I could just write a bunch of paragraphs and really make you work for it, but no. Not after everything we’ve been through this season. Not after the pandemic and the season stopping. Not after the restart and NBA bubble in Orlando. Not after the No. 1 overall seeded Milwaukee Bucks failed to make it out of the second round of the playoffs. We’re getting right to the point. Giving the people what they want!
Seriously though, the Bucks should look at the idea of dealing Giannis Antetokounmpo before he hits free agency after next season. The Greek Freak has one year left on his deal before hitting the open market. He’s set to make $27 million in 2020-21 and after that, can seek a super max contract from another team. He can also opt to sign a super max with an added season in Milwaukee.
After the Bucks were eliminated, Giannis squashed any idea that he will request a trade from the Bucks. I’m not calling Antetokounmpo a liar, but we’ve seen this play out before. A superstar player saying he’ll be loyal to the team that drafted him and then bolting for a better situation. I mean, your King and Savior LeBron James did exactly that back in July of 2010. So Giannis’ comments in no way, shape or form mean he is definitely staying put.
If you’re Giannis, you’d be crazy not to test free agency in a year. You’re going to instantly become the highest paid player in the NBA, regardless of the team. Money shouldn’t matter. This should be about winning and the question is do the Bucks give you the best chance to win multiple championships? The answer right now is a resounding NO. The Bucks have been bounced from the playoffs in back-to-back seasons before the Finals. This team is not trending in the right direction.
Evaluating Bucks current roster
Let’s take a look at the Bucks’ cap situation and the roster construction. The biggest issue is clearly Khris Middleton, who is an All-Star but not really a strong No. 2 option for a contender. Middleton signed a max deal last July and is signed through 2024 at a salary that will be $33 million next season and climbs to $40M in 2023-24. Middleton is going to be 30 soon and isn’t really entering his prime. I mean, we spent the past month leading up to Milwaukee’s playoff loss trashing Middleton for not being a good enough running mate for Giannis.
Eric Bledsoe is another issue. Again, not getting any younger at 30 and is signed through 2022-23. Brook Lopez? He’s 32 years old and also signed through 2022-23. Bledsoe and Lopez make around $30-32 million combined annually. So the Bucks essentially have way too much invested in this core of Giannis, Middleton, Bledsoe and Lopez the next 3-4 seasons. A core that clearly isn’t getting younger and isn’t going to magically learn how to win in the postseason. Changes will need to be made.
Middleton is likely immovable at this point. Bledsoe and Lopez could maybe be dealt, but why would anyone take aging starters so that a rival team can keep the best player in the NBA? That’s my main concern if I’m Milwaukee. Basically half the league is going to be gunning for Antetokounmpo if he hits the open market and those teams want that to happen. The only way out of this cap hell for the Bucks is a trade.
So if you’re the Bucks heading into the offseason, you can try and revamp a roster that lacks assets and cap flexibility, make another run at a title in 2020-21, and hope for the best. Hope that a championship will be enough for Giannis to stay. Hope that the Brooklyn Nets, Boston Celtics, Toronto Raptors, Miami Heat (who just beat you) and Philadelphia 76ers all come out next season and don’t look like title contenders. Because let me tell you, the East is only getting tougher.
If you’re Bucks GM Jon Horst and you have a feeling Giannis will bolt in free agency, do you get ahead of the curve and just deal him this offseason? It may be the play. There are plenty of teams who have the assets to swing a trade and Milwaukee wouldn’t lose The Greek Freak for nothing after next season. It’s a tough pill to swallow, but may be necessary.
Do you want to end up like the post-LeBron Cavaliers? Or do you want to end up getting a teams first-round picks for, say, the next five seasons? Maybe throw in a top 5 pick in 2020? Perhaps a young, established starter with All-Star potential? Because that’s the type of package the Bucks would get for Giannis, even as a rental on an expiring.
Acquiring Giannis to any team is the difference between missing the playoffs and making them. The difference between making the playoffs and making a run. The difference between making a run and winning a title. If you’re a GM who has the chance to do that for your franchise, you’re OK mortgaging your future a bit. So instead of sucking for four seasons before Giannis returns home with a couple rings, why not get ahead of a potential rebuild and remain competitive?
I’ve asked a lot of hypothetical questions and we’ll have to wait for all the answers. I realize it’s an insane thing to think about — the back-to-back MVP being traded. It’s something the League hasn’t really seen before. Well, not since LeBron’s Decision. I see shades of 2010 on the horizon for Giannis and the Bucks. Only this time Milwaukee can learn from the past and not become the laughing stock of the NBA. Do the right thing, Bucks. Suck it up and deal him.