There’s a very simple way that two-time MVP and Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo can quiet chatter of who his future team will be: he could sign a super max contract extension with the Bucks before deadline to do so passes on December 21.
First, a brief explanation of what the difference between a regular max contract and a “super max” one is, courtesy of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: to be eligible to sign a “super max” under the current collective bargaining agreement, players have to meet certain criteria: “be on the team the player was with at the end of his rookie contract; be entering his eighth, ninth or 10th season; either win MVP in one of three most recent seasons or win Defensive Player of the Year in most recent season or two of the past three seasons or make an All-NBA team in the most recent season or two of the past three seasons.”
So, by that criteria, Antetokounmpo might be the MOST super max player of any player in history. He’s won two straight MVPs, won Defensive Player of the Year this year, and he’s made the All-NBA First Team the last two seasons (and was second team three seasons ago).
So, dollars-wise, what does that mean? Depending on the salary cap, the Bucks could offer Antetokounmpo a 5-year contract worth as much as $250 million, which would make him the highest paid player in the league. It could also be nearly $100 million more in total value than other teams could offer him as a restricted free agent. So the fact that Antetokounmpo seems non-committal about signing it is significant.
On media day for the Bucks, he told ESPN’s Eric Woodyard that he’s “not focused” on his contract situation. If the deadline passes and he doesn’t sign the extension, the coverage will only intensify as the Bucks will be forced to weigh whether or not to trade the league’s best player before they risk losing him for nothing in free agency.
There’s no reason to panic just yet. The Bucks and Antetokounmpo’s agent continue to talk, and there’s still a significant amount of time to get a deal done. Antetokounmpo could also sign a shorter contract with the Bucks to see if they finally break through and win a title and still be eligible for a super max when that contract ends. Antetokounmpo by all accounts likes it in Milwaukee and has a good relationship with the franchise and his teammates – who all jokingly gave him pens to sign his contract with for his birthday recently.
The team should also be better this season, too. Which is a weird thing to say about the team that had the best record in the league a year ago. But they made a significant upgrade at their point guard spot by replacing Eric Bledsoe with Jrue Holiday. Holiday gives the team a third potential All-Star, and he and Antetokounmpo might be the two best defensive players in the league right now. Milwaukee was already good defensively, and they should be able to absolutely smother teams now.
But what if things don’t go as planned? The Bucks certainly don’t want to lose Antetokounmpo for nothing in free agency, but they also can’t expect anywhere near equal value in a trade for him. How do you even put equal value on a player who just won MVP and Defensive Player of the Year in the same season – something that only Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon have done. And Antetokounmpo did it at just 26-years-old. He’s just now hitting his prime.
Here the best odds of the Bucks retaining Antetokounmpo when the season starts, with a few other teams as longshot possibilities:
The Raptors and Heat have long been rumored to be potential destinations for Antetokounmpo. Heat star Bam Adebayo and Antetokounmpo share the same agent. Both Los Angeles teams also could be potential destinations, but with the Lakers signing LeBron James and Anthony Davis to big extensions and the Clippers signing Paul George to one this week, they don’t have as much salary flexibility as other potential teams. The Warriors have also reportedly been making plans to collect enough assets to make an offer for Antetokounmpo if he becomes available.
Money still puts things in Milwaukee’s favor, though. In a poll of league agents in October, nearly all of them expressed a belief he’d re-sign with the Bucks. The team is also still great – they have the second-best odds before the season starts of winning the title. Individually, he also has the second-best odds of winning a third straight MVP and a second straight Defensive Player of the Year. Even if Antetokounmpo is restless with the Bucks’ inability to match their regular season success in the playoffs the last two years, the combination of money Milwaukee can offer and competitiveness of the roster as constructed will be hard to beat in the current NBA landscape.