With training camp approaching, Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo still has not decided on his supermax extension offer. As of now, that contract is worth a projected $228.2 million, at a minimum, over five years. The deal would keep Antetokounmpo in Milwaukee through 2026.
“That’s a lot of money to leave on the table!” one general manager told HoopsHype.
The one bright spot in the Bucks’ offseason is acquiring one-time All-Star Jrue Holiday from the Pelicans. While the Bucks will likely continue to dominate the regular season, Holiday gives them an edge that could help them get over the hump in the playoffs.
Aside from the Holiday acquisition, the Bucks’ offseason took an unexpected turn for the worse. Three days ahead of free agency, a botched sign-and-trade for Bogdan Bogdanovic was leaked. Whether there was a deal agreed upon or not, the Bucks did not end up getting Bogdanovic, and they had to change their plans dramatically. They filled out their roster instead by adding DJ Augustin, Bobby Portis, Torrey Craig, and Bryn Forbes.
Will the addition of Holiday be enough to offset the botched Bogdanovic acquisition that happened to the Bucks this offseason for Antetokounmpo to extend? Bogdanovic is a good player, but his inclusion shouldn’t be a make-or-break factor in this decision. Still, the Bucks have filled out their roster up to the hard cap, and there’s not much else for Antetokounmpo to wait on. He needs to decide soon whether he can trust Milwaukee’s front office and ownership group to keep the best team around him as possible over the next six years.
While we wait on his decision, let’s take a look at some of the teams that are looking to sign him next offseason. The current salary cap projection of $112,414,200 million for the 2021-22 season will be used in salary cap calculations. The maximum contract other teams can offer Antetokounmpo based on that projection is $145 million over four years, which has a starting salary of $33,724,200.
The Miami Heat are the best-positioned team salary cap-wise to sign Antetokounmpo. They did a good job this offseason keeping themselves in contention while also remaining flexible for 2021.
“They’re a Top 3 best cap management team in the league,” one former executive said.
Miami was going to have just under $39 million in cap space next summer by not signing Bam Adebayo to a rookie-scale extension. That projection included keeping the cap holds of Adebayo, Duncan Robinson, and Kendrick Nunn. In fact, it was also enough for them to exercise the team option of Avery Bradley so they can keep him as well.
According to Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press, the Heat have decided to sign Adebayo to a maximum rookie-scale extension. It will be worth $163 million over five years at 25 percent of the salary cap, which would give him a starting salary of $28.1 million. Provisions were added that could increase it to $195.6 million if he qualifies for 30 percent max criteria, such as earning All-NBA honors or winning Defensive Player of the Year. If he does so, it will increase his starting salary to $33.7 million.
Had he entered restricted free agency next summer, his cap hold would only count as $15.3 million against the Heat’s cap space. By giving him a maximum extension now, his new salary will count against the salary cap, which is projected at $28.1 million. This means that extending Adebayo eliminates $12.8 million in cap space from the Heat. The Heat can now generate $26.2 million in cap space if they keep the cap holds of Robinson and Nunn, which would put the Heat approximately $7.5 million short of being able to offer Antetokounmpo a maximum contract. If Adebayo qualifies for the 30 percent criteria, in that same scenario, they’d be $13.2 million short of offering Antetokounmpo a maximum salary.
Antetokounmpo and Adebayo share the same agent, Octagon’s Alex Saratsis, which has led some to question whether Adebayo’s extension getting done now signals Antetokounmpo will ultimately sign an extension with the Bucks too.
“I think they are totally separate decisions,” one Eastern Conference executive told HoopsHype. “If Giannis wants to go to Miami, he will find a way to get to Miami. I think, if anything, they want to keep that agent happy, and if he wants Bam extended, you do it. Miami has always been creative in finding ways to get things done. The bottom line is you have to do right by your players first. He’s not in a position to risk injury and could affect how he feels about the team long-term if they do not take care of him now.”
Adebayo said he hasn’t spoken to Antetokounmpo. However, some, including one agent with several max players, speculates there was some form of communication between either the players or their representation.
“For sure, he let him know,” the agent surmised. “I’m sure Giannis is going to get his extension.”
Right now, the most realistic way for the Heat to get Antetokounmpo on his maximum salary is either through a trade mid-season, or sign-and-trade during 2021 free agency. They could exercise the team options of Andre Iguodala, Meyers Leonard, and Avery Bradley and combine their salaries to match salaries in a potential sign-and-trade for Antetokounmpo, should he choose to join them. The Heat could then field a team in 2021-22 that includes Jimmy Butler, Antetokounmpo, Adebayo, Tyler Herro, Robinson, Nunn, and first-round pick Precious Achiuwa. That’s an enticing opportunity for Antetokounmpo to pass up.
After signing Trey Burke to a multi-year deal and first-round pick Josh Green, the Dallas Mavericks can generate $24 million in cap space in 2021. That figure assumes they renounce all free agent cap holds, decline Willie Cauley-Stein’s team option, and waive Jalen Brunson. That would be just under $10 million short of being able to offer Antetokounmpo a maximum salary.
One way for the Mavericks to get there is if Josh Richardson declines his player option. He is going to have a great opportunity in Dallas, and if they make a deep playoff run, he could have enough of a market for him to enter free agency. If he opts in, the Mavericks would have to get off a big salary through a trade. Assuming Kristaps Porzingis is off limits, the Mavericks can reach max cap space by getting off of one of Richardson or Dwight Powell.
A pick-and-roll tandem and transition duo of Luka Doncic and Antetokounmpo would be lethal to the rest of the league. They might not put together a roster as deep as the Heat’s but they have the best player you could possibly pair Antetokounmpo with.
The Raptors are another team that continues to remain as flexible as possible for 2021 free agency. According to Michael Grange of Sportsnet, the Raptors re-signed Fred VanVleet to a contract that decreases by eight percent into the 2021-22 season, then escalates back up that same amount for 2022-23. They gave Aron Baynes a team option on his second year and made the second year of the Chris Boucher and DeAndre Bembry deals non-guaranteed.
If the Raptors decline the team option of Baynes and waive all their non-guaranteed players, they’ll have a projected $21.7 million in cap space. That is approximately $12 million short of the $33.7 million maximum for Antetokounmpo. This projection assumes Norman Powell accepts his $11.6 million player option. That is also the same amount OG Anunoby’s cap hold is, meaning that if Powell opts in, the Raptors would have to choose between getting off Powell’s salary in a trade or renouncing Anunoby’s cap hold to almost reach maximum cap space. If Powell declines his player option, which is a good possibility pending another strong season from him, that would decide for Toronto.
The roster that the Raptors could put together for Antetokounmpo would need some adjustments. A core consisting of Antetokounmpo, Pascal Siakam, VanVleet, and Anunoby sounds like a lengthy defensive juggernaut but lacks enough shooting.
Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers already had the most difficult path to maximum cap space out of these teams in regards to also compensating LeBron James and Anthony Davis. We are still awaiting a decision by Davis on the type of contract he wishes to sign, but if he signs a two-year deal with a player option after this upcoming season, also known as a “one-plus-one,” both he and James could enter free agency in 2021.
In the 2019 offseason, the Lakers avoided signing any player to contracts that extend into the 2021-22 season. Now the Lakers have Kentavious Caldwell-Pope guaranteed for $13 million and Marc Gasol for $2.7 million. Montrezl Harrell also has a player option worth $9.7 million, which he could exercise. If all those players stay on the roster, Davis signs a one-plus-one, and both he and James decline their player options for 2021-22, the Lakers could generate up to $74 million in cap space after renouncing all cap holds and waiving Alfonzo McKinnie.
This would mean that if Antetokounmpo agrees to sign with the Lakers, there would need to be some financial sacrifice from James, Davis, Antetokounmpo, or all three. Ideally, the Lakers should sign Antetokounmpo to a maximum deal, then have Davis and James agree on how to split the remaining $40 million in cap space. As an example, both players can split the remaining cap space evenly for $20 million salaries each in 2021-22 on one-plus-one contracts with a player option after the first season.
This path would allow the Lakers to keep their role players currently under contract for 2021-22 while also allowing their three stars to all be on maximum salaries relatively quick. The Lakers would still hold the full Bird rights to both James and Davis, allowing them to get back to the market sooner and re-sign for their respective maximum salaries and for multiple seasons.
If the Lakers were to get off of the salaries of Caldwell-Pope, Gasol, and Harrell, they would still require a temporary financial sacrifice from James and Davis from their maximum amounts in 2021-22. And even if the Lakers strike out on a star in 2021 and want to pursue one in 2022, they’d still need to take pay cuts, especially since the salary cap may only increase by three percent over the next two to three seasons.
James and Davis have made financial sacrifices before. James took less than his maximum amount in 2010 to join the Miami Heat, and Davis waived his trade bonus in the 2019 offseason to help the Lakers maximize their cap space. If Antetokounmpo wants to join the Lakers, there’s a strong possibility that James and Davis will make the required compromises to make it happen.
Michael Scotto contributed to this article.