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PODCAST: Giannis Antetokounmpo didn’t have to sign for less than the max — but doing so says plenty about who he is

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NBA: Miami Heat at Milwaukee Bucks Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

The waiting game for Giannis Antetokounmpo’s monster rookie extension is finally over, though it’s not to say the four-year, $100 million deal leaked on Monday was exactly what we had in mind. After all, the Bucks could have signed Giannis for as much as $138 million over five years, a figure that many of us would have been more than happy for the Bucks to offer.

Normally, the Bucks locking up a player with a slightly shorter and notably cheaper deal would be something worth celebrating, but the fact that many Bucks fans wish Giannis had demanded (and received) a longer and richer deal speaks volumes about what he’s come to mean for a franchise that has spent the better of four decades searching for a transcendent superstar. In the year 2016, no one in Bucks Nation wants to think about a future that doesn’t include Antetokounmpo, and as a result most of us would have been content to see the Bucks write a blank check to make sure it happens. Still, there are obviously positives to signing Giannis for less — both for financial reasons as well as the statement it makes — and any debate about contracts shouldn’t obscure that a four-year deal with no options is worth celebrating no matter what the dollar figures might be.

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The good news for Bucks fans is that the deal locks up their 21-year-old franchise player for four years without a chance of opting out, and the good news for the Bucks’ finances is that it isn’t even a max deal, meaning the Greek Freak’s cap figure won’t be subject to any unforeseen spikes that could come from a potential new collective bargaining agreement next summer. That seems to be just fine with Giannis, who reportedly was willing to take less than the max in order to provide the Bucks additional flexibility.

The only downside is that a sub-max deal also means the Bucks won’t be able to give him a fifth year on an extension before the October 31 deadline; that would have been nice, though it also would have come at a $38 million premium over the $100 million figure he’s now set to earn for the four seasons from 17/18 through 20/21. And while it might not seem like a big deal now, every dollar saved on a Giannis extension sets a precedent for deals that might come after it — which could add up to something that matters. It’s not as if Giannis and Jabari taking slight discounts would allow the Bucks to add another star, but it could keep the Bucks out of the luxury tax in 2018 and 2019 and provide breathing enough room to sign a mid-level veteran.

Either way, the deal serves as the fitting culmination of a seven month stretch that began with Antetokounmpo taking over the team’s primary playmaking duties and then posting utterly absurd numbers over the season’s final 28 games. By the summer, his 6’11” shadow seemed to loom over every personnel move the Bucks made: Do the Bucks actually go hard after Matthew Dellavedova if they didn’t have Giannis soaking up playmaking duties? Would Miles Plumlee have been a $52 million priority if he hadn’t looked so good throwing down Giannis lobs? Probably not, which made it only fitting for Giannis to get the biggest payday of them all. Based on everything we’ve seen from Giannis the player and the person, it’s a deal worth celebrating — and one the Bucks are unlikely to ever regret.

Some sample of reactions from around the league:

Pelton: Winners and losers of the Giannis extension | ESPN

So getting Antetokounmpo signed to any kind of extension would have been good news for the Bucks. Getting him to take less than the max -- which ESPN's Brian Windhorst reported? was his choice to help the team retain its young core -- is a coup.

Remember, Antetokounmpo won't turn 22 until December. He's nearly a full year younger than Buddy Hield, drafted sixth overall by the New Orleans Pelicans in June. Yet we've already seen Antetokounmpo produce at an All-Star level, during the second half of last season. After the All-Star break, the Bucks put the ball in Antetokounmpo's hands as a point forward, and the results were spectacular: He averaged 18.8 points, 8.6 rebounds and 7.2 assists per game and recorded five triple-doubles in 28 games.

Advanced stats were just as effusive about Antetokounmpo's level of play. He ranked eighth in the NBA with 5.5 WARP after the All-Star break, more than he managed before the break (3.3) in barely more than half as many games. If Antetokounmpo maintains anything close to that level of play, he'll be an enormous bargain.

Woj: Why the Greek Freak isn’t just another $100 million man | The Vertical

Once the Antetokounmpo family arrived in Wisconsin, the Bucks did a marvelous job of making it feel a part of everything there. When it was time to get an extension done this month, Giannis never considered the possibility of messing around as a restricted free agent in 2017. Hammond had always gone the distance for him – all the way back to when he scouted him in Greece – and Giannis has never talked about bigger markets, brighter lights.