Oates column: Giannis Antetokounmpo's upcoming contract decision will be franchise-altering for the Bucks

The experts might well turn out to be right about Antetokounmpo leaving Milwaukee, but they are missing one important detail: He's not like other players.

Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) goes up for a layup in the third quarter of their NBA game against the Detroit Pistons at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit, on Thursday, February 20, 2020. The Bucks won the game, 126-106. (Mike Mulholland /

Another week, another rumor about where Milwaukee Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo will play out the rest of his NBA career.

Because we all know he's going to leave, right?

Depending on which NBA rumor monger you listen to, it is inevitable Antetokounmpo will depart Milwaukee and that teams such as the Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Lakers, Miami Heat and Toronto Raptors are already lining up for his services.

The constant speculation about trade proposals and ultimate destinations is wearing thin on Wisconsin sports fans. For good reason, too. They hear it all the time, and not just in basketball.

Ever since the Green Bay Packers drafted quarterback Jordan Love in April, the NFL rumor mill has been buzzing about where future Hall of Fame quarterback Aaron Rodgers will finish out his career. Similar speculation was heating up with Milwaukee Brewers superstar Christian Yelich — right up until Yelich signed a nine-year, $215 million contract extension with the Brewers in March.


In Antetokounmpo's case, the speculation is rising because he will be eligible for a supermax contract extension from the Bucks at the conclusion of the soon-to-be-resumed season. If he rejects it, it would send a signal that he's looking to move on when his contract expires after the 2020-21 season, a development that might induce the Bucks to trade him before then.

Antetokounmpo has declined to discuss his future, but the rampant speculation is based on the dual assumptions that he will want to leave Milwaukee for one of the NBA's glamour markets and that he will want to join up with another superstar or two to chase a title. The NBA has seen a lot of that in recent years with stars such as Lebron James, Kevin Durant, James Harden and Russell Westbrook.

The experts might well turn out to be right about Antetokounmpo leaving Milwaukee, but they are missing one important detail: He's not like other players.

Antetokounmpo is different. He's not your typical NBA superstar. He displays none of the entitled, the world-revolves-around-me attitude so prevalent in the league.

Indeed, Antetokounmpo hasn't changed much since he came to Milwaukee in 2013 as an 18-year-old kid from the streets of Athens, Greece. He's the hardest worker on the team and he seems to care only about two things: winning and his teammates. When the Bucks lose, he blames himself and feels more badly for his teammates than he does for himself. Also, he isn't tight with other stars around the league. That makes it hard to believe he would desert the Bucks just to chase a title in another city.

The rumor mill also dismisses how much Antetokounmpo appreciates Milwaukee. He has professed his love for Milwaukee on numerous occasions and there has never been a reason to doubt him.

Antetokounmpo essentially grew up in the city after arriving from Greece as a teenager. He moved his entire family to Milwaukee after he was drafted, watched two of his brothers graduate from Dominican High School in Whitefish Bay and recently had a child. He is heavily involved in charities and social initiatives in the city. He has spoken about how loyal he is and his actions have backed that up.

Of course, the almighty dollar sometimes gets in the way of loyalty and there will be a financial component to Antetokounmpo's decision as well.


For the uninitiated, here's how the system works. At the end of the playoffs, the NBA free agency period begins and a player with one year remaining on his contract can negotiate a designated veteran extension — commonly called a supermax extension — with his team. The supermax extension is designed to give a team a leg up in terms of keeping their stars because they can offer them more money than any other team and can guarantee the contract for five years instead of four.

Bucks general manager Jon Horst has already stated the team plans to offer Antetokounmpo a supermax contract. The Bucks can pay Antetokounmpo 35% of the salary cap for five years with 8% raises per year while other teams can offer only 30% of the cap for four years with 5% raises.

Under this season's cap, that would come out to almost $254 million over Antetokounmpo's five-year extension. The most other teams would be able to offer would be approximately $161 million over four years. As you can see, the difference is considerable.

One thing working against the Bucks could be the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the salary cap. With the NBA shut down for the past three months and the economic impact on the league for next season uncertain, the cap could fall, which could lead to a smaller contract and somewhat reduce the advantage the Bucks have over other teams. But at this point no one knows how the cap will be affected, especially since the NBA should be able to resume business as usual during the 2021-22 season, which would be the first year of an extension.

All indications are Antetokounmpo is inclined to play his entire career in Milwaukee. Because he is such a competitor, however, it's possible his decision will boil down to whether he thinks the Bucks as presently constituted can compete for the title and if he trusts the organization enough to think it can continue that for the next six years.

Assuming the resumption of the NBA season goes off as scheduled, the next few months could be very important for the franchise. After losing in the Eastern Conference finals last year, the Bucks have the best record in the NBA and reaching the NBA Finals or winning a title would probably send the kind of message Antetokounmpo would want to hear.

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