By now we’re all aware of the news that Anthony Davis wants out of New Orleans. We’ve read about it, seen interviews about it, and heard about it from agents, owners, players, and everyone else under the wintry sun. Wintry sun isn’t really a thing, but here in Wisconsin it sure feels like it is.
What also isn’t a thing, but sure feels like it is, would be the impending free agency of Milwaukee’s MVP, Giannis Antetokounmpo. Milwaukee is one of, if not the, smallest markets in all the NBA. They’ve never been a free agent destination. They’ve never put a consistent winner together in the last three decades. The last time the Bucks were a legitimate threat, Giannis wasn’t even born. Hell, I was barely born.
Anthony Davis wants out of New Orleans, because he wants to win. At least, that’s what he says. Only New Orleans (at this moment) can offer him the “supermax” deal this offseason, and next, of five years and $239.5 million. Surely, by turning that down, one would think that he does care about winning. At this point, we can write off the Pelicans as “not winning.”
A small market team, like New Orleans (and Milwaukee) were supposed to have an advantage when the CBA rewrote its contract provisions in offering deals, by allowing the team with said player to offer more money by staying, than by leaving. This was supposed to keep players like Kawhi Leonard in San Antonio. This was supposed to keep players like Anthony Davis in New Orleans. It’s supposed to keep Giannis Antetokounmpo in Milwaukee. History is not on the Bucks’ side.
It’s one thing to actually leave during free agency by turning down the contract offer of five years and the supermax, but entirely another to force a trade to a winning team (and one with deep pockets) and still make your money. It’s happening league wide, and that’s becoming a concern.
It’s what Kevin Durant has been able to do by leaving at the perfect time and taking the “one plus one option” contracts. The supermax was basically created because KD left Oklahoma for the superteam Warriors. It’s what Kawhi Leonard did and what Anthony Davis is trying to do now. They get to leave their teams behind, go to a better team, and get their max money. They get to have their cake and eat it too. The ones who get left behind, are the small market teams.
As of now, however, Milwaukee’s once and future Greek Freak, has shown ZERO signs of wanting to leave. Let me set that record straight right now, Giannis Antetokounmpo is every model superstar you want playing for your team, and contributing to your community. I live in Milwaukee, and have rooted for the Bucks my whole life (all 34 years of it). The closest I have ever seen in how much someone is loved and gives love back, has been Ray Allen. And George Karl did him dirty.
Giannis loves the city of Milwaukee. He has spoken numerous times about how badly he wants to win a championship for the Bucks. He has always shouldered the blame for losses and praises teammates and coaching for wins. Hell, he’s so loyal, he even tried to keep Jason Kidd from getting fired (reportedly, via Ramona Shelbourne at ESPN http://www.espn.com/nba/story/_/id/22183206/giannis-antetokounmpo-offered-intervene-milwaukee-bucks-fired-jason-kidd). We all know that was a mistake, because Mike Budenholzer has been a Godsend, but that’s beside the point right now.
Giannis has always said the right things, and acted upon them as well. He can rule the city of Milwaukee as long as he wants to. If they erected a statue in his honor right now, I’m pretty sure everyone would be down for it. But history tells us that players don’t always mean what they say. Literally a month ago Anthony Davis was downplaying rumors of wanting to head to LA, and then Rich Paul came along. And then after that, Davis himself gave an interview saying it was time to move on, for bigger and better things, no less. Ouch.
I hope it doesn’t happen. Teams like Milwaukee need players like Giannis to stay. To lead. To be an example, of winning ones for the good guys. To fans, all of these “supermax-level” players are seen as being too greedy. We know they’ll get their money in the end, but what stands out is how they go about leaving. A team is able to trade a player whenever they want (for the most part), but when a player wants out, it’s viewed as being disloyal.
I get that. I really do. But in return for making tens of millions of dollars per year, that’s what you sign up for. You know that signing an extension or going to a team, they now have the right to trade you, or keep you. I see both sides, player and owner, and everyone has their right to do what they feel is best. But when all of the top market teams seem to get everyone, it hurts communities and fans of the game.
You can’t tell anyone in the state of Louisiana that losing Anthony Davis is going to be a good thing. You can’t tell the people of Wisconsin that losing Giannis Antetokounmpo would be a good thing. Attendance and merchandise sales will suffer. Bars and restaurants sales will suffer. TV viewership and sponsorship deals will suffer. It all has some kind of a trickle down effect. One that really hurts small markets.
The hope is that Giannis Antetokounmpo stays true to the city that has embraced him since day one. He has risen to the top of the league, with the team in one of the smallest markets, and put them on the map. Everything has gone perfect for the Bucks this year. A new arena. A new coaching staff and scheme. A new attitude amongst the players. The best record in the entire league, with the number one offense. Maybe it’s enough to keep Giannis in town, and to keep leading the Milwaukee Bucks to the promised land. Maybe it’s not.
Two years remain on Giannis’ deal after this season. Time will soon tell the type of team Milwaukee has. In a few short months, we will know how the Bucks handled being a top seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. We will find out this summer what they think of their secondary stars, who are all up for new deals. First time All-Star Khris Middleton and Eric Bledsoe are unrestricted free agents. Brook Lopez and Nikola Mirotic are also unrestricted. Malcolm Brogdon will be on the last year of his rookie contract, and certainly due a hefty raise, before becoming a restricted free agent in the summer of 2020.
That’s literally the Bucks five best players outside of Giannis. To keep him, and the city happy, they need to keep as much of the status quo as they can. It will be next to near impossible, as all are going to get raises, and some will possibly even want max money themselves. The goal of the front office is to spend as little as possible while keeping your superstar happy and putting together a yearly contender. Easier said than done. God speed, Milwaukee. The small markets of the NBA are rooting for you.