US basketball

Deer in headlights: What’s next for Giannis Antetokounmpo?

Reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo says he’s sticking with the Bucks, but there’s a history of superstars reneging on their promise to stay

After such an encouraging regular season where the Bucks had the league’s best record at 56-17, there will be many questions on Giannis Antetokounmpo’s willingness to stay in Milwaukee after suffering a five-game defeat to the Miami Heat in the second round of the playoffs.

While Antetokounmpo has said on multiple occasions that he’s willing to stay in Milwaukee, there is precedent for superstars reneging on their promise to stay. 

Back in 2015, Kevin Durant reassured Oklahoma City Thunder fans when he said he wanted to be “one of those guys that [would] love to stick it out with one team [his] whole career.” 

Since then, he’s joined the Golden State Warriors, in arguably the most infamous free agency move in NBA history, and the Brooklyn Nets.

Kyrie Irving notably said in 2018 that he wanted his number 11 retired for the Boston Celtics. Not even a year later, though, he started packing his bags for Brooklyn to join forces with Durant.

Paul George said he had “unfinished business” with the Thunder in 2018. But he asked for a trade to the Los Angeles Clippers less than a year later after an embarrassing first round loss to the Portland Trail Blazers.

It can be frightening for NBA franchises to see how quickly circumstances change in the NBA. Teams are always on the clock in keeping their superstars. And after the Bucks’ disappointing showing at the bubble, other teams will be circling Antetokounmpo like vultures. 

Will staying in Milwaukee continue to be the best situation for Antetokounmpo to compete for titles?

Or is moving to greener pastures Antetokounmpo’s best shot to cement his legacy as one of the greatest players of all time, especially with how players’ legacies nowadays are being judged for the number of rings they’ve won?

Will the Bucks trade for Chris Paul?

For the second consecutive postseason, Eric Bledsoe vanished when the Bucks needed him the most. 

Bledsoe shot 29% from the field and 17% from three against the Raptors in last year’s Eastern Conference Finals. And in the 103-94 loss against the Heat in Game 5, he shot a dismal 2-of-12 from the field for 9 points.

Bledsoe was supposed to be the Bucks’ third shot creator behind Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton. So it’s downright unacceptable that their third-highest paid player is as unreliable in the postseason as he is. 

After Bledsoe’s subpar performances, the decision to let Malcolm Brogdon walk in free agency last season has proven to be a huge mistake. But Milwaukee still has a chance to rectify that error.

Enter Chris Paul. 

Paul had a great year with the Thunder, leading them to within seconds of upsetting the Houston Rockets in the first round. 

He put all the talk about him being washed to rest, averaging 17.6 ppg, 6.5 apg, and 5.0 rpg in the regular season, playing in 70 out of 72 games. He then upped his scoring to 21 ppg in the playoffs on 49% from the field, a far cry from Bledsoe’s 12 ppg on 39% shooting. 

Paul also has a reputation for being one of the most clutch players in the league. 

Next season, Paul will make $41 million, a sizable investment for a 35-year old. He will be readily available for the Bucks, especially as the Thunder look to pivot into more of a rebuild after letting head coach Billy Donovan go. 

There will be concerns on just how long can Paul keep this level of play up and whether his health will hold like it did this past season. His injury problems might have cost the Rockets a trip to the finals in 2018.

However, the Bucks’ backs are against the wall and rolling the dice on a proven winner and leader in Paul just might be what they need to encourage Antetokounmpo to stay and sign a five-year, $254 million super-max deal.

Giannis as King of the North? Or Greek Freak in South Beach?

Members of NBA circles believe that the Raptors and the Heat are the frontrunners to secure the services of Antetokounmpo should he refuse to extend with the Bucks and enter free agency.

Antetokounmpo and Raptors GM Masai Ujiri have built a relationship off the court, as Ujiri helped Antetokounmpo’s family move to Greece. 

In the 2013 NBA Draft, Ujiri attempted to move up in the draft and take Antetokounmpo. Will Ujiri finally acquire Antetokounmpo through free agency? 

The allure of playing in Miami for Pat Riley and the vaunted Heat culture should be an enticing prospect to Antetokounmpo, especially after seeing the Heat dominate his team firsthand. (READ: Hop aboard the Heatwagon)

Antetokounmpo and the Heat culture will be a hand and glove fit, especially with the reigning MVP’s legendary work ethic. 

He will be also be a snug fit alongside the Heat’s cavalry of swiss-army knives in Bam Adebayo, Jimmy Butler, Andre Iguodala, and Jae Crowder, while on the defensive end, a frontcourt of Adebayo and Antetokounmpo has the potential to be the most disruptive in NBA history.

Giannis and the rest of the NBA

How fun is it to imagine Antetokounmpo in the same team as Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis? The Doncic-led Dallas Mavericks gave the title-seeking Los Angeles Clippers everything they could handle in the first round. 

How much better will the team that posted the best offensive rating (points per 100 possessions) in NBA history be if they replace either Maxi Kleber or Dorian Finney-Smith with an all-time great in Antetokounmpo? The Mavericks are projected to have tons of cap space in next year’s free agency period. 

But the Warriors will always remain a terrifying team for disgruntled superstars to seek refuge in. 

The unparalleled spacing that Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson provide will take Antetokounmpo’s rampaging slashing and interior game to an entirely different level. 

If Antetokounmpo decides to change course and demand a trade, the Warriors can offer Andrew Wiggins and Eric Paschall plus the Timberwolves’ protected 2021 first round pick and the second pick in the 2020 NBA Draft. 

That’s not a particularly impressive offer, but that might be better than losing Antetokounmpo for nothing come 2021 free agency. – Jedd Pagaduan/Rappler.com