Given Giannis Antetokounmpo's comments to The New York Times regarding his next contract and a report citing the Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks as teams presumed to interest him should he leave the Milwaukee Bucks, you cannot help but wonder what the market would like for a two-time MVP in his prime.
There is not a team that will forego registering its own interest in Antetokounmpo, and you can bet every front office is currently conducting conversations about the possibility of landing him in the near future. It would be malpractice not to entertain the idea of adding a player who immediately makes you a contender.
Antetokounmpo clearly understands that the championship window in Milwaukee is closing on the current roster and is applying pressure on the Bucks' brass to ensure its title chances allow for more than a draft.
"The real question’s not going to be this year — numbers-wise it doesn’t make sense," Antetokounmpo told The New York Times' Tania Ganguli of the chances he signs an extension with the Bucks. "But next year, next summer it would make more sense for both parties. Even then, I don’t know. ... I would not be the best version of myself if I don’t know that everybody’s on the same page, everybody’s going for a championship, everybody’s going to sacrifice time away from their family like I do. And if I don’t feel that, I’m not signing."
The subtext of that sentiment: The Bucks have won a single playoff series since capturing the 2021 NBA championship, and they are not getting any younger. Khris Middleton turned 32 years old this month and has started 26 games since the 2022 playoffs began. Jrue Holiday and Brook Lopez are entering their 15th and 16th seasons, respectively. The three of them are owed a combined $93 million in the 2024-25 season.
Antetokounmpo owns a $51.9 million player option for the 2025-26 season, when he will turn 31. He is eligible in late September for a three-year contract extension projected around $175 million. That figure rises closer to $250 million over four years if the Bucks manage to extend him next year. He can sign a similar deal with any other team if he declines his option and enters unrestricted free agency in July 2025.
It will not get to that point. At least, it should not get to that point. Three superstars of Antetokounmpo's caliber have similarly changed teams in free agency this century — Shaquille O'Neal (1996), LeBron James (2010) and Kevin Durant (2016) — crippling smaller-market franchises each time. If the threat becomes real that Antetokounmpo could leave Milwaukee, the Bucks should do everything in their power to recoup what would be a massive haul for an all-time great at the peak of his powers. A disappointing end to this coming season and the absence of an extension in 2024 could be all the indication they need to entertain a trade.
So, yeah, there is a real possibility Antetokounmpo could become available as soon as next offseason.
Can you imagine what teams might offer if that were to occur? I can think of only a handful of players who teams might not trade for Antetokounmpo, assuming they could be reassured he would not leave in 2025 free agency. (Even then, he raises the ceiling so high that teams might assume that risk.) Nikola Jokić is the only player alive whose incumbent team hangs up if the Bucks come calling. Everyone else at least has the discussion. Luka Dončić, Jayson Tatum, Victor Wembanyama and Anthony Edwards may be the only other players who could enter the stratosphere of untouchable over the next year if Antetokounmpo is the return.
The question is what the Bucks would want for Antetokounmpo. Every unprotected draft pick possible. That's obvious. They will want another star player whom they can build around. Milwaukee can clear its books completely by 2026 and reconstruct a contender that quickly.
All-NBA mainstays like LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Jimmy Butler, James Harden, Damian Lillard, Paul George and Kawhi Leonard will all be in their mid-to-late 30s during the 2024-25 season. Even Anthony Davis and Joel Embiid will be north of 30 years old and ill-fitting as full and foundational franchise resets.
Who is the best player any team would trade for Antetokounmpo (again, assuming he would re-sign)? Are the Memphis Grizzlies so concerned about Ja Morant that they make him the centerpiece of a deal to pair Antetokounmpo with Jaren Jackson Jr. and Desmond Bane? Will the Oklahoma City Thunder be close enough to contention that trading Shai Gilgeous-Alexander makes sense? If the Phoenix Suns falter, might they be desperate enough to maximize their window with Durant that they put Devin Booker on the table?
Booker, Morant and Gilgeous-Alexander are all entering their primes with at least four more years left on their deals. If any of those guys become trade bait, other teams can say good night to their offers, unless they want to raise the stakes. Donovan Mitchell and Evan Mobley. Pascal Siakam and Scottie Barnes. Zion Williamson and Trey Murphy. Jaylen Brown and Derrick White. This is the type of bidding war we could see.
We also have to ask ourselves what Antetokounmpo wants. He has, for the most part, been content in Milwaukee, and he might just be the type of person who is comfortable performing in a smaller market, so long as it keeps him in position to contend. As he told Ganguli, "Winning a championship comes first."
Does that mean he would entertain joining any of the promising young cores on the Thunder, Detroit Pistons, Orlando Magic, Indiana Pacers, Utah Jazz or San Antonio Spurs? Any of those teams, plus several more, are theoretically intriguing roster fits for Antetokounmpo, at least until he makes clear they are not.
It should at least give small-market franchises pause that Marc Stein reported on Substack, "The Lakers and the Knicks are already being mentioned as franchises presumed to interest Antetokounmpo down the road if he does decide to move on from Milwaukee." The draw of Los Angeles or New York seems less plausible when you consider what would be left in either destination once both make their best offers.
Here's Anthony Davis, Austin Reaves and some picks, now have fun playing with a 40-year-old LeBron!
How would you like to play with Julius Randle once we trade Jalen Brunson, R.J. Barrett and our picks?
Now, is Antetokounmpo willing to get uncomfortable and suppress the trade market the way Damian Lillard is currently attempting to do? If Antetokounmpo's agent makes it clear his client will play only in New York or L.A., that might change the equation. How much is up for debate. Lillard is still waiting on a trade. Davis made clear the Lakers were his preference, and they still dealt Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart and the rights to four first-round draft picks in order to acquire him before he could enter unrestricted free agency.
Maybe the market becomes so suppressed that the Bucks roll the dice on their ability to reconfigure a championship-caliber roster and satisfy Antetokounmpo's desires to finish his career with one franchise.
And maybe Antetokounmpo reaches free agency in 2025. In which case, all hell breaks loose. Half the league is currently projected by Spotrac to be able to create the salary-cap space to sign Antetokounmpo outright. Every other team would scramble to meet a starting salary projected around $60 million — or, more likely, angle to secure a sign-and-trade commitment that allows the Bucks to recoup some assets.
The ripple effects will create a tidal wave of activity (or lack thereof) across the league. Will the Clippers sign Leonard and George to extensions if they believe they can lure Antetokounmpo to L.A.? Every star signing an extension right now should be asking himself, What if my team turns around and trades me to Milwaukee for the life of this contract? Does a 2024 free-agent class headlined by Siakam get frozen out of long-term commitments for fear one might stand in the way of the possibility of signing Antetokounmpo?
We are potentially on the precipice of the largest deal in NBA history at the dawn of a new collective bargaining agreement designed to make such moves as difficult as possible. Chaos is on the horizon.
Or, Antetokounmpo signs his extension next summer, and the best-laid plans of every other team go awry.