time reigning MVP as he heads into his prime, a move that should make them contenders for each of the next five years (if they’re not, it’s more about the Bucks front office than Antetokounmpo). That’s a win for Milwaukee, a win for their fans, and a win for small and mid-sized markets around the league. Do most things right, build a winner around them, and those markets can keep a superstar.
However, this does not guarantee the Bucks a title in the next few years. According to odds provided by our partner, PointsBet, it’s just slightly better than 50/50 that Antetokounmpo wins a ring with the Bucks.
💰 Giannis has 228 million reasons to be happy in Milwaukee over the next five years. 💰
— NBC Sports Bet (@NBCSportsBet) December 16, 2020
These teams are not really losers, but they are teams now forced to recalibrate. All of them kept cap space or trade options open to land Antetokounmpo if he decided to move on from Milwaukee. Now each one has to adjust their master plan.
Miami is in the best position. The Heat already used their cap space to lock up Bam Adebayo, and they still have a lot of young players that would be interesting to a team looking to trade a superstar. Miami made the Finals a last season yet is still poised to chase another star (via trade or sign-and-trade), and will be in that position for years.
Toronto is retooling the roster around Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby at the forward spots, and they locked up Fred VanVleet this offseason, but the Raptors now need to strike a deal with Masai Ujiri and then go find their next star.
Dallas is in the toughest spot of the three because they lack picks and young players they are willing to give up in a trade. Dallas has no clear path now to adding a third star because they needed to do it through free agency and…
Loser: 2021 Free Agency
LeBron James signed an extension to stay with the Lakers, and as expected Anthony Davis did the same — neither inked shot deals either, the Lakers have them for three years. Paul George signed a max deal to stay with the Clippers. Now Antetokounmpo is off the market.
The much-hyped free agent class of 2021 suddenly looks very thin. Kawhi Leonard is the biggest name, but with the George re-signing in Los Angeles — and the fact Leonard forced his way back to SoCal — it is widely expected around the NBA Leonard re-signs with the Clippers. Who are the best free agents after that? Rudy Gobert, and maybe Victor Oladipo depending upon how he plays this season. Those are good players, and this is a deeper free agent class than this past one, but the franchise-changing talent at the top is gone. This class is not nearly as sexy.
Which leads to…
Winner: Houston Rockets (and maybe the Washington Wizards)
With teams not able to find a superstar through free agency, suddenly James Harden‘s star shines a little brighter. He’s a former MVP and one of the top five players on the planet, a guy who can drop 30 a night and do it efficiently. The concerns about him being 31 with a lot of miles on that body (on and off the court), the concerns about having to re-sign him in two years at age 33, the concerns about how well he plays with other stars are all still there, but for teams that don’t have options those risks don’t look as daunting. Houston continues to ask for more than anyone will offer for The Beard right now, but this helps the Rockets’ leverage.
Miami has said it is interested in Harden, and if it can get a deal done for Tyler Herro, some other young players, salary guys (Kelly Olynyk, Andre Iguodala), and a couple of picks, it might well be worth it.
That is, unless the Heat want to wait and see what the Wizards do with Bradley Beal. Like Houston, Washington is sitting in a better spot to trade its star now, except the Wizards have no intention of doing so — at least in the short term. They want to see if they can make a playoff run with Beal and Russell Westbrook. But if that goes sideways by the trade deadline, or by next offseason, Washington may feel differently, and it will be in a strong position.
Winner: Jrue Holiday
Antetokounmpo just signed a max contract, and Khris Middleton will make $35.5 million next season on top of that. Throw in $13.3 million for Brook Lopez at center, a combined $12.3 million for D.J. Augustin and Pat Connaughton, plus contracts to round out the roster, and suddenly the Bucks are a team over the tax line and with limited ways to improve for the season after this one. This means they MUST re-sign Holiday (something they needed to do anyway after giving up a boatload of picks to land him).
Holiday, who has a $26.7 million player option next season, is expected to opt-out and has all the leverage. He likely will get a contract that starts at about that number and extends out for years. Holiday is a former All-Star, and should be a better playoff fit in the backcourt for the Bucks than Eric Bledsoe, but he has the leverage to get paid like a superstar now.