The statement made by Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks’ star player, as reported in the New York Times, has provided a small boost amid what has otherwise been a disappointing late summer.
In clear terms, he conveyed that his upcoming contract decision will not be driven solely by unwavering loyalty to Milwaukee, but rather by what positions him best to compete for championships. This positive shift contrasts with the recent wave of negative news involving Damian Lillard and James Harden, which has left observers somewhat fatigued.
Speaking to the Times, Antetokounmpo expressed,
“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.”
This statement has undoubtedly stirred up the league and those who follow it. It has generated considerable excitement not only due to the potential of a major upheaval if Antetokounmpo, who could become a free agent in 2025, decides to make a move within the next couple of years, but also due to the shift in discussions that this topic brings about.
The Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks emerged as potential destinations for Antetokounmpo, sparking immediate discussions. Esteemed reporter Marc Stein brought up both teams on Monday, indicating,
“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.”
Antetokounmpo might indeed consider orchestrating a move to either of these teams if he desires. Contemporary players are becoming more discerning in their team choices. Instances like Anthony Davis’ transition to Los Angeles four years ago and more recently, Harden’s attempted move to Philly (before it fell through) and Kevin Durant’s move to Phoenix last year, illustrate this trend.
However, the ongoing narratives surrounding players like Harden and Lillard underline the limitations of player empowerment. While Antetokounmpo could concentrate on joining the Lakers or Knicks, his ability to execute a forced trade raises questions.
According to one Eastern Conference general manager, as reported by heavy sports, he says:
“ We don’t know how it will play out but this summer is really about the assets. Miami does not have them, so they don’t have Dame yet. The Clippers don’t have what Philly wants, so there is no Harden deal. These teams are holding out and most of the league is behind them because we all know we could be in that spot, and we want to know we can get a fair trade if that is what it comes down to. That is going to have implications for these situations beyond this year.”
Both Knicks and Lakers Lack Resources for Giannis Trade
The general manager’s observation is that the New York Knicks are not equipped with the assets required for an Antetokounmpo trade.
“They will need to get lucky somewhere along the line if there is going to be a trade, and the fact is, it’s always a trade now, it’s never really free agency,” the GM continued. “But everyone talks like the Knicks have this giant pile of picks. They don’t. They have three heavily protected picks and probably none of them get you in the Top 10. Those are nice, but that kind of protection is not going to get you Giannis.”
The Knicks possess a first-round draft pick from Dallas, with Top-10 protection for both this year and the next. Additionally, they hold a first-rounder from Detroit, safeguarded within the Top 18 for this year and progressively lowering to Top 9 protection by 2027. Another pick from Washington is in their possession, with protection that shifts from Top 12 in 2024 to 10 in 2025 and further reducing to 8 in 2026.
While the Knicks’ collection of draft picks appears less remarkable when viewed from this perspective, they do have valuable picks at their disposal. On the other hand, the Lakers are restricted from trading first-round picks until 2029. If the Lakers were to acquire Antetokounmpo, it would likely necessitate a move through free agency, unless an improbable scenario unfolds involving Milwaukee accepting Anthony Davis as part of a trade.
“If LeBron decides to stay with the Lakers and he’s there past 2025–which is probably going to happen–you really can’t get Giannis to the Lakers in that situation,” the GM said. “It’d be tough.”
Could Small Market Teams Be Potential Suitors for Giannis?
Another executive, this time from a Western Conference franchise, highlighted that Antetokounmpo holds less attraction towards major markets compared to other prominent players. Furthermore, the teams potentially positioned for a trade involving him, should it reach that juncture, are located in unconventional NBA star trade destinations.
For instance, the Thunder, a team in a constant rebuilding phase, possess a significant pool of talent including Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Chet Holmgren, Josh Giddey, Jalen Williams, and rookie Cason Wallace. In addition to this, the team holds valuable future draft picks.
“No one would be in better position to go after him than OKC,” the exec said. “Not to say they would, but they’d have to be a starting point. They have the young talent, they have, I think it is nine (first-round) picks in the next three years. If Milwaukee decides, OK, we’ve got to move on here, that is the first team you call. There aren’t many guys who are going to make the Thunder think about a big move, packaging the assets. But Giannis is one, if he’d want to go there.”
Two other unexpected contenders are in the mix as well: San Antonio Spurs and the Toronto Raptors. While the Spurs might not possess the same level of assets as the Thunder, they have ample cap space and could pose a significant signing threat for Antetokounmpo, particularly if rookie Victor Wembanyama lives up to his highly-touted potential. The Spurs could potentially bundle enough draft picks and young talents to present Milwaukee with a trade package that warrants consideration.
On the other hand, the Raptors are bolstered by the presence of team president Masai Ujiri, a long-time pursuer of Antetokounmpo. With valuable assets like Scottie Barnes, OG Anunoby, and/or Pascal Siakam, Milwaukee might be tempted by a deal. Ujiri’s willingness to take calculated risks on star players, regardless of their commitment to stay, was evident from the Kawhi Leonard situation.
“I think you can’t rule out those kinds of teams,” the executive said. “Giannis has always carried himself like he is all about winning, like that is what matters most to him. He is a little different. I mean, that is the reputation, anyway. If that is really the case, then wouldn’t he want to go play for (Gregg Popovich), play alongside Wemby there? If Toronto can give up only one of its guys and brought back Giannis? They would really have something there.”
These aren’t the typical destinations that would come to mind for Antetokounmpo, that’s for sure. However, if he were to depart from Milwaukee—and it’s uncertain whether that will occur—his situation would certainly stand out from the norm.