With their Game 6 loss to the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference finals on Saturday, the Milwaukee Bucks’ season has come to a close.
Despite the disappointment of a somewhat earlier-than-expected playoff exit, a prevailing thought was the Bucks and the 24-year-old Giannis Antetokounmpo would be back and heading into the NBA Finals at some point.
Turns out the team might need that Finals trip sooner than expected.
Could Giannis spurn supermax deal?
Thanks to his All-NBA first-team selection on Thursday, Antetokounmpo will be eligible to sign an NBA-record five-year, $247 million supermax extension (AU$356 million) next summer with the Bucks, according to ESPN’s calculations. Obviously, that is a massive chunk of change.
And yet, Antetokounmpo, one of Wisconsin’s most beloved athletes ever, isn’t sold yet on signing the contract.
Immediately after the Bucks’ loss on Saturday, ESPN’s Malika Andrews reported that the team’s chance at re-signing Antetokounmpo could depend on whether or not the team makes the NBA Finals next season:
“Antetokounmpo has consistently made public proclamations of his love for Milwaukee, as he grew up and became acclimated to American culture in Cream City after moving from Greece,” the report said.
“Antetokounmpo adores the Bucks medical staff. His mother moved to Milwaukee. But he is all about winning. In more concrete terms, a source close to Antetokounmpo said that getting to the NBA Finals is not just an ambition, it could tip the scales as he weighs his contractual future.
“And if they can reach the NBA Finals next season, the Bucks can improve their chances of signing Antetokounmpo to the supermax in the summer of 2020.”
So, yeah, making the NBA Finals next year might suddenly be of franchise-altering importance for the Bucks, a small-market team with a rare chance to lock up the prime of one of the NBA’s elite players.
The plot thickened even further when Antetokounmpo abruptly walked out of his post-game press conference on Saturday when Andrews asked him an unrelated question.
Re-signing Antetokounmpo likely depends on a number of factors outside the Bucks’ control, most notably where this summer’s biggest free agents end up.
The road to the Finals becomes a lot bumpier if Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant all end up in the East, with two of them potentially on the same team.
However, if the name of the game is really convincing Antetokounmpo the Bucks are a long-term winner, it could all depend on what the Bucks are able to do with their roster over the next year.
How are the Bucks set up for the future?
The biggest decision on the Bucks’ horizon has already been addressed. They want to sign Antetokounmpo, even if it costs 35 percent of their salary cap. He’s that good.
Moving lower on the priority list, there are some more difficult decisions. The Bucks signed Eric Bledsoe to a four-year, $70 million deal earlier this season, but the team still has three starters it needs to address.
All-Star Khris Middleton will almost certainly decline his $13 million player option this summer, while starters Malcolm Brogdon and Brook Lopez are set to hit free agency. Key reserve Nikola Mirotic is also a free agent, while a decision will have to be made about backup point guard George Hill.
As good as Antetokounmpo is, the five players in the above paragraph were also key to the Bucks’ rise through the East and it will be borderline impossible to retain them all. Then again, maybe there’s a better player around the corner the Bucks can snag to replace one of them.
It has been 18 years since the Bucks were this close to the NBA Finals, but work clearly remains to be done. Whether or not the Bucks can find and/or keep the players to do it next year could have major repercussions for the NBA.