On Tuesday December 15th, Giannis Antetokounmpo reassured NBA fans that loyalty is still alive in the NBA. Since being drafted by the Bucks in 2013, Giannis has developed and gotten progressively better every year in the league. He is now the reigning back to back MVP of the league, along with a Defensive Player of the Year award in 2020 as well. The only other two players in league history to win both awards in the same season are Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon.
After finishing the regular season with the best record in the league for the second season in a row, Antetokounmpo and the Bucks failed to make it to the NBA Finals once again this year. The team lost to the Miami Heat in five quick games in the Eastern Semifinals. Since then there has been buzz that Giannis might consider leaving and testing the free agent market next year. But even with their playoff struggles, the team realized locking down Giannis was going to be their biggest priority this offseason.
Not resigning him this offseason and letting him hit free agency next summer would’ve been a disaster for a small market team like the Bucks who don’t normally attract free agents. Well, after a few weeks of uncertainty and rumors, Giannis finally announced that he would be signing with the Bucks on a 5 year 228 million dollar supermax deal. Originally reported by Shams Charania, the deal is the largest in NBA history. He does have the option to opt out in the 4th year of the deal, but Giannis will be on the Bucks for the foreseeable future, and it’s a win win for both sides. The Bucks are able to lock down a generational superstar, and the best player the franchise has seen since Kareem Abdul Jabbar. And Giannis becomes one of the highest paid players in the league, and gives all the other small market teams hope that they still hold on to their home grown stars past one or two contracts.
This signing is good for the NBA as a whole. It restores a little faith in the idea of sticking with a team through hardships and being rewarded for being loyal to a franchise. Some recent examples that contradict that idea are Anthony Davis last year, and James Harden this year.
In January of 2019, Davis essentially told the Pelicans he wanted to be traded, and the only team he wanted to go to was the Lakers. This was three years into his five year 127 million dollar extension with the team. Davis eventually realized that he probably wasn’t going to win a championship with the Pelicans, and through his relationship with Rich Paul decided he wanted to go play with Lebron in Los Angeles.
We’ve seen it happen this year as well with the Houston Rockets. After a disappointing playoff exit to the eventual champion Lakers, the team decided to part ways with head coach Mike D’Antoni and GM Daryl Morey. Seeing this, the team’s two stars Russell Westbrook and James Harden immediately made it clear they wanted to be moved. Obviously James Harden is a much tougher piece to move than Russell Westbrook, and the Rockets showed that by quickly dealing Westbrook to Washington for John Wall and a first round pick. Now that Harden is by himself, it’s been reported that he wants to be traded to a contender like the Nets, 76ers, Heat, etc.
While it’s understandable that Harden wants a trade, it doesn’t change the fact that he is currently in the second year of his 4 year 171 million dollar extension with the team. So, my question is: Do contracts even matter anymore? It seems like star players in this league have the freedom to sign long term contracts and then have the ability to jump ship halfway through if they feel like things are going bad. I’m all for player empowerment and making sure players get paid, but at some point there has to be a sense of loyalty when signing with a team.
I think Giannis signing with the Bucks is a good reset button for the league, and restores some sense of parity. If Giannis were to test free agency and sign with a team like the Mavericks, Heat, or Lakers, it’d be hard to say if small market teams like the Bucks would ever be able to recover. Fortunately in this instance, the Bucks made a dedicated effort into improving the roster this offseason, and doing everything in their power to get him to stay. For this next season, the Bucks will once again be one of the best teams in the league with a real shot at making it out of the East. A Finals appearance and possible win for Giannis and the Bucks this year would send a good message to all the small market teams, and restore confidence in teams’ ability to draft, develop, and hold on to generational talent. In the Bucks case, they’ve hit the lottery with Giannis, and now that they have his long term commitment, it’ll be up to them if they can cash out and take advantage of their championship window.