While everyone around the NBA waits to see where the Minnesota Timberwolves trade disgruntled star Jimmy Butler, there has been a lot of talk about which star may become available next.
It seems that people around the NBA are mainly looking at Anthony Davis of the New Orleans Pelicans and Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks to see if either changes their stance about their current team, as both players have tried to shoot down rumors that they’re unhappy.
While interviewing executives and agents for our behind-the-scenes article on max-contract negotiations, an NBA and two agents brought up Antetokounmpo as an example of a player who seems poised to leave his small-market team. It’s worth noting that these individuals were speculating on the situation, and none have a direct connection to Antetokounmpo. They spoke off the record under the condition of anonymity since they were sharing sensitive information about negotiations.
“There’s no way in hell that Giannis Antetokounmpo is staying in Milwaukee for his second deal,” the former GM said. “I would bet everything I own that Giannis leaves Milwaukee.”
The two agents, who also predicted Antetokounmpo will leave, brought up the subject unprompted during interviews for the piece.
In 2016, Antetokounmpo signed a four-year deal worth $100 million to remain in Milwaukee, so he won’t become an unrestricted free agent until the summer of 2021. However, the former GM pointed out that nearly every player signs that first big contract with their original team; it’s the second deal that small-market teams have to worry about.
“On that first deal, you’re the only one able to give him the life-changing money, for the most part, and a guy is typically going to take the life-changing money no matter who he is,” the former GM said. “On the second contract, if a player is getting a max contract then that probably means there is more than one team willing to offer that same deal… Market definitely matters. In the first max contract [when a player is restricted], it doesn’t matter much. In the second deal, you know there’s only certain places a guy will go. Certain franchises have to build their team knowing they aren’t a destination for second-contract max players… It’s tough for small-market teams.”
Antetokounmpo has pushed back against rumors and predictions like this throughout his career. In an interview with The New York Times, he even tried to stress that a big-market team isn’t all that attractive to him.
“I’m a low-profile guy,” Antetokounmpo told The New York Times. “I don’t like all these flashy cities like L.A. or Miami. I don’t know if I could be the same player if I played in those cities.”
The issue may be that it’s attractive to other stars. Would Antetokounmpo leave the Bucks to join a more star-studded squad that’s closer to contention? He can try to recruit other stars to Milwaukee, but that’s a tough sell. It seems that’s how other teams could try to recruit Giannis away from the Bucks, and ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported back in 2017 that rival executives were already plotting ways to land Antetokounmpo.
After the Bucks hired Jon Horst as their general manager in 2017, several people in the front office were upset that Justin Zanik wasn’t promoted to GM from within the organization. This led to some tension between the team’s decision-makers. Wojnarowski pointed out that Milwaukee’s drama could potentially push Antetokounmpo away.
“Milwaukee’s going to go through this with the Greek Freak,” Wojnarowski said in 2017. “That day’s coming, right? Where he’s going to look and say, ‘Where is this organization? What are they doing here?’ Like, you don’t think Giannis has been watching what went on there for the last several months? Of what they allowed to go on with the front office? He’s watching it. And the clock has started. Everybody in the league is trying to figure out how they are going to get him out of there. That has started.”
Last season, the 23-year-old averaged 26.9 points, 10.0 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.4 blocks for the 44-win Bucks.