By: Jacob Shindel, Columnist
With the Milwaukee Bucks season coming to a shocking end in the second round after losing to the Miami Heat in five games, the rumors surrounding superstar and former MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo immediately started to pick up, regarding his future with Milwaukee. Despite finishing with the best record in the entire league this season, Milwaukee, a team that was expected to contend for a title, is out before the Conference Finals.
Antetokounmpo is entering the final year of his contract, and is eligible to sign a five year supermax extension with Milwaukee this offseason. The major question is whether he will do that. Milwaukee has had legitimate title aspirations the past two years, but they have fallen short both times. Throughout the season, rumors have circulated about Antetokounmpo leaving Milwaukee to play elsewhere. The most commonly linked names to Antetokounmpo have been the Miami Heat, Toronto Raptors, and New Orleans Pelicans.
Immediately following Milwaukee’s game five season-ending loss, Antetokounmpo was asked by Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes about the possibility that he would request a trade out of Milwaukee. Antetokounmpo’s answer was short and simple. “It’s not happening. That’s not happening.”
With that being said, superstars have not always been truthful in professing their desire to stay with a certain team. Paul George resigned with the Oklahoma City Thunder two years ago after being heavily linked to sign with the Los Angeles Lakers. After resigning, George said that Oklahoma City was, ‘…”somewhere I can call home for years.“’ George ended up only playing another year in Oklahoma City before demanding a trade to the Los Angeles Clippers to team up with Kawhi Leonard.
Antetokounmpo recently attended a three-hour lunch meeting with Milwaukee Bucks’ co-owner, Marc Lasry. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Lasry informed Antetokounmpo of their willingness to spend into the luxury tax if necessary, in order to build a stronger team. The two sides are expected to meet again in the near future.
While it is expected that a team who is trying to keep a top-three player in the league is willing to spend extra to improve the team, it may not be enough. Milwaukee has a lot of guaranteed cap space going to players who are on the downside of their careers. This is not to say they aren’t contributors for Milwaukee, but it is not a good sign for a franchise when Eric Bledsoe, Brook Lopez, and George Hill, all over 30 years old, are set to make a combined $39.2 million next season, and then an even larger $44.1 million the year after.
Before considering what to do with Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee should scope the trade market and see if there are any teams that would be willing to take on their salaries. If a team is willing to take a player, or even two, Milwaukee would be better positioned to make a move that improves their team, and makes it more enticing for Antetokounmpo to resign.
If Milwaukee is unable to find trade partners for Bledsoe, Lopez, and Hill, it would be in their best interest to test the trade market and see what a potential return package would look like for their superstar. When the Los Angeles Clippers traded for Paul George last year, they sent five first round picks, two pick swaps, Danilo Gallinari, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander to Oklahoma City. While George was third in MVP voting that season, he was nowhere close to the skill level of Antetokounmpo. Milwaukee could trade away Antetokounmpo, while still staying competitive in the Eastern Conference if they can strike a rich return package.
So far, most of the teams that have been linked to a possible trade for Antetokounmpo have a great amount of depth and assets and could make an enticing package for Giannis. Out of all the teams in the mix, look no further than the Golden State Warriors, who can perhaps offer the best combination of players and picks.
Golden State basically took the year off after making it to the NBA Finals last year. They lost Kevin Durant in a sign-and-trade with the Brooklyn Nets, but were able to land D’Angelo Russell in the swap. Golden State then traded Russell to the Timberwolves along with Jacob Evans and Omari Spellman, for Andrew Wiggins, a 2021 first round pick, and a 2021 second round pick. On top of that pick, Golden State has the second overall pick in this year’s draft. Superstar Stephen Curry missed a lot of time this year, while Klay Thompson missed the entire season for the Warriors, which led to a 15-50 overall record this season. Golden State could package together an enticing offer for Antetokounmpo, centered around Andrew Wiggins, Draymond Green, and numerous picks.
In general, Milwaukee is in a very good position. Any decision they choose should still keep them in the playoffs, which is always a good thing for a small-market team like Milwaukee. If they are able to convince Antetokounmpo to stay, it will most likely mean they improved the team, and they will be even scarier than this past season. If they go the trade route, the league could be on the brink of the formation of their next Superteam.