Bucks have super offseason, retool around staying Giannis Antetokounmpo

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NBC Sports’ Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

The Lakers won the championship.

The Bucks came a close second for the NBA’s most-significant accomplishment this year.

Milwaukee convinced Giannis Antetokounmpo to sign his super-max extension. That’s the difference between prolonged championship contention and irrelevancy.

We can discuss what it means for Antetokounmpo, what it means for the NBA, what it means for anyone else even tangentially involved. But it is a massive, massive victory for the Bucks.

A back-to-back reigning MVP who’s still just 26, Antetokounmpo could own the NBA for the next half decade. He must improve his game for the playoffs, but his track record suggests he will. Antetokounmpo is on his way to becoming an all-time great.

His extension – which will be worth more than $228 million over five years – doesn’t guarantee he’ll spend his next five seasons in Milwaukee. But it does practically ensure, if he leaves before 2025 (when he holds a player option), the Bucks will get a gargantuan return in a trade.

The extension also shows how much Antetokounmpo values staying in Milwaukee. He won’t necessarily feel the same way in five years, but it’s an encouraging baseline for the Bucks. Though his thinking might evolve, it’s not as if he’ll become a completely new person over the next five years.

But he will get a pretty new team this season.

Milwaukee traded a whopping three first-round picks and two first-round pick swaps to land Jrue Holiday from the Pelicans. Holiday is an excellent player who immediately boosts the Bucks’ championship odds.

But that is an extremely high price to pay. Both future first-rounders and both first-round swaps owed to New Orleans are unprotected. The 2026 swap and 2027 pick are even due after Antetokounmpo’s contract could end.

Holiday also has only one season remaining on his contract before a player option. Milwaukee better have an agreement in place for an extension or terms on re-signing. Otherwise, Holiday will hold incredible leverage in free agency next summer. Capped out but holding Holiday’s Bird Rights, the Bucks could re-sign him but would have no way to replace him.

Even if retaining Holiday, Milwaukee faces long-term concerns. Antetokounmpo’s supporting cast already looked disturbingly old. Holiday, 30, doesn’t exactly solve that problem.

Holiday could help the Bucks win a championship – the ultimate goal – before declining. But if he doesn’t work out, Milwaukee is depleted of assets to shift direction.

The trade also cost the Bucks starting point guard Eric Bledsoe and top reserve George Hill. Though his postseason deficiencies made upgrading to Holiday so important, Bledsoe was still a near-star in the regular season. Hill was a Sixth Man of the Year candidate who held up in the playoffs.

Milwaukee also lost starting shooting guard Wesley Matthews to the Lakers in free agency. Seventh man Marvin Williams, who was essential to unlocking the Bucks’ small-ball lineups in the playoffs, retired. Milwaukee didn’t re-sign Kyle Korver, 39. Though more of a regular-season player, Robin Lopez opted out and still commanded a $7.3 million salary from the Wizards, which says something about his value. The Bucks waived Ersan Ilyasova, another regular-season player but still a positive contributor, due to the hard cap.

Antetokounmpo is the first MVP to return to a team where most of his supporting cast, measured by postseason minutes, has departed. Just 47% of the other Bucks’ playoff minutes return next season:

The only other cases under even 60%: Russell Westbrook with the 2017 Thunder and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar with the 1976 Lakers. A No. 6 seed that won just 47 games, Oklahoma City was highly atypical of an MVP-producing team. The 1976 Lakers were the only team with an MVP to miss the playoffs (requiring me to use regular-season, rather than postseason, minutes in their calculation).

The Bucks were nothing like those teams.

A regular-season behemoth, Milwaukee won 60 games two years ago and won at a 63-win pace last season. But the Bucks’ style of play left them vulnerable in the playoffs. Milwaukee lost to the Raptors in the 2019 Eastern Conference finals then got smoked by the Heat in the 2020 second round.

Credit the Bucks for understanding the urgency of their situation despite all their regular-season success.

In addition to Holiday, they were set to add another player who has thrived in big games (in Europe) – Bogdan Bogdanovic. But a sign-and-trade with the Kings got bungled.

That left Milwaukee scrambling to fill its rotation.

The Bucks triggered the hard cap by signing D.J. Augustin with the non-taxpayer mid-level exception (three years, $21 million with the final season barely guaranteed). Good luck determining whether his slippage with the Magic last year was the result of age-related decline or just Augustin’s up-and-down nature. He’s now 33, and his small size leaves him vulnerable in the playoffs.

I believe Bobby Portis (1+1, room exception) has the capability to play well in Mike Budenholzer’s system. But Portis must hone his game in ways he hasn’t come close to doing – especially defensively.

Bryn Forbes (1+1, $4,791,147, which was the rest of the mid-level exception) replaces Korver as the 3-point shooting specialist. Torrey Craig (one year, minimum) is a defensive specialist.

If all goes well, these players will re-enter free agency with the shine of a successful season and seek bigger contracts. And that’s the best-case scenario.

Milwaukee’s lack of depth is evident by the need to roster No. 45 pick Jordan Nwara and No. 60 pick Sam Merrill because they count less toward the hard cap than minimum-salary free agents. For second-round rookies who might occasionally be pressed into action on a championship contender, Nwara and Merrill actually look pretty good. For whatever that’s worth.

The Bucks also re-signed backup guard Pat Connaughton, but that was its own fiasco. Their initial agreement was illegal due to contract-length requirements for Early Bird contracts. So, Milwaukee wound up giving Connaughton even more money. It’s unclear whether that hindered the Bucks this offseason, but it was a disconcerting follow-up to the Bogdanovic episode.

Those sagas raise alarm bells about the Bucks’ general competency. Luckily for them, Antetokounmpo looked past that.

Antetokounmpo also granted the organization a reprieve on spending. With the superstar forward locked in, I’m not confident the Bucks will pay the luxury tax beyond this season. Maybe they will. But it was also painfully evident how much the team would’ve benefitted from doing so last season, and they didn’t.

The upside for Antetokounmpo: His extension removes a tension that could have consumed the team. With clear minds and Jrue Holiday, Milwaukee looks more-capable of winning a championship this season.

But there are an uncomfortable number of potential pitfalls in the years ahead.

To be fair, many were in place before the offseason began. The main goal this offseason was securing Antetokounmpo, and the Bucks did that.

That we’re even discussing their long-term future in with such attention is because of that triumph.

Offseason grade: A+

Luka Doncic leaves game with sprained ankle, X-rays negative

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Mavericks fans everywhere were holding their breath.

Just more than three minutes into a showdown with the Suns Thursday, Luka Doncic drove on Cameron Johnson but didn’t get around him, so Doncic stopped, spun, tried to step back, and stepped on the foot of Mikal Bridges‘ and rolled his left ankle.

After a Torey Craig 3-pointer, Doncic left the game and hobbled back to the Mavericks locker room to be checked out. While X-rays were negative Doncic is out for the remainder of the game.

It will be tomorrow before the Mavericks can get a feel for how long Doncic might be out. They can’t afford for him to be out long, Dallas has been outscored by 5.3 points per 100 possessions this season when Doncic is off the court. He has been playing through ankle soreness for a few weeks but has missed only a couple of games.

Doncic, who was just voted an All-Star starter, is in the MVP mix this season averaging 33.8 points, 9.1 rebounds and 8.6 assists a game. The Mavericks are 8.7 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the court.

LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo captains as All-Star starters named

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LeBron James is just 157 points shy of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s NBA all-time scoring record, which he should break early next month. But before breaking that iconic record, he tied Abdul-Jabbar for another NBA milestone.

LeBron was the leading fan vote-getter and is an NBA All-Star Game for the 19th time, tying Abdul-Jabbar for the most All-Star appearances in league history.

James and Giannis Antetokounmpo received the most fan votes in their conferences and will be the captains of the teams for the Feb. 19 All-Star Game in Salt Lake City. This is Antetokounmpo’s third time as captain, it is LeBron’s sixth — and his teams are 5-0 in his previous captaincies.

In a new twist, James and Antetokounmpo will pick their teams playground style right on the court before the game. They will choose from a pool of starters announced Thursday — selected by a vote of fans, media, and current players — and then the backups from a list of reserves selected by the coaches (which will be announced next week). Here are this year’s starters (two backcourt, three frontcourt players from each conference):

WESTERN CONFERENCE
Stephen Curry
Luka Doncic
LeBron James
Nikola Jokic
Zion Williamson

EASTERN CONFERENCE
Kyrie Irving
Donovan Mitchell
Kevin Durant
Giannis Antetokounmpo
Jayson Tatum

This is the first start for Zion Williamson and Donovan Mitchell.

The vote also squeezed Joel Embiid out of a crowded frontcourt in the East. Here is the voting breakdown, where each player’s score is weighted based on 50 percent for the fan vote, 25 percent for player vote, and 25 percent for the media vote.

Eastern Conference Frontcourt

Player (Team) Fan Rank Player Rank Media Rank Weighted Score
1. *#Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee)      1      1      2      1.25
2. *Kevin Durant (Brooklyn)      2      2      4      2.5
3. *Jayson Tatum (Boston)      3      4      1      2.75
4. Joel Embiid (Philadephia)      4      3      3      3.75
5. Jimmy Butler (Miami)      5      7      5      5.5
6. Pascal Siakam (Toronto)      6     6      5      5.75
7. Paolo Banchero (Orlando)      8      8      5      7.25
8. Bam Adebayo (Miami)      11      5      5      8.0
9. Julius Randle (New York)      9      10      5      8.25
10. Kyle Kuzma (Washington)      7      16      5      9.25

 

Eastern Conference Guards

Player (Team) Fan Rank Player Rank Media Rank Weighted Score
1. *Kyrie Irving (Boston)      1      1      4      1.75
2. *Donovan Mitchell (Cleveland)      2      2      1      1.75
3. Jaylen Brown (Boston)      3      3      2      2.75
4. James Harden (Philadelphia)      4     5      5      4.5
5. Tyrese Haliburton (Indiana)      8      6      3      6.25
6. DeMar DeRozan (Chicago)      6      4      10      6.5
7. Trae Young (Atlanta)      12      5      6      7.0
8. LaMelo Ball (Charlotte)      7      9      10     8.25
9. Darius Garland (Cleveland)      10      7      6      8.25
10. Jalen Brunson (Milwaukee)      12      8      9      10.25

 *–Voted to start
#–Team captain

Western Conference Frontcourt

Player (Team) Fan Rank Player Rank Media Rank Weighted Score
1. *# LeBron James (Los Angeles)      1      2      2      1.5
2. *Nikola Jokic (Denver)      2      1     1      1.5
3. *Zion Williamson (New Orleans)      4      3      4      3.75
4. Anthony Davis (Los Angeles)      3      7      6      4.25
5. Lauri Markkanen (Utah)      7      4      5      5.75
6. Domantas Sabonis (Sacramento)      9      5      3      6.5
7. Paul George (L.A. Clippers)      6      6      9      6.75
8. Andrew Wiggins (Golden State)      5      19      9     9.5
9. Draymond Green (Golden State)      14      9      9      9.75
10. Kawhi Leonard (L.A. Clippers)      11      14      7      10.75

Western Conference Guards

Player (Team) Fan Rank Player Rank Media Rank Weighted Score
1. *Stephen Curry (Golden State)      1     2      2      1.5
2. *Luka Doncic (Dallas)      2      1      1      1.5
3. Ja Morant (Memphis)      3      3      3      3
4. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (Oklahoma City)      4      4      4      4
5. Damian Lillard (Portland)      7      5      5      6.0
6. De'Aaron Fox (Sacramento)      8      5      5      6.5
7. Devin Booker (Phoenix)      10      7      5      8
8. Russell Westbrook (Los Angeles)      6      18      5      8.75
9. Anthony Edwards (Minnesota)      13      8      5      9.75
10. Klay Thompson (Golden State)      5      25      5      10

 *–Voted to start
#–Team captain

Curry, frustrated with Poole, gets ejected for throwing mouthpiece into crowd

Memphis Grizzlies v Golden State Warriors
Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images
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Stephen Curry has been ejected three times in his NBA career, and each time the incident was mouthpiece related.

The latest came Wednesday night. With 1:25 remaining in the fourth quarter of a tight game with the Grizzlies, Klay Thompson missed a floater, Donte DiVincenzo tipped the rebound out and kept it alive, Thomspon grabbed it and passed it to Poole out top to reset the offense, with Curry calling for the ball a few feet away from him. Instead, Poole jacked up a three like the shot clock was going to expire. The shot missed and Curry, out of frustration, threw his mouthpiece in the stands. That got him an automatic ejection.

“He knows he can’t make that mistake,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said postgame, via the Associated Press.

Poole had fun with Curry postgame, throwing his mouthpiece in the hallway.

“I did see that,” Curry said, via NBC Sports Bay Area. “It’s like one of those ‘too soon’ jokes. I was still hot. I was still hot.”

After the game, some fans tried to argue that, by NBA rules, Curry did not have to be ejected. The NBA rulebook specifically states that any “player who throws or kicks the ball directly into the stands with force” will be ejected, as will a player who throws “the ball or any object at an official.” The argument goes Curry didn’t throw his mouthpiece at an official. However, the rulebook also says a technical can be “assessed to any player on the court or anyone seated on the bench for conduct which, in the opinion of an official, is detrimental to the game,” and the league has said consistently in recent years that throwing a mouthpiece or anything into the crowd is detrimental to the game, penalized with a technical and automatic ejection. Maybe there should be more leeway with the enforcement of said rule, but Curry knew better.

The Warriors went on to get the win over their rivals from Memphis, the old guard held the new guard off again. But the next time these teams meet, the Warriors will need Curry on the court until the end of the game.

What will happen with Warriors biggest free agent this summer: Bob Myers

2022 Golden State Warriors Victory Parade & Rally
Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images
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This summer, the Warriors have on their plate a couple of major decisions that could lead to free agency and change the course of the franchise. One is Draymond Green, who has a $27.6 million player option, didn’t get an extension he wanted with the team last summer (while Jordan Poole and Andrew Wiggins did), and could be the guy standing without a chair when the music stops. The Warriors can’t pay everyone.

The other free agent: general manager Bob Myers.

His is an even more complex and nuanced situation — will the Warriors make him the highest-paid executive in the league, and does Myers still want the job — that could be the latest sign that the dynastic Curry era in Golden State is coming to an end.

At the Athletic, Anthony Slater, Marcus Thompson II and Sam Amick break down the situation incredibly well in a story Warriors fans should read.

As the clock ticks and extension talks remain flat, many around Myers are wondering whether – and even predicting that – his days with the Warriors are about to run out…

For all the nuance that surrounds the situation, this much is clear: team and league sources, who like all of the sources in this story were granted anonymity so they could speak freely, say Myers believes he should be among the highest-paid front office executives in the league, if not the highest. He’s been the architect of four NBA title teams, was the lead recruiter in the Durant free agency signing, and has been the trusted conduit between players, coaches and ownership. Myers also has served as chief problem solver, the coolant in an ecosystem that periodically overheats…

Part of the equation for Myers, known for his deep conversations and intellectual curiosity, is the contemplation of what’s next. After more than a decade of building a dynasty, and managing it through the intensity of modern scrutiny, and living beneath the relentless pressure of the Warriors’ championship standard, might Myers be interested in a new challenge? Would it be better for him and his family to move on, build up another franchise away from the Golden State fish bowl? He walked away from a successful career as a player agent to become an NBA executive. Is it now time to leave the front office behind and try his hand in another industry?

While there are other layers, it’s always about the money.

The very top NBA executives make north of $10 million a season. While Warriors owner Joe Lacob has said Myers is one of the highest-paid general managers in the league, titles get fuzzy (and somewhat meaningless) around the league — many guys in Myers’ role have a president or VP title attached to their name. His pay relative to title can get bogged down in semantics that miss the basic “pay me” bottom line of this.

There are no straight lines and simple answers here, but if Myers gets paid like Daryl Morey or Masai Ujiri he is far more likely to stay. Even if he gets that money, how badly does Myers want to stay on for the final years of the Stephen Curry era and start rebuilding whatever comes next? Does he want to walk away? Hang around for a few years then take his leave?

More than whatever happens with Green, the Myers situation will signal what comes next for this era of the Warriors and what they may look like going forward. He is the ultimate architect. This is the biggest decision the Warriors have this offseason.